ISTANBUL – The failed coup attempt here late Friday is expected to severely impact the Turkish economy, as the government arrested thousands and U.S. airlines suspended flights to and from the country’s two major airports.
A faction within the Turkish military tried to gain control in Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul late Friday, leaving at least 161 people dead and more than 1,440 wounded in clashes and plunging the country into further instability in a war-striven region. On Saturday, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan detained 2,838 military personnel, while 29 colonels and five generals were relieved of their duties and around 200 unarmed soldiers surrendered to police, according to senior government officials. At least 104 of the dead were coup plotters, a senior army official said.
The U.S. airline carriers were prohibited from flying to or from Istanbul and Ankara airports, while all airline carriers, regardless of country of registry, were prohibited from flying into the U.S. from Turkey either directly or via a third country. Although the government said it successfully foiled Friday’s coup attempt, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara informed its citizens that security at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport was significantly diminished and U.S. government employees have been instructed not to attempt to travel to or from Atatürk airport. It added that there were still reports of sporadic gunfire early Saturday.
Such travel restrictions, uncertainties surrounding the plot and steps that the government was likely to take to curb the opposition are expected to hurt tourism and retail – important pillars of the Turkish economy.
The Turkish lira plummeted against the U.S. dollar and the euro after the events of late Friday, but the real impact isn’t likely to be seen until the markets opened on Monday, analysts said.
Representatives of leading Turkish apparel retailers underlined the strength of the country’s democracy and urged for calm so the nation can quickly return to normal. “At hard times like this, we have to contribute to the normalization of life and make sure that our people fill the streets without fear or concerns,” said Sami Kariyo, the deputy chairman of the Turkish Clothing Manufacturers Association and the United Brands Association in Turkey.
“Our brands will be opening their doors wherever security and transportation would allow,” he added. “We see it as a citizenship obligation to contribute to the normal flow of life at such hard times.”
On Friday night, television channels aired images of tanks taking position to block Istanbul’s two strategic bridges connecting Asia to Europe under watchful eyes of the civilians, rekindling memories of four military interventions that the country survived since the Sixties. Erdogan appeared on a FaceTime interview on CNN Turk, a private television channel, from an unidentified location to slam the uprising against his rule that many, both at home and abroad, have strongly criticized for its autocratic and antidemocratic streaks.
The leader called his supporters to take the streets in defiance of gunshots, explosions, firing helicopters and low flying warplanes in Ankara and Istanbul that caused heavy damages to the Parliament building and army headquarters in the capital. Social media users shared images of people lining up at ATM machines and grocery stores before a short-lived curfew as thousands heeded to Erdogan’s call, waving flags on cars, pounding on moving military vehicles and chanting religious hymns in support of the pro-Islamic leader.
Leaving a Mediterranean holiday destination, the President arrived in Istanbul to address the public early Saturday when his government said it quashed the uprising and vowed the “traitors” would pay “a heavy price.” The uprising raised suspicions among some critics that it might have been staged in order for Erdogan to boost his popularity and consolidate his power by enabling him to transform the parliamentary system in Turkey into a presidential one. They pointed to the disorganized and almost amateurish nature of the attempt, surprising for a leading member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Others claimed that the attempt was the work of some military personnel who feared demotions during the upcoming military council meeting in August and so they rushed to take action.
On Saturday night, Erdogan lashed out against Fethullah Gulen, his one-time ally but now his primary opposition, who lives in Pennsylvania, and accused him of masterminding the coup attempt. Gulen immediately issued a written statement strongly denying any involvement. Erdogan called on the administration of President Obama to extradite Gulen to Turkey for his involvement in the events, the Associated Press reported. The administration has turned down similar requests in the past, underlining that charges had to be evident for the extradition of a U.S. green card holder like Gulen.
The uprising comes at a time when Turkey is playing a key role in the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS, or the Islamic State, active along Turkey’s southern borders with Iraq and Syria. The U.S.-run air base in Adana, a border town, is one of the major hubs for the international air force flights of the coalition. The Turkish government, which is led by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim but is widely dominated by Erdogan, has waged a major offensive against the Kurdish separatists the PKK in the country’s predominantly Kurdish south while several terror attacks in recent months by the group and religious extremists had already challenged the country’s stability.