restricted access Making Gender Dynamics Visible in the 2016 Coup Attempt in Turkey
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Making Gender Dynamics Visible in the 2016 Coup Attempt in Turkey

On July 15, 2016, an otherwise ordinary Friday night for citizens of Turkey was disrupted by images, sounds, and situations that have, unfortunately, become less extraordinary in recent decades: a coup d’état. Modern Turkey’s history has been marred by a series of coups, from the bloody to the “postmodern,” in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997. Military tanks rolled into the cities, fighter jets and helicopters fired ammunition. Soldiers blocked key nodes in transportation networks and attacked central state, intelligence, and police locations and media outlets. The leaders of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) immediately named those behind the coup, Fethullah Gülen and his followers, and called on ordinary people to come out in defense of democracy. In response, thousands ignored the curfew declared by the coup leaders and poured out to the streets, confronting armed soldiers and tanks, working with the police to catch and sometimes extrajudicially execute suspected culprits.

By the following morning it was clear that the coup attempt had failed. Crowds came out to occupy public squares in celebration of new heroes and democracy. The government encouraged these “democracy vigils” and ensured access to them by suspending all fees for public transportation. Heroic moments of that night played over and over again on screens set up at the squares where people gathered.

The aftermath of the coup is still uncertain. Over three hundred people were killed and more than two thousand were injured during the coup. Hundreds have been detained or arrested; thousands have been fired from their jobs or forced to resign; over one hundred media outlets have been closed down in the days that followed. The government declared a state of emergency soon after the coup attempt. [End Page 173] The target of purges and arrests seems to be ever expanding from the military to the police force, the judiciary, universities, private schools, and all state employees.

Much of the summer 2016 news coverage and analysis of the events has focused on those who masterminded the coup attempt. Accounts use gender-neutral language (“people,” “crowds”) to describe the events, just as I intentionally do above. Analysis informed by feminist perspectives has been almost completely absent. It is often not remarked on that most of the actors (soldiers, police, civilians) who fought on the streets that night were men. However, the same handful of witness accounts and photos of women keep circulating in social media as proof of women’s participation. Regardless of who orchestrated the coup, it was deeply rooted in a masculinist military tradition and culture. Equally important, it was countered by a force that bolstered and sanctioned aggressive, violent masculinities of the police and civilian men. The military, the police, and male civilians all performed masculine bravado though there were clear winners and losers. Gender, especially masculinity, is central to the political and societal transformation Turkey is going through. A feminist analysis attentive to gender is necessary to examine the coup attempt’s implications and aftermath.

These concerns motivated us to invite feminist scholars and activists who work in and on Turkey to contribute essays that offer much needed analysis of the failed coup d’état and the political and social developments that followed. We thank all of the contributors for sharing their insights and doing so very soon after the events (by August 5, 2016), when the dust had not yet settled and speculation and fear were widespread. [End Page 174]