Here's Why There Was a Coup Attempt in Turkey

*updated*

With photos going around the Internet of tanks moving in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, it’s easy to imagine a coup is in progress to oust the ruling Justice and Development party, and its President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

If it’s happening, there are good reasons for it. (Update: there was in fact a coup attempt.)

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the opening of the new terminal of Aden Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu, Somalia on January 25. 2015 AMISOM Photo / Ilyas Ahmed

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the opening of the new terminal of Aden Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu, Somalia on January 25. 2015 AMISOM Photo / Ilyas Ahmed

Modern Turkey, founded in the ashes of the Ottoman Empire by Kemal Ataturk, has been designed from the ground up to be a western, democratic state. In fact his name had been Mustafa Kemal, but he was named father of the Turks, much in the way we call George Washington the father of our country.

Kemalism, the set of reforms he promoted, included secularism. He was a revolutionary and sought to break the ties with the old order. He did not want Turkey to be bound up in Islamism or anything that would hold the country back from modern progress, going so far as to ban the wearing of a Fez.

Overseeing this in Turkey is a set of checks and balances, but not the kind we have in America. While we often expect our courts to jump in when the legislature and the executive overstep, in Turkey it is the Army that intervenes. They’ve done it twice since World War II, and threatened it at least two other times, including in 1997 when they warned against the Welfare Party. The Welfare Party, a Sunni Islamist party, was then shut down and replaced with the Justice and Development Party. That party controls the Presidency and the legislature, de facto led by President Erdogan.

Under the Justice and Development party (often abbreviated AKP for the Turkish initials), the country has taken some steps toward Islamism, most notably attempting to resupply Hamas in Gaza during the Israeli embargo. Their attempt drew a naval response from Israel, cooling ties betwen the countries.

However domestically it’s been just as much of a problem, as laws have been passed attempting to change the character of the nation, enforcing Islamic values, instead of secular Turkish values. This naturally has included censorship and oppression.

While the AKP has won elections, it has not won them by enough for Erdogan’s tastes. He recently wanted to rewrite the nation’s Constitution to empower his office of the Presidency. However, he’d never win a referendum to do it, so he tried to get his party elected in large enough numbers to accomplish it. He failed, but he’s still attempted to be a strong man, threatening his country’s courts.

If the army is taking down the AKP, that’s a welcome development for liberty in NATO.