Failed coup in Turkey claims the lives of hundreds

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Illustration by Max Fleishman

A surprising source is being blamed for the action.

Hundreds are dead following a failed military coup in Turkey, many of whom supported the attempt to wrest control from the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

At least 265 people are dead, 104 of whom reportedly supported the coup, according to the New York Times. Over 1,500 people have been wounded.

Loyalists took action on Friday night in the capital city of Ankara as well as in Istanbul, where the Bosphorus Bridge had been blocked by troops. Reports of explosions and gunfire were confirmed in both cities. Media—especially social media—proved to be a highly contentious resource.

The Turkish government swiftly responded to the violence by temporarily shutting down Twitter and Facebook. Later in the evening, troops stormed the Dogan Media Center in Istanbul and temporarily took control of CNN Türk, all while cameras were rolling. Prior to the incident, Erdoğan had reached CNN Türk viewers via a FaceTime chat with a journalist at around 12:44am local time, urging Turkish citizens to take to the streets "and give them their answers."

While CNN Türk's Friday night footage is certainly historic, nothing could compare it to the reach and impact that livestreaming had. Those willing to circumvent the government blockade took to Facebook Live to broadcast the rapidly failing coup.

Not all within the military were thrilled by its actions. A helicopter containing eight military personnel landed in Greece amidst the turmoil in Turkey, its members reportedly seeking asylum. The Greek government was reportedly considering the request but has instead chosen to return the party of eight to Turkey.

Personnel who were in favor of the military coup are seeing the consequences of their attempt begin to play out. At least 2,840 military members have been arrested. An equally broad impact has been felt by Turkey's judges, 2,745 of whom have been removed from their positions. It's assumed that Erdoğan had the judges removed over ties to coup leaders. The story may go deeper than that.

The president claims that Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric self-exiled to Pennsylvania, is behind the coup. Gülen and Erdoğan have long been rivals and Gülen has been implicated in multiple cases of civil unrest spanning as far back as the 1980s. Problems between the two came to a head when Erdoğan began shutting down prep schools—essentially Gülen's bread and butter under his burgeoning teaching movement which erred less towards faith-based learning than the typical Turkish classroom.

Those outside the interpersonal conflict have chalked the military coup up to anyone but Hizmet (the religious movement led by Gülen) followers. For its part, Gülen's Alliance for Shared Values has condemned the attacks, issuing a statement from its U.S. headquarters:

Events on the ground are moving quickly and it would be irresponsible for us to speculate on them. We remain concerned about the safety and security of Turkish citizens and those in Turkey right now. For more than 40 years, Fethullah Gülen and Hizmet participants have advocated for, and demonstrated their commitment to, peace and democracy. We have consistently denounced military interventions in domestic politics. These are core values of Hizmet participants. We condemn any military intervention in domestic politics of Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has also come out against Gülen, stating that countries in support of him will be considered at war with Turkey. It's unclear what constitutes support and whether Gülen's exile in Pennsylvania would negatively affect the United States.

Later on Saturday, Erdoğan issued a statement calling for Gülen's extradition, however. Turkey is one of dozens of countries to have an extradition treaty with the United States. The treaty has been in effect since 1979.

Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to respond to the request for extradition, though he has stated that the United States is willing to fully cooperate and assist the Turkish government as it investigates the failed coup.

Update 11:25am CT, July 16: This piece has been updated to reflect Greece's response to the helicopter that landed in Alexandrouplis.

Update 1:15pm CT, July 16: This piece has been updated to include information regarding the potential extradition of Gülen.

Update 1:35pm CT, July 17: Kerry has stated that the United States will consider extraditing Gülen. The move may not be necessary in the face of an alleged mastermind being taken into custody for his role in the coup. Gen. Akın Öztürk is reportedly being questioned by officials along with copious high ranking military personnel.

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