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Turkey Coup Attempt Leaves President Erdogan With Uncertain Grip On Country

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Scott Simon. Turkey's government defeated a coup attempt by a faction within its military last night. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to have regained control of the country earlier this morning. He vowed those responsible would pay a, quote, "heavy price." Soner Cagaptay is the director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and he joins us now via Skype. Soner, welcome to the program.

SONER CAGAPTAY: It's always a pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: Let me ask you who might have been behind the coup and what they wanted.

CAGAPTAY: It appears that this is a divided military in action, which is - which goes against everything we know about the Turkish military, which, in the past, when it carried out coups - and that was only decades and decades ago - it acted as a hierarchical institution, top down. This time, you're seeing splits in the military, some generals and groups and parts of some forces were involved and some forces were not involved. And I think this is an incredibly worrisome sign for a country which has a universal conscript-based military, which is now - appears to be splitting, perhaps, along ideological or political lines in which some people are taking action against the government in an illegal fashion and others are not.

And I think that has ramifications, not only for Turkey's democracy but for what has been hitherto the most respected public institution in the country, the military, which is going to see its respectability skyfall following this incident, as well as a country that faces so many challenges next door is going to see how its military's standing in the country also come under criticism.

WERTHEIMER: Why do you think that this thing failed?

CAGAPTAY: First of all, it was a poorly executed coup, as we saw it. This - the military generals who were involved in it, I think, thought they lived in 1980s. They captured state-run TV, read a declaration. The president of the country went on FaceTime on his iPhone, did an interview, sent it out to the people, called them to come onto the streets, and it was the victory of the digital age and social media over what could have been an analog coup had it succeeded.

Someone just thought that getting rid - getting access to public TV and reading a declaration there that they had taken over power would have sufficed. So definitely an ill-conceived, ill-executed plot that was destined to fail from the beginning.

WERTHEIMER: Do you agree with what the government is saying, that this was a victory for democracy? Is that how you see it?

CAGAPTAY: Well, I have a little bit more nuanced view of that. I think it's definitely a victory for democracy because nobody wants a military takeover. But a victory for democracy going forward, I am less certain about that. For one thing, ironically, I believe, if the military had won, of course Turkey would have become an oppressive place, and we don't want that.

But because - just because the government won doesn't mean it will become a more free, more liberal place. I think the contrary, that even though the government has won, Turkey will unfortunately become less free, less democratic. This is a government whose leader, President Erdogan, has won successive elections on a platform of yes, economic good governance...

WERTHEIMER: Right.

CAGAPTAY: ...But also social conservatism and demonizing groups that don't vote for him and to the point of encouraging violence against them. So Erdogan has built successive electoral majorities...

WERTHEIMER: Yes.

CAGAPTAY: ...By going against groups that do not vote for him. And I think that has created a very polarized political environment.

WERTHEIMER: Soner - Soner Cagaptay...

CAGAPTAY: So following the coup, I think he'll crack down further on those groups.

WERTHEIMER: Soner Cagaptay, thank you very much.

CAGAPTAY: It's my pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Cagaptay is the director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.