This article is about current and ongoing events and many of the events are still unfolding currently.
On 15–16 July 2016, a coup d’état was unsuccessfully attempted in Turkey. The event was allegedly orchestrated by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces. It is unclear why the faction decided to attempt a coup.
Even though the attempt failed, property was damaged and more than a thousand people were injured and hundreds were killed as events unfolded. In Ankara, for example, the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace were bombed. Shots were also heard near major airports in Ankara and Istanbul.
Reactions to the event were largely unfavorable both domestically and internationally. The main opposition parties in Turkey, for example, condemned the attempt, while several international leaders—such as those from the European Union, NATO, and the United States—called to respect the democratic institutions in Turkey and its elected officials.
The incumbent government rapidly declared the attempt a failure and began prosecuting those involved. The first official reaction came from Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım who addressed the media one day later saying that the situation was “completely under control.” Mass arrests followed with 2,839 soldiers detained within 48 hours.
Since the establishment of multiparty democracy in Turkey in 1946, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have staged three coups—in 1960, 1971, and 1980—and intervened by military decision once, in 1997. Historically, the military has viewed itself as the guardian of the secular Turkish state established under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
In the years leading up to the 2016 coup attempt, the Ergenekon trials took place, which was seen as a bid by Turkey’s civilian leaders under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to establish dominance over the military. In these trials in 2013—viewed as “sensational” and “one of the biggest in recent Turkish history”—275 people, including senior military officers, journalists, lawyers and academics, were accused of plotting a coup in 2003 and 2004 as part of a secret network named “Ergenekon” against Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time. (Some military officers were accused of involvement in a separate alleged plot, Sledgehammer.) Simultaneously, Erdoğan promoted lower-ranking officers up the chain of command, ensuring that the military chief of staff was loyal to him, thereby demoralizing the army.
After the break between the Gülenist factions and Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) party, Erdoğan decided it would be advantageous to rehabilitate the army. The “Ergenekon” convictions were overturned in April 2016 by Turkey’s highest appeals court, which ruled that the existence of the network was unproven. On 13 July, less than two days before the coup was launched, Erdoğan signed a bill giving Turkish soldiers immunity from prosecution while taking part in domestic security operations, requiring cases against commanders to be approved by the prime minister, while cases against lower-ranking soldiers may be signed off on by district governors. The immunity bill was seen as part of the détente between the government and the Armed Forces, while the latter have increasingly been taking over the military operations in the Kurdish-inhabited areas from police and paramilitary units.
At the time the coup began, Erdoğan was on vacation in southwest Turkey.
News report showing tanks approaching Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport
On 15 July 2016, as reported just before 11:00 pm EEST (UTC+3), military jets were witnessed flying over Ankara, and both the Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Bosphorus bridges in Istanbul in the direction of Anatolia to Europe were closed.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said military action was being “taken outside the chain of command” and it was an “illegal attempt” to seize power by “part of the military”. He further said that those involved “will pay the highest price.” Local media also reported tanks in Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. It was reported that Internet users within Turkey were blocked from accessing Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Twitter later claimed that they “have no reason to think we’ve been fully blocked”. Some hostages were taken at military headquarters, including the Turkish Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar. The military also entered the Justice and Development Party’s offices in Istanbul and asked people to leave.
Early reports said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was safe in Marmaris, south-west Turkey, where he had been on holiday, while reports also alleged that he had fled the country in a private jet.
At around 11:00 pm and 12:00 am, helicopters bombed the police special forces headquarters and police air force headquarters in Gölbaşı, just outside of Ankara. The attacks left 42 dead and 43 injured. Türksat headquarters in Gölbaşı was also attacked, killing two security personnel.
At around 11:50 pm, soldiers occupied Taksim Square in central Istanbul.
At 12:02 am, it was reported by Reuters that Turkish soldiers were inside the buildings of the Turkish state broadcaster, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), in Ankara. During the coup attempt, soldiers forced anchor Tijen Karaş to read out a statement saying that “the democratic and secular rule of law has been eroded by current government” and that Turkey was now led by a “peace council” who would “ensure safety of the population.” The statement read in part, “Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security that was damaged. All international agreements are still valid. We hope that all of our good relationships with all countries will continue.” The plotters said they had “done so to preserve democratic order, and that the rule of law must remain a priority”. The statement also ordered temporary martial rule, and claimed a new constitution would be prepared “as soon as possible”. TRT was then taken off air.
Government response and conflict
The Turkish Presidential office said President Erdoğan was on holiday outside Turkey and safe, and condemned the coup attempt as an attack on democracy. A presidential source also said Erdoğan and his government are still in power. The first messages from Erdoğan were transmitted at around 12:23 am. At about 1:00 am, Erdoğan did a FaceTime interview with CNN Türk, in which he called upon his supporters to take to the streets in defiance of the military-imposed curfew, saying “There is no power higher than the power of the people. Let them do what they will at public squares and airports.” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş appeared on live television, saying Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is still in charge of the government. The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek of the AKP, encouraged people to go out to the city’s streets in defiance, despite a curfew imposed by the military. Erdoğan’s plane took off from Dalaman Airport at 11:47 pm, but had to wait in the air in the vicinity of Biga for the airport to be secured. His plane could only land at 2:50 am.
The First Army General Command in Istanbul claimed that the TSK did not support the coup and the perpetrators represented a very small faction that were on the verge of being brought under control. Istanbul Atatürk Airport was closed; all flights from the airport were cancelled. There was an explosion in the TRT broadcasting headquarters and gunfire was reported in Ankara. Soon after, it was stormed by a crowd of civilians and police, with four soldiers inside reportedly being “neutralised”. The channel went back on air and Karaş, who had previously announced the coup, told live that she had been held hostage and forced to read the declaration of the coup at gunpoint.
By 1:00 am, it was reported that the military had pulled its forces from the Atatürk airport and people were coming inside, but by 1:13 am, it was reported that tanks were inside the airport and gunfire was heard.
Tanks opened fire near the Turkish Parliament Building. The parliamentary building was also hit from the air. Injuries were reported among protesters on Bosphorus Bridge following gunfire on the bridge.
A helicopter belonging to the pro-coup forces was shot down by a Turkish military F-16 fighter jet. There were also reports of pro-government jets flying over Ankara to “neutralize” helicopters used by those behind the coup.
At 3:08 am, a military helicopter opened fire on the Turkish parliament. At 3:10 am, Turkish Armed Forces claimed on their website that they had complete control over the country. However, at 3:12 am, Yıldırım made a statement saying that the situation was under control and that a no-fly zone was declared over Ankara and that military planes that still flew would be shot down.
It was reported that the Turkish parliament had been bombed again at 3:23 and 3:33 am. A helicopter belonging to the pro-coup forces was also seen flying by it. Half an hour following the report of 12 deaths and 2 injuries in the parliament, soldiers entered CNN Türk’s headquarters and forced the studio to go off air. After an hour of interruption by the pro-coup soldiers, CNN Türk resumed its broadcast. Later, İsmail Kahraman said a bomb exploded at a corner of the public relations building inside the parliament, with no deaths but several injuries among police officers.
At around 4:00 am, approximately one and a half hours after Erdoğan left his hotel at Marmaris, two or three helicopters attacked the hotel he had left. According to eyewitness accounts, ten to fifteen heavily armed men landed and started firing. In the ensuing conflict, 2 policemen were killed and 8 were injured.
The Doğan News Agency reported that in Istanbul several individuals were injured after soldiers fired on a group of people that was attempting to cross the Bosphorus Bridge in protest of the attempted coup. Government supporters reportedly beheaded soldiers involved in the coup.
After Erdoğan flew in to Istanbul, he made a televised speech at first inside the airport at around 4:00 am, whilst thousands gathered outside. He addressed a crowd of supporters in the airport, at about 6:30 am. He said, “In Turkey, armed forces are not governing the state or leading the state. They cannot.” He blamed “those in Pennsylvania” (a reference to Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, and his Hizmet Movement) for the coup attempt. Erdoğan also said he had plans to “clean up” the army, saying that “This uprising is a gift from God to us.” State-run Anadolu Agency named former Colonel Muharrem Köse, who in March 2016 was dishonorably discharged for alleged association with Gülen, as the suspected leader of the coup. However, the Alliance for Shared Values, a non-profit organization associated with Gülen, released a statement reiterating that it condemns any military intervention in domestic politics, and saying Erdoğan’s allegations against the movement were ‘highly irresponsible’. Gülen himself said in a brief statement just before midnight: “As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations.”
Reuters reported that in early hours of 16 July, the coup appeared to have “crumbled” as crowds defied pro-coup military orders and gathered in major squares of Istanbul and Ankara to oppose the coup. Reuters also reported pro-coup soldiers surrendering to the police in Taksim Square, Istanbul. It was reported that by 5:18 am, Atatürk airport had completely been recaptured by the government whilst the police had surrounded the coupists inside the Turkish army headquarters, calling for them to surrender. Between 6:00–8:00 am a skirmish took place there. In Akar’s absence, Ümit Dündar, head of the First Army, was appointed Acting Chief of Staff.
In the early hours of the morning of 16 July, soldiers blocking the Bosphorus Bridge surrendered to the police. According to the government-run Anadolu Agency, this consisted of a group of 50 soldiers. Some of these soldiers were lynched by the public despite efforts of police forces which fired into the air in order to protect the soldiers from civilians. The throat of one soldier was reportedly slit whilst a video emerged in which one person claimed that four soldiers had been killed. Meanwhile, in the headquarters of the Turkish Army, 700 unarmed soldiers surrendered as the police conducted an operation into the building while 150 armed soldiers were kept inside by the police. The coupists in the TRT building in Istanbul surrendered in the early morning as well. Chief of Staff Akar was freed in the operation.
On Saturday 16 July 2016, at 12:42 am (UTC+3), a Turkish Black Hawk helicopter sent a distress signal to Greek authorities and landed 8 minutes later (12:50) at the Dimokritos airport in Alexandroupoli, at Greece, while two Greek F-16s observed the procedure and escorted it to the airport. Seven military personnel, who had removed the badges and insignia from their uniforms, and a civilian on board were arrested after landing for illegal entry into the country. They were transferred to the local police station, while the helicopter was guarded at the airport by the Greek authorities. Later it turned out that all were military personnel. The eight passengers all requested political asylum in Greece. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey has requested extradition of the persons who escaped to Greece and the return of the Turkish helicopter to Turkey. The Greek authorities answered that the Turkish military helicopter will be returned as soon as possible. Regarding the passengers they said that “we will follow the procedures of international law. However, we give very serious considerations to the fact that they are accused, in their country, of violating the constitutional order and trying to overthrow democracy.” The Turkish Foreign Minister made a statement, posted on Twitter, that the soldiers who landed in Greece, claiming asylum, will be extradited. A Greek government source denied this by saying the asylum process would be processed swiftly and lawfully. At night (after 11:00 pm (UTC+3)) a second Turkish Black Hawk helicopter with extra crew members arrived at the Greek airport from Turkey in order to retrieve the first helicopter, after they checked the helicopter they returned with both helicopters back to Turkey early Sunday morning. The lawyer assigned to four of the Turkish military officers, said they were all medical crew in Istanbul and they didn’t know about the coup and that they all have families and children in Turkey. She, also, added that the officers received orders at Friday (15 July 2016) evening to transfer some injured people with their helicopters. They followed orders without knowing that a coup was under way. At some point, police opened fire against their helicopters. By that point they knew that a coup was under way and they feared that they would be executed as participants if they stayed in Turkey, so they decided to get on the one helicopter that had not been hit by police and fly to Greece to request asylum.
Arrests and purges
Prime Minister Yıldırım announced that 2,839 soldiers of various ranks had been arrested. Among those arrested were at least 34 generals or admirals. A number of students of the Kuleli Military High School, numbering enough to fill five buses, were also arrested.
On 16 July 2016, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors of Turkey (HSYK) first removed 2,745 Turkish judges from duty following the attempted coup, and then ordered their detention hours later. 541 of these judges were in administrative judiciary and 2,204 were in criminal judiciary. This amounted to approximately 36% of all judges in Turkey at the time. 5 members of the HSYK had their membership revoked and 10 members of the Turkish Council of State were arrested on charges of being members of the parallel state. Furthermore, arrest warrants were issued for 48 members of the Council of State and 140 members of the Court of Cassation. Yasemin Özata Çetinkaya, the governor of Sinop Province, was removed from her duty and her husband, a colonel in the Turkish army, arrested.
President Erdoğan asked the United States to extradite exiled opposition leader Fethullah Gülen, whom he blamed for a failed coup: “I call on you again, after there was a coup attempt. Extradite this man in Pennsylvania to Turkey! If we are strategic partners or model partners, do what is necessary.” Prime Minister Yildirim has threatened war against any country that would support Gülen.
Incirlik Air Base
The US consulate in Turkey has issued an advisory to U.S citizens to avoid the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey until “normal operations have resolved”. They stated that local authorities were denying access to the air base and that power supplying the air base was shut off. The U.S Air Force has been permitted to use Incirlik air base for the American-led intervention in Syria.
Among the Turkish opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) issued a statement expressing their public opposition to the coup, and the Hürriyet Daily News reported that Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli telephoned Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım to express his opposition to the coup. The co-chairs of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) issued a statement saying that the party was “under all circumstances and as a matter of principle against all kinds of coup…” Amongst the minor parties, left-wing nationalist Patriotic Party’s Doğu Perinçek seemed to back the AKP government, when he held Gülen and the Americans responsible. Kurdish nationalist PKK urged their supporters to stay away from the coup and rather defend their people, while the Communist Party called upon the people to overthrow the AKP government which they called an “enemy of humanity”.
Reportedly, no government officials were arrested or harmed during the attempted coup, which—among other factors—raised the suspicion of a false flag event staged by the Turkish government itself to crack down on the opposition.
Fethullah Gülen, whom President Erdogan had accused as being one of the principal conspirators, vehemently condemned the coup attempt and denied any role in it. “I condemn, in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey,” he said in an emailed statement reported by The New York Times. “Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force. I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly. As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations.”
Afghanistan – The President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani said in a statement that “democratic elections are the most effective means for peaceful transfer of power.” and that “Militaristic options will only undermine democratic institutions, stability and development in the country”.
Australia – The Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop has announced that she has spoken this morning with Ambassador James Larsen at the Australian Embassy in Ankara and is following the situation closely.
Bulgaria – The President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev condemned all forms of violence and expressed support for the democratically elected institutions of Turkey. PM Boyko Borissov said the Bulgarian authorities are closely monitoring the situation in neighbouring Turkey.
Canada – Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion tweeted that he was “concerned” and urged for “calm, order, [and] safety of Turkish citizens.”Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement calling for restraint by all parties, saying Canada supports the preservation of democracy in Turkey, and condemns any attempt to undermine its democratic institutions by “force of arms”.
Estonia – Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves tweeted that a military coup of a democratically elected government can never be accepted.
Georgia – Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said that Georgia was following developments “with great concern,” and that an emergency session of the National Security Council had met, which included President Giorgi Margvelashvili. Kvirakishvili also noted that the Georgian–Turkish border would be closed shortly, though no incidents had occurred near the border.
Czech Republic – President Miloš Zeman said that “Turkey should avoid bloodshed and keep democratic principles as it is a member of NATO and a key player in the region.” Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka noted that “democratic principles stressed by President Erdogan and the government during the night must be fulfilled in the future.”
Gaza – Gaza’s ruling Islamic militant group Hamas condemned the Turkish coup d’état attempt as a “vicious” plot to overthrow President Erdoğan.
Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the coup attempt in Turkey, saying: “Tanks on the streets and attacks from the air against their own people are against the law.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “I sharply condemn all attempts to alter the democratic rule of law in Turkey through the use of violence.” Steffen Seibert, the German government’s press secretary, tweeted that the democratic order of Turkey must be respected.
Greece – Greek PM Alexis Tsipras announced on Twitter that “the government and the people of Greece are staying by the side of democracy and constitutional legality.”
India – Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted that the ministry was closely watching developments, and advised Indians in Turkey to stay indoors. “We have been closely following the developments in Turkey. India calls upon all sides to support democracy and mandate of the ballot, and avoid bloodshed.”
Iran – Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that he was “concerned” about the crises in Turkey and that the “stability, democracy and safety of Turkish people are paramount” and urged for “unity and prudence order” between the Turkish people.
Ireland – Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan made a statement calling for restraint and respect for democratic institutions in Turkey.
Italy – Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed relief for the developments in Turkey; he also said “The concern for a situation out of control in a NATO partners, such as Turkey, gives way to the prevalence of stability and democratic institutions. We hope that there will not be setbacks and dangers for the population and for all the foreigners living in Turkey.” He also added that he believed that “freedom and democracy are always the road to follow and defend”.
Lithuania – Minister for Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius tweeted that coup “ruins foundation of sustainable democracy”. Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced statement that they’re highly concerned by events in Turkey and asks all sides to secure the constitutional order and safety of civilians. They also reiterated Lithuania support for democratically elected Government of Turkey.
Northern Cyprus – Mustafa Akıncı, President of Northern Cyprus, said that commanders of Turkish troops deployed in the separatist Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus remained loyal to Turkey’s military command. He also said that undemocratic acts could never be the solution to Turkey’s problems.
Pakistan – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the attempted military coup in Turkey. He added that Pakistan fully supports the Turkish president and his elected government. Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, telephoned the Turkish Foreign Minister to discuss the latest situation in Turkey. Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted saying that “Martial law… is no law” and also prayed for stability in Turkey and for the victory of democracy.
Poland – President Andrzej Duda expressed his hope that the crisis be resolved as quickly as possible, seeing as he considers it crucial for peace and security in the Middle East, adding that “Let us bear in mind that Turkey plays a most important role as far as countering the migrant crisis goes, as well as stabilization in this part of the world and easening the tension arising from the Syrian conflict.” Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s official Twitter account posted a photo of her and German Chancellor Angela Merkel allegedly debating the crisis.
Qatar – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that “The State of Qatar has expressed its strong denunciation and condemnation of the military coup attempt, lawlessness, and violation of the constitutional legitimacy in the Republic of Turkey.”
Romania – President Klaus Iohannis expressed hope that “public order will be reinstated in the shortest time.” Prime Minister Dacian Cioloș said the only way forward for Turkey was “a return to constitutional order and the rule of law.”
Russia – Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a statement and said that it is important to “avoid bloodshed” in Turkey and that “any issues should be settled within a constitutional framework.”
Saudi Arabia – The Saudi Press Agency quoted a foreign ministry official: “The source expressed the kingdom’s welcome that things are returned to normal led by his Excellency President Tayyip Erdogan and his elected government and in line with the constitutional legitimacy and the will of the Turkish people.”
Somalia – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Somalia has tweeted that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud condemns the attempted coup. It also tweeted that the President was “very glad to hear that evil forces who tried to turn Turkey into a violence ground have been defeated.”
Spain – Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced over Twitter Spain’s support for “the democratic constitutional order in Turkey, [a] friend and ally”.
Ukraine – Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin wrote on Twitter: “Now key priority for Turkey is respect for democratically elected institutions and saving people’s lives.”President Petro Poroshenko tweeted that he was “concerned” and that “Ukraine supports the democratically elected President and Government of Turkey”.
United Kingdom – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “very concerned by events unfolding in Turkey”, and that the British embassy was monitoring the situation closely. He advised British citizens to follow the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for advice. Johnson followed this up with a statement urging “calm and the avoidance of any further bloodshed.” He said he had spoken to Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and had “underlined UK support for the democratic elected government and institutions.”
United States – Secretary of State John Kerry said he “hopes for stability, peace, continuity in Turkey.” Kerry said the U.S. would consider Turkey’s extradition request for exiled opposition leader Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkish President Erdoğan blamed for a failed coup. Both Kerry and Obama “agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed.” The United States Embassy in Ankara issued an Emergency Message, urging U.S. citizens in Turkey to “contact family and friends to let them know you are safe,” also noting to “monitor local press for updates, avoid areas of conflict, and exercise caution if you are in the vicinity of any military or security forces.” The State Department tweeted “all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected Gov’t of Turkey, show restraint, avoid violence.” Regarding the AKP’s allegations against exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, Secretary of State Kerry invited the Turkish government “to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny,” before they would accept an extradition request.
European Union – Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, tweeted that she was “in constant contact” with the EU delegations in Ankara & Brussels, and called for “restraint and respect for democratic institutions.” She subsequently released a statement condemning the coup attempt and reiterating the EU’s “full support to the democratic institutions of the country.” Adding the EU was in contact with Turkish authorities, she said: “Societal tensions can only be addressed through democratic processes. We underline the need for a swift return to Turkey’s constitutional order with its checks and balances and stress the importance for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms to prevail.”
Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, tweeted that “Tensions, challenges cannot be solved with guns. Military coups have no place in modern Turkey. No alternative to democracy, rule of law. How Turkey comes out of this crisis and deals with [the] consequences [is] crucial for Turkey, wider region and EU-Turkey cooperation. Our hope and intention is to keep Turkey as [a] key partner in all its dimensions.”
United Nations – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement appealing for calm in Turkey. Spokesman Farhan Haq said the secretary-general was closely following developments.
NATO – Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement calling for calm and “full respect for Turkey’s democratic institutions and its constitution.”