Davutoğlu says pilot who downed Russian jet not linked to Gülen movement

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In remarks that denied claims by pro-government circles in Turkey, Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said the pilot of a Turkish jet that downed a Russian warplane in 2015 for violating Turkish airspace does not have any links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

Davutoğlu gave a 71-page response to a number of questions from a parliamentary commission that is investigating a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

One day after the downing of the Russian jet on Nov. 25, 2015, then-Prime Minister Davutoglu said in front of the camera that he had authorized the downing of the Russian plane. He said he himself had given the order directly to the armed forces.

Speaking about the jet crisis, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Nov. 26, 2015 had said that “if a similar violation were to be committed today, the response would be the same.”

However, pro-government circles later began to claim that the Russian jet was downed by a Turkish pilot close to the Gülen movement in order to spoil relations between Turkey and Russia.

“The rules of engagement upon which I based my decision [to order the downing of the Russian jet] did not target any country, including Russia. However, those rules of engagement apply to all aerial vehicles that violate our airspace from a country in the circumstances of war. I said the pilot or the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] member’s ties to the organization [the Gülen movement] should be investigated if there were any. At a later meeting, our chief of general staff said the background and relations of the pilot were investigated and no concrete link [with the Gülen movement] was found,” Davutoğlu said in response to a question from the commission asking about the downing of the Russian jet.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which launched a war against the Gülen movement following the eruption of a corruption scandal in late 2013 in which senior government members were implicated, carried its ongoing crackdown on the movement and its sympathizers to a new level after the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, blaming it for everything that has gone wrong in Turkey over the past several years.

Although the movement strongly denies having any role in the corruption probe or the coup attempt, the government accuses it of having masterminded both despite the lack of any tangible evidence.

In the meantime, Davutoğlu said a visit he paid to Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen in the US in September 2013 while he was serving as foreign minister took place with the knowledge of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan.

Davutoğlu said he visited Gülen on the sidelines of a UN meeting and got the impression during his visit that Gülen was involved in operations targeting the Turkish government and Turkey. He said the aim of the visit was to bring Gülen “under control.”

Davutoğlu, who left his position as prime minister to Binali Yıldırım on May 24, 2016 after differences with President Erdoğan, has been accused of holding a secret meeting with Gülen in September 2013. In that visit he was said to have been accompanied by then-President Abdullah Gül, who later claimed that he was not informed of the trip. Davutoğlu did not refer to this discrepancy in his lengthy reply to the panel.

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