The Turkish military on Friday said that it had assumed power over Turkey, an act that the president said was doomed to fail.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who conducted a FaceTime interview from an unknown location with a local TV station Friday, urged the Turkish people to go to the streets to protest the soldiers’ actions. He said those behind the move are associated with US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Gulen is a former ally of Erdogan who has accused the president of corruption as part of an apparent power struggle.
Western intelligence and military officials are closely monitoring developments in Nato member Turkey, a key US ally in the war against Islamic State terrorists. Turkey also supports the moderate opposition looking to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
US president Barack Obama and secretary of state John Kerry issued a statement calling on all parties in Turkey to support the country’s democratically elected government.
The situation is changing quickly and details are emerging, but the army put out an email statement, read on Turkish television, saying it had “fully seized control” of the government to protect democracy and maintain human rights.
Prime minister Binali Yildirim told private NTV television that the group stormed the main TV station, TRT, and forced broadcasters to read a statement saying a curfew had been imposed.
“The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so” he said on the private channel NTV.
In Istanbul, massive crowds were gathering in the city, including Taksim Square, waving flags and shouting support for Erdogan.
Erdogan, who said, “I never believed in a power higher than the people,” vowed that the coup plotters will pay a “very heavy price.”
A VOA correspondent in Istanbul said police were arresting rogue soldiers late Friday. Other rogue soldiers were beginning to return to their barracks, according to Turkey intelligence spokesman Nuhy Ilmiz, and would face very harsh repercussions.
The military is again taking control, Ilmiz said, adding that life in Turkey will return to normal Saturday.
In Ankara, military helicopters have been flying over the capital. Government officials say a Turkish fighter jet shot down a helicopter used by coup plotters.
Media also report at least two bombs hit the parliament building. There are numerous reports that hostages have been taken in Ankara.
CNN Turk says they are being held at a military headquarters there, where the rogue army faction reportedly is still in control. The chief of military staff, General Hulusi Akar, was among those being held but has now been freed.
Attaturk airport in Istanbul is apparently closed to traffic and tanks are blocking the entrance. Security forces had also blocked all traffic from crossing the Bosphorus and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges, the two main bridges over the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, but cars appear to be moving again.
Ankara correspondent Yildiz Yadicioglu said credit cards and ATMs are not working there, with lines forming in front of banks.
US military and diplomatic officials are scrambling to find out exactly what is going on in Turkey.
A senior US defense department official said officials are monitoring the situation closely. “As of this time, there has been no impact to Incirlik Air Base and counter-ISIL air operations from Incirlik continue,” he added.
Former intelligence officer Patrick Skinner said, “The coup really throws regional crises into a different stage.” Skinner now works with the Soufan Group, a New York organization that provides strategic security intelligence services to governments and multinational organizations.
Current and former US intelligence and military officials have long pointed to Turkey’s critical role both in the Syrian refugee crisis and in blocking the flow of fighters and supplies to the Islamic State terror group.
“A military government would likely crack down on ISIS and extremist groups that heretofore the government had perhaps seen more in the light as a tool against Assad than a domestic threat,” Skinner said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “But perhaps the focus shifts a bit as internal needs supersede CT [counterterror] concerns.”
He said it is possible that a military government could look to strengthen its ties with the West, but that there is no way at this point to know for sure.
There is also concern as to how a series of other issues will be impacted by the apparent coup, including the fate of Turkey’s Kurdish population, and those in Iraq and Syria, too, as well as the involvement of Russia and Iran in the region.
“One would be hard pressed to pick a more destabilizing place for a coup right now,” Skinner said.
Earlier this week, CIA Director John Brennan admitted to disagreements between the US and Turkey, and not just over Syria, where the US has repeatedly urged Turkey to do more to crack down on IS.
“There are some things that are going on inside the Turkish political system that are subject to a lot of debate and even controversy,” he said.
“But I’ll just leave it that we do work closely with the Turks,” Brennan added. “I have very close interaction with my Turkish counterpart.”
VOA’s Dorian Jones said tensions between Turkey’s secular military and the pro-Islamist Erdogan government have been simmering since Erdogan came to power in 2014.
Jones says there have been concerns in Turkey that the airport bombing and other terrorist attacks, the government’s crackdown on Kurds, and Erdogan’s attempts to solidify control over the media cold spark a reaction from the military.
(Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking by video chat to CNN Turk. Screengrab from Euronews)