Turkish and US government officials, academics, and journalists convened in New York City September 23 for an event hosted by the Global Policy Institute, “Anatomy of the Failed Turkish Coup.”

During the event, which included a keynote address by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and a panel discussion moderated by former Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz, attendees were given insight into the events of July 15 and the implications of that fateful night. Key among the topics of debate was the vast awareness gap between Turks and Western observers regarding the significance of Fethullah Gülen’s attempted overthrow of a democratically elected government.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu addresses the audience.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu addresses the audience.

Minister Çavuşoğlu recounted the painful details of the failed putsch that left almost 300 dead and permanently shook Turkish citizens’ sense of security. Recalling the panic sweeping the nation, Çavuşoğlu expressed his pride and admiration for the Turks who took to the streets to uphold their country’s democracy. The resisters, he said, included men and women, Muslims, non-Muslims, and secularists, with and without hijabs, standing in front of tanks, unarmed but bearing Turkish flags.

The unity witnessed that night did not dissipate with the end of the coup attempt. Today, Turkish citizens of all classes, backgrounds, and beliefs feel more unified than ever, determined to hold the Gülenist putschists accountable for their actions. AKP partisans and opposition members now experience an unprecedented degree of convergence, with even those traditionally opposed to President Erdogan’s administration denouncing the attempted rupturing of democracy and rule of law.

This newfound harmony extended to media as well, Çavuşoğlu explained, with CNNTurk serving as a perfect example. Despite the network’s strained relationship with the government, CNNTurk’s employees attempted to fend off the putschists on the night of the 15th and helped to disseminate the president’s rallying cry to Turkish citizens.

Still, the Minister lamented, Turkey’s longstanding alliances with Western nations have begun to be called into question as a result of the tepid and misguided response from NATO allies in the coup’s immediate aftermath. Lukewarm condemnations were accompanied, not by reassurances of support, but rather by thinly veiled warnings to uphold the rule of law. Çavuşoğlu explained that while no stone will be left unturned in the government’s investigation of Gülenist infiltration, all procedural standards have and will continue to be followed. In Antalya, for example, when university faculty were detained over suspicions of links to the Hizmet, the professors were immediately returned to their posts and a formal apology offered when the links proved unsubstantiated.

Ankara has understandably imposed limits on some freedoms in the aftermath of the coup attempt, as is standard in any nation during a state of emergency, be it France, Belgium, or the US. Still, investigations are being carried out with the utmost respect for human rights and the rule of law, and incessant reminders to this effect from Western governments have come across as misplaced and condescending, especially given the remarkable lack of empathy shown for such a traumatic event.

Former Prime Minister Yılmaz echoed Çavuşoğlu’s pride and disappointment, noting that July’s was the first coup in Turkish history during which Turks did not heed the putschists orders to stay indoors, instead fighting them off on behalf of the nation. He reaffirmed the indispensable nature of Turkey’s alliance with the United States while expressing his regret that Western media seems to discount the preponderance of evidence tying Fethullah Gülen to the attempted putsch.

Former Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz discusses the events of July 15.
Former Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz discusses the events of July 15.

Citing testimonies from, among others, Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar, who was held captive by the coup plotters, Mr. Yılmaz asserted that there remained no doubt over who had ordered the overthrow. The soldiers, young and hesitant, were obeying commands coming from above in the rigid Hizmet hierarchy. Still, Yılmaz said he was confident that Washington, a steady ally of Ankara, would review the evidence and allow Gülen to be brought to justice in Turkey. This, he reassured, will neutralize the growing anti-American sentiment that should not be allowed to undermine such a crucial partnership.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Mark Kimmitt shared in PM Yılmaz’s optimism. As the discussion wrapped up, Kimmitt left attendees with no doubt over the seriousness with which Washington will treat the issue of Gülen’s extradition. “We are lucky to have Turkey as an ally,” he declared, expressing his confidence that “we will get back to the point where we can call Turkey our friend.”