On the evening of Friday, July 15, factions within the Turkish military attempted to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The coup began between 10:00pm and 11:00pm Turkish local time, or 3:00-4:00pm Eastern Standard Time (EST), when members of the military marched into the streets of the capital Ankara, took over several key bridges in Istanbul, and flew fighter jets above both cities. Coup participants stormed the Turkish state news agency TRT, took over the broadcast, imposed martial law, and announced that the “political administration that has lost all legitimacy has been forced to withdraw.”
Although there have been three successful military coups and one “virtual coup” in Turkey since 1960, this attempt failed within hours, after Erdogan, in a televised FaceTime appearance around midnight local time, called on Turks to take to the streets and the government mobilized social media and mosques for the same purpose. All the country’s major opposition parties, as well as key parts of the military, also came out on Friday night against the coup. At 8:20pm EST, 3:20am local time, Turkish officials announced on CNN Turk that the coup attempt had been thwarted and that Erdogan was in full control.
More than 200 people reportedly have been killed and more than 1,400 injured in violence related to the coup, which has included coup-makers’ attacks on state buildings such the Parliament and against civilians, and civilians’ and pro-government forces’ violence against those allegedly involved with the coup attempt. By Saturday morning, July 16, the government had begun to purge the armed forces, police, and state bureaucracy of alleged “coup supporters.” The New York Times reported that as of July 19, Turkish officials had suspended “more than 15,000 employees of the education ministry for suspected links to a failed military coup” and “had either purged or detained nearly 35,000 members of the military, security forces and judiciary.” The Washington Post indicated further that the annual leave for more than three million civil servants had been suspended. Pictures have also emerged that appear to show the abuse of those detained in connection with the coup attempt. Turkish officials have raised the prospect of reintroducing the death penalty, which Turkey outlawed in 2004 as a part of the nation’s bid to join the European Union.
Initial U.S. Statements
The following is a timeline of public statements by U.S. officials reacting to the coup attempt in the NATO-member country while it first was unfolding on Friday evening, on Saturday after it had been suppressed, and in the subsequent days responding to the Turkish government’s crackdown.
At 5:05pm EST on Friday, July 15, a little more than an hour after the first reports of the coup actions emerged on social media, the U.S. Department of State confirmed reports of Istanbul bridge closures and shots fired and urged U.S. citizens to shelter in place.
A few minutes later, the spokesperson for the White House National Security Council tweeted simply that President Barack Obama was being briefed on the unfolding situation.
At 5:43pm EST, as Secretary of State John Kerry exited a meeting in Moscow on U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria, he stated to reporters that he had “no knowledge” of the events in Turkey beyond public reports but expressed his hope for “stability and peace and continuity in Turkey.”
At 7:02pm EST, more than three hours after the coup attempt began, the U.S. Department of State stated that President Obama and Secretary Kerry had spoken over the phone and had agreed “that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed.”
Half an hour later, Kerry issued a statement announcing that he had spoken with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to emphasize “the United States’ absolute support for Turkey’s democratically-elected, civilian government and democratic institutions.” He also urged “all parties to ensure the safety and well-being of diplomatic missions and personnel and civilians throughout Turkey.”
At 7:53pm EST, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara issued an updated emergency warning titled “Turkish Uprising” that warned American citizens to shelter in place and urged them to contact family and friends to let them know they were safe.
Late the next morning on Saturday, July 16, following a National Security Council meeting, the White House issued a statement that President Obama reiterated the United States’ “unwavering support for the democratically-elected, civilian Government of Turkey.” The statement urged the Turkish government to “act within the rule of law and to avoid actions that would lead to further violence or instability” in its response to the attempted coup.
In a statement later on Saturday with Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselbourn, Secretary Kerry reiterated U.S. support for the Turkish government and confirmed that the situation in Turkey seemed to be calm and moving towards a restoration of order. Kerry also confirmed that the “United States will obviously be supportive of any legitimate investigative efforts, and under due process and within the law, we will be completely supportive of efforts to assist the Government of Turkey, if they so request.” This assertion came amid accusations by Turkish officials, including President Erdogan, that Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric and political opponent of Erdogan living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, was responsible for the attempted coup. Kerry also said the coup did “not appear to be a very brilliantly planned or executed event,” and stressed that the United States had no knowledge of the coup before it was launched, noting that “If you’re planning a coup, you don’t exactly advertise to your partners in NATO.”
Also on Saturday, Secretary Kerry again spoke with Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, with the Department of State readout noting that Kerry “reiterated U.S. support for the democratically-elected government in Turkey.” Kerry also urged “restraint by the Turkish government and respect for due process — and its international obligations — as it investigates and uncovers additional information about those involved.” Kerry offered U.S. support for Turkey’s investigative efforts, but stressed that public claims and insinuations that the United States was behind the coup were “utterly false.”
On Sunday, July 17, in remarks on several U.S. political talk shows, Secretary Kerry repeatedly called on Ankara to refrain from using the coup attempt as a reason to carry out mass arrests of all opponents of the government. He also emphasized that Turkey had not yet formally requested Gulen’s extradition, and that he had urged Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to send any evidence that Gulen had directed the coup effort to U.S. authorities. Finally, he underscored U.S. support for the democratically-elected government of Turkey, and assured viewers that Turkey was still focused on the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS).
On Monday, July 18, in remarks to the press after a meeting in Brussels on U.S.-E.U. relations, Kerry raised concerns over Turkey’s purge of bureaucrats and other officials: “Obviously a lot of people have been arrested and arrested very quickly. The level of vigilance and scrutiny is obviously going to be significant in the days ahead. Hopefully we can work in a constructive way that prevents a backsliding.” He added that “NATO [membership] also has a requirement with respect to democracy,” and he warned that NATO will “measure” Turkey’s actions.
State Department Spokesperson John Kirby shortly afterwards clarified Kerry’s remarks, stating that it is “too soon to say that their membership [in NATO] is at risk” and that the U.S. Government expects that “the [Turkish] government will live up to the democratic principles enshrined in its constitution.”
Also on Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass in a statement categorically denied that the US had anything to do with the coup: “Some news reports – and, unfortunately, some public figures – have speculated that the United States in some way supported the coup attempt. This is categorically untrue, and such speculation is harmful to the decades-long friendship between two great nations.” He asserted that any allegation that the United States did not support the Turkish government was “an absolute fabrication” and continued to express the United States’ willingness to cooperate with any legal, formal requests for assistance in the investigation into the coup attempt.
In the White House Daily Press Briefing that same day, Spokesperson Josh Earnest affirmed that the United States would follow the procedures established in an extradition treaty between the United States and Turkey if and when a formal extradition request for Fetullah Gulen was filed. He furthermore asserted that any allegation that the United States was “harboring” Gulen was “factually incorrect.”
During the Department of State’s Daily Press Briefing on Monday, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner made several statements regarding the situation in Turkey. He continued to stress that the United States would, within the bounds of the law and provided evidence, cooperate with any formal request for extradition of Fetullah Gulen. He also cautioned the Turkish government against overreach that would violate democratic principles in the wake of the coup, noting several specific concerns of the U.S. government and reaffirming the United States’ unilateral condemnation of the coup attempt. Toner rejected “wholeheartedly” any insinuation that the United States delayed any statements on the coup in order to determine in which direction the coup attempt would fall.
On Tuesday morning, July 19, the National Security Council released a statement summarizing the President’s telephone conversation with Erdogan earlier in the day. The statement reiterated President Obama’s condemnation of the coup attempt, urged Turkey to ensure that “the investigations and prosecutions of the coup’s perpetrators be conducted in ways that reinforce public confidence in democratic institutions and the rule of law,” and offered “appropriate U.S. assistance” in the investigation.
Later that day, during their respective Press Briefings, both the White House and the State Department confirmed that they had received documents from the Turkish government and were analyzing them to determine if they constitute a formal extradition request for Fetullah Gulen. State Department Spokesperson Toner emphasized that “this is not an overnight process.” Toner also commented on the recent purge of government officials and civil servants in Turkey, saying: “it is understandable and justified, frankly, that the government would take actions to go after the perpetrators, to conduct a thorough investigation into what happened, and really to try to provide for the security of the Turkish people.” However, he urged the government of Turkey “to maintain calm and stability in the wake of Friday’s events” and “to uphold the democratic standards that the Turkish constitution provides for, as well as rule of law.”
White House Spokesperson Earnest also emphasized that “this is a particularly important time for the Turkish government and the leaders of Turkey to adhere to the principles of democracy and support the democratic institutions and traditions of the Turkish government.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which just last week held a hearing on Turkey’s democratic decline, issued a statement at 7:45pm on Friday as the coup attempt unfolded expressing his awareness of the domestic pressures within Turkey and his “deep concern” about the events in the country. When asked by a Twitter user about his feelings on the attempted coup, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Chairman of the same subcommittee, replied that Erdogan had “systematically undermined” democracy in Turkey and asserted that the Turkish people “deserve better.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) tweeted late on Friday afternoon shortly after news of the coup broke that he hoped the military takeover in Turkey would “lead to real democracy — not Erdogan authoritarianism.” Over the course of the evening, he continued to express hope that the coup attempt would lead to an improvement on Erdogan’s “authoritarian rule,” criticizing those who used the coup attempt “to whitewash Erdogan.” This apparent support of the coup attempt, which Sherman later clarified, sparked criticism on Twitter from other Congress members, including Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA).
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Saturday afternoon issued a statement condemning the coup and stressed that Erdogan “must do his part and turn away from his creeping authoritarianism.”
Presidential Candidates’ Reactions
Presumptive Democratic nominee for President Hillary Clinton issued a statement at 6:00pm. on Friday emphasizing her support “for the democratically-elected civilian government.” She also urged “calm and respect for laws, institutions, and basic human rights and freedoms” in Turkey.
Republican nominee Donald Trump did not release a statement immediately when news broke of the coup attempt. During an already-scheduled press briefing on Saturday afternoon to formally announce Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) as his running-mate, Trump said he “wished them [the Turkish people] well” and that “hopefully it will work out.”