In Turkey / Türkiye

Commentary by Ismail Sezgin  PhD, published on Turkish Minute, Sept 15, 2016

Soldiers ordered to stage a coup, on Istanbul's Bosphorus Bridge on July 16, 2016

Soldiers ordered to stage a coup, on Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge on July 16, 2016

The Turkish media – or what is left of it – has already found Fethullah Gülen guilty of the coup attempt on July 15. When challenged about the evidence, the most common reply is “Come to Turkey and see” or “Everyone in Turkey thinks this way.” This almost unanimous opinion is not a coincidence, and it does imply a monopoly over the Turkish media rather than any objective fact.

Already, the Turkish media has moved on from the coup attempt and nowadays is trying to prove that everything that has gone wrong in Turkey is because of Gülen. TV commentators argue that Gülenists plotted against military officers in the Ergenekon case, but the next day an Ergenekon suspect is arrested for being a Gülenist. One main TV channel even introduced the cheat codes of famous computer game Grand Theft Auto V as secret codes of Gülenist coup planners. However, I will only concentrate on some of the credible (!) arguments.

Military involvement

The argument that Gülen and the Hizmet movement were involved in the coup is shaped around accusations, not evidence. In the first instance, while the coup was still under way Erdogan accused Gülen of being behind it. Yet, in his own words at that point he had been unable to contact the chief intelligence officer or the chief of general staff. He claimed he had not been briefed before the broadcast he made to the nation, and he didn’t know anything about the coup attempt until his brother-in-law rang him on the evening of July 15. It is hard to pin down when exactly this call happened as Erdogan gives three different times in three different interviews.

Media channels and TV commentators then started to broadcast this and other accusations, especially in Turkey but also in some foreign media outlets. The most notable accusation comes from Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar. He claims that one putschist (Hakan Evrim) offered to put him in touch with Gülen by phone. However, Evrim denies this allegation in his own statement and gives an entirely different story. Is there any evidence at all to support Akar’s claim? Does Evrim have Gülen’s contact details in his phone? Did he ring him? What could be the motive for an officer to try to connect Gülen to the coup at a time when it had already been thwarted (at around 8 a.m. the following morning)?

There are more questions about Akar’s statement. First of all, Akar’s statement is contradicted by three other people who were in the room. Secondly, Akar’s own involvement in the coup is not clear. Thirdly, are the putschists trying to cover their tracks by directing it to a more “convenient scapegoat”? It is plausible that Akar, who is known as a staunch Kemalist, is choosing to comply with Erdogan’s narrative and clear his own name while supporting further purges of Gülenists.

Levent Türkkan’s confession is also important. He was the aide to the chief of general staff and claims he received orders from Gülenists. However, this “confession” was presented to the media with a photograph in which Türkkan shows signs of having been tortured. Rather than supporting the accusations, the photograph of Türkkan tends to destroy their credibility. If he was indeed tortured, it shows how far some people are willing to go to pin the coup on Gülen.

Türkkan’s photo and reports from Amnesty International raise serious concerns about how reliable accusations can be if the Turkish security forces are using torture to get information or confessions. Also, after the post-coup purge of some 3,000 judges and prosecutors, how fair can the judiciary be? Is it possible that some putschists are being persuaded to cut a deal with prosecutors by giving statements in line with Erdogan’s narrative in exchange for a pardon?

Brig, Gen. Fatih Celaleddin Sagir’s statement raises still more questions. He says, “I had been going to the [Gülen organization’s] houses and dormitories between 1988 and 1992, attending all their gatherings. I had served the Gülen organization for 10 years. After 2007, especially with the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon operations, I started to move away. I suspended my relationship with them.” First of all, can it be true that a general was able to go regularly to Gülen dormitories and remain within the Kemalist military during a period in which anyone with the slightest inclination towards Gülen or any other religious group would be immediately dismissed? Secondly, even if it is true that he was a Gülen sympathizer in the past, he claims to have left the movement 10 years before the time of the attempted coup. Isn’t the question: So who are you working with now?

Police involvement

It is reported that three police officers were captured during the coup. Yet the number of police officers reported to have been purged for Gülenist affiliations before the coup was more than 4,000. If only three of them took part in the coup, then it means that the Hizmet movement did not take part; otherwise, their numbers would have been much greater. Even if we take a close look only at the individuals involved, the accusations do not hold. For example, Mithat Ayranci was dismissed from the police force for being a Gülenist in 2014, but he took the matter to court, which ruled there was no evidence supporting the accusations against him and ordered his reinstatement. The government did not abide by the court’s decision and he was not reinstated. So there is evidence that Ayranci justifiably resented his treatment by Erdogan and the ruling party, but no proof at all that he was a Gülenist.

Questionable link

The most important question mark about the coup attempt concerns a theology professor, Adil Öksüz. He was arrested in a village called Kazanci near the Akinci air base. The claim is that he is the link between the army and Gülen. However, he said that he was there “to buy land” in the village. He was held in custody for two days and released after his initial statement. Now there is a warrant for his arrest.

At a time when possession of a single book by Gülen or a debit card from BankAsya or even buying credit for your phone from a shop owner known to be a Gülen sympathizer Is enough reason for arrest, it is strange that an individual held to be key to the coup plot can be released and allowed to disappear. It’s even stranger that the judges who ordered his release are not among those purged while so many others have been arrested for having a bank account at BankAsya or subscribing to the Zaman daily.

Missing facts

While accusations are flying about individuals, a great deal of hard evidence is lacking on the actual organization of the coup attempt. Where are the operation plans? Where are the camera records of military HQ and the Akinci base? What about the phone communications between the putschist generals? What about the GPS traces of all the accused parties such as Adil Öksüz and Akin Öztürk?

It is a stretch to conclude that the coup attempt had anything to do with Gülen or his supporters; if it were, we would have seen many more Gülenists taking part in events.

Very few of the putschists stated any affiliation with Gülen and in fact most confessed to having other secular or Kemalist affiliations. All the important questions still remain unanswered, but the pro-government media goes on rubbing the same few confessions in our face.

Ismail Sezgin is Director of Centre for Hizmet Studies in London UK.


Ismail Sezgin, Director of Centre for Hizmet Studies in London UK, interviewed on Aug 5, 2016.

Ismail Sezgin, Director of Centre for Hizmet Studies in London UK, interviewed on Aug 5, 2016.

Interview with Ismail Sezgin, on BBC’s Hardtalk, Aug 5, 2016 (24-minute broadcast)

In which BBC host Zeinab Badawi does most of the talking and argues forcefully that Fetullah Gulen and his followers staged the attempted  military coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

The BBC host also argues forcefully in favour of the Turkish government’s political repression since the coup. The repression has jailed hundreds of journalists and closed of dozens of media outlets.

Video address of Fetullah Gulen responding to questions by the Philadelphia World Affairs Council on September 15, 2016

Note by New Cold In the interview, Fetullah Gulen praises the 60-year relationship between Turkey and NATO and says he fear for the future of that alliance due to the actions of the president of Turkey in response to the failed coup attempt by sections of Turkey’s military on July 15, 2016.

In reviewing Turkey’s post-World War Two history, Gulen speaks in favour of “democracy, human rights and a moderate form of secularism. Not a rigid and aggressive form of secularism, but a mild one. A secularism that respects every person and every world view. That was necessary for Turkey to be better integrated into the world.”

Mr. Gulen details the political falling out some years ago between his ‘Hizmet’ movement and the ambitious, capitalist politician named Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the future prime minister and then president of Turkey, and the Erdogan-led Justice and Development Party (AKP), founded in 2001. He says the reason for the falling out was the plans of Erdogan to turn Turkey into a more authoritarian state under his tutelage.

“There are five essentials that religion and modern political systems seeks to protect: Life and physical health, religion, mental health, family and dignity, and property. A sixth element can be added, and that is freedom.” Citing a philosopher, Mr. Gulen says, “I can tolerate hunger and thirst, but I cannot be without freedom.”

In the concluding section of the interview, Mr. Gulen speaks of the three main dangers to the world today: poverty, ignorance and intolerance. The modern capitalist economy offers a solution to this, he says. The best way to avoid conflicts in the world is “integration” of all peoples regardless of skin colour, “then we leave the rest to God”.


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