ISTANBUL — Turkish society was on the verge of a major disaster last Friday. If the attempted coup d'etat had achieved its purpose, we would probably already be facing a large-scale civil war today. During the coup attempt, which lasted about 12 hours, we lived through a miniature version of this civil war with all its horrors: pro-coup soldiers clashed violently with the police, military officers opened fire on civilians, angry demonstrators lynched surrendered soldiers, military aircraft and helicopters bombed the parliament and other government buildings.
The high cost of human lives of this horrible night would only be a small fraction if the coup had succeeded, because its leaders would have terrorized the country in order to take control — and they would have realized that the only way to intimidate would be through massive slaughter.
On Friday night, Turkish society was on the brink of such a bloody dictatorship and probable civil war. Pro-coup soldiers' first mission was to take control of the General Staff of the Turkish military, and to bring all troops under their command. The next target was to capture President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the majority of military leaders refused to comply with coup orders, and Erdogan called all Turkish people to gather in public squares to confront the pro-coup soldiers. Opposition parties quickly and explicitly objected to the coup attempt. None of the trade unions or professional organizations supported the military initiative — nobody took to the streets to back the coup attempt.
One key aspect that the coup leaders failed to take into account was the fact that Turkish Armed Forces representatives are no longer present in public institutions, and seizing the state-run radio and television channels does not mean controlling the media. They undermined the importance of access to cable and satellite.
An overwhelming majority of the Turkish society turned their backs on the coup attempt, proof of the end of an era.
But now, those who failed in their coup attempt have created an opportunity for Erdogan's government to take the final step to achieve what it wanted for so long: supreme power over all institutions concentrated in the hands of one person.
The government in power has the opportunity to carry out an extensive liquidation operation against the individuals suspected of having any connections to the Gulen movement, an Islamic and social movement led by Pennslyvania-based Turkish theologian and preacher Fethullah Gulen. Many innocent bystanders will be swept up by the tide during this purge.
Most likely, the liquidations won't be limited to those accused of being Gulen sympathizers, and will target a much wider community of anyone who doesn't share the government's views. We might have dodged a bullet with the quick failure of the atrocious coup attempt, but event will sadly mark a new era that will damage our already defective democracy. The damage of this coup will turn out to be the way it opened the way for a new political system that will eliminate what's left of the checks and balances, which will take away our already limited freedoms.
We got rid of the coup threat, but now we face an even bigger one: a populist-authoritarian regime with a touch of Islamism. The fight for democracy is more important than ever.