Turkey coup attempt: What happened that night?

This coup attempt was defeated by the citizens of Turkey, regardless of their political affiliation.

Attempted coup d''etat in Turkey
People occupy a tank in Istanbul on the night of the coup attempt in Turkey [EPA]

We are witnessing extraordinary events in Turkey. Including this latest one, there have been five military coups in the past 60 years. However, this one was different.

Previously, coups were carried out by Kemalist officers in the military circles, but this time it was said to be Gulenist officers, followers of the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Who are these people? What is their aim? Gulen was a cleric for a long time in Turkey. He was following Said Nursi’s teachings but later became a cult figure for his followers who believe he is the Mahdi.

Over the years, this cult infiltrated government institutions, in particular the education ministry, security services and judiciary.

Gulenists disguised themselves in a discreet manner, making them almost impossible to be identified.

Although Gulen has been using religious rhetoric to exert his influence and collecting money through this influence, his cult members presented themselves as non-religious in their workplaces.

They lived “parallel lives”. In the army and judiciary, they consumed alcohol, didn’t fast during Ramadans or adhere to other Islamic principles outwardly.

At home they followed their cult orders. They set up a parallel hierarchy in government institutions, and followed its orders for a long time. Their main aim was to take over the government when the time has come.

How did the Gulenists infiltrate?

One of the main differences between this group and the mainstream Islamist movement is that Gulenists have been very pro-United States and pro-Israel.

Gulen presented himself as a symbol of moderate Islam and got a very warm welcome from the West. He chartered schools in 140 countries and used these schools as his recruitment ground.

The turning point was Erdogan's television appearance ... He said the military's activity was an illegal action against the democratically elected government and urged people to take to the streets and protest against the coup attempt.


After the election of the Justice and Development Party (AK party) in 2002, Gulenists had developed a special relationship with the government and used this link to strengthen their influence in the government institutions.

They were instrumental in orchestrating the campaign against some army officers between 2007 and 2013 – namely Ergenekon, Balyoz and the Izmir military espionage cases.

It was through these cases that they strengthened their hold on the army and promoted their officers above others.

After 2011, the self-confidence of the movement grew with a belief that they could take over the state.

They attempted to instigate a “civilian coup” on December 17 and 25, 2013, during the so-called corruption probe, but they failed.

After this attempt, the government, and particularly the prime minister of the day, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, initiated legal actions against this group.

READ MORE: Turkey: Plotters ‘acted early’ in fear of arrests

In the past four elections in the aftermath of the December 2013 investigation, Gulenists supported opposition parties against the AK party.

They used their propaganda machine against Erdogan and the AK party but they failed again with the ruling party, receiving 49.5 percent of the votes and the majority seats in the last elections.

Through their links in the West, the Gulen movement has conducted a very aggressive PR campaign against the AK party government.

Anti-coup demonstrators celebrate their victory at Istanbul's Taksim Square [Reuters]
Anti-coup demonstrators celebrate their victory at Istanbul’s Taksim Square [Reuters]

They portrayed the Turkish government as autocratic and President Erdogan as a dictator. This propaganda was particularly very effective in the West, and has been consumed by Western media in the past three years.

While they have carried out their campaign, the government has tried to remove the group members from government institutions.

This was not an easy task as it is nearly impossible to find concrete evidence owing to the secretive manner in which they operate.

The government transferred some members in attempts to pacify them, but this was not sufficient to thwart their efforts to undermine the government.

In the meantime, the aforementioned cases were overturned by the Supreme Court when the conspiracy was revealed.

OPINION: People defeated the coup in Turkey

Then the courts began to open cases against this group. Recently some of the Gulenists were arrested in relation to these cases.

In particular, the court dealing with the Izmir military espionage case had begun the process of sending arrest warrants for some high-ranking officers just before the coup attempt.

Another development was due to take place during the Supreme Military Council (YAS) annual meeting in August.

Many newspapers revealed that during this meeting the majority of officers belonging to this group were to be sacked.

On the night of the coup attempt

These last two developments made the Gulenists act early – and rather prematurely.

They had planned to launch the coup on Saturday, July 16, at 04.00 local time, but as of July 15, at 16.00, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) acquired credible intel about the coup.

They informed the Turkish Armed Forces chief of staff. Both chiefs met to stop the coup and prepared an action plan involving sending military units to halt the attempt.

However, the Gulenist clique within the military was so well organised that even the private secretary of the chief of staff was one of them.

OPINION: The lessons to be learned from Turkey’s failed coup 

That action plan never reached the units. Instead the Gulenists found out that the government was aware of their plans and so they started the coup early.

They tried to eliminate the MIT, Police Special Operations Department and some other strategic units. In the meantime, they sent a team to eliminate the president in his holiday resort.

These actions failed, but the Gulenists managed to kidnap the army leadership and gain control of some areas.


The turning point was Erdogan’s television appearance. He was on CNN Turk through Facetime and he sent his message.

He said the military’s activity was an illegal action against the democratically elected government and urged people to take to the streets and protest against the coup attempt.

After that call, millions of people were on the streets and even though they were under fire, they did not turn back and kept resisting. The opposition party leaders joined the condemnation of the coup.

This coup attempt was defeated by the citizens of Turkey, regardless of their political affiliation. It was a victory for Turkish democracy.

Kani Torun is a Justice and Development Party member of the parliament and Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Turkish parliament.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.