Turkey marked the fifth anniversary of a July 15, 2016 coup attempt amid many questions regarding inconsistencies and contradictions related to the incident. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses the Gülen movement of having orchestrated the coup. Since then, a large scale post-coup purge has been carried out on Gülen movement members as well as other opponents such as leftists, liberals, Kurds and Alevis. Turkey’s opposition leaders, secular elites and journalists have called for an investigation into the coup but have also up until now supported Erdoğan’s massive crackdown on the Gülen movement, labelling the movement as a terrorist organization. However, well-known public figures included among some journalists have for the first time publicly opposed and challenged the official view of the Turkish state, saying that what transpired on July 15 was not a real coup and that the Gülen movement is not a terrorist organization. Turkey’s secular elite have become very vocal regarding contradictions related to July 15.
President Erdoğan is slowly coming to the realization that he can no longer exploit the coup attempt as the Turkish people have tired of the narrative. Furthermore, election surveys indicate that support for Erdoğan is at an all-time low. The Turkish media has commented that the dismissal of the pro-Erdoğan Melih Bulu, the former rector of Turkey’s Boğaziçi University who was appointed by Erdoğan last year to head the prestigious institution, is a sign that Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has changed the agenda in the country. Many have also raised questions regarding contradictions surrounding the coup attempt.
The Turkish public including key public figures from the secular elite as well as former AKP officials have increasingly raised questions regarding the July 15 incident, and there is a growing sense that fewer people still support the narrative of the coup attempt presented by the Turkish government.
Through a series of explosive confessions by Turkish mafia boss Sedat Peker on July 15 came revelations and shocking information regarding corruption, international drug smuggling, rape, murder and many other illegal activities that AKP members have been involved in. Peker, who now lives in the United Arab Emirates, was once Erdoğan’s close ally and fled Turkey last year to avoid prosecution, revealed that AKP minister Suleyman Soylu distributed guns to AKP branches and civilians before and after the coup attempt. This confession raises important questions about whether the AKP knew of the coup attempt long before and prepared for it and whether these guns were used for killing civilians during the military uprising.
Following Peker’s accusations, the AKP’s former İstanbul provincial chair and current vice chair of the opposition Gelecek (Future) Party, Selim Temurci, who posed with Erdoğan at a press conference at Istanbul Airport on the night of the coup, said if the accusations regarding weapons distribution are true, then he was cheated and made a mistake by urging civilians to take to the streets on July 15.
Another important revelation came from Selçuk Özdağ, who was the AKP deputy chairman on July 15, 2016 and later served as deputy chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee for the July 15 coup investigation. Özdağ is currently the vice chair of the opposition Future Party (GP), and on July 11 on live TV supported publication of the parliament report on the 2016 coup bid after a warning from AKP lawyers that information in the coup report would cause trouble for the government internationally and could aid Gülen followers in getting compensation (for having been victimized).
Veteran Turkish journalist Can Ataklı challenged the AKP’s official narrative in a YouTube video published on the anniversary of the coup attempt. Ataklı mentioned in the video that the Gülen movement is not a terrorist organization, and that instead, July 15 was not a real coup but rather was staged by the AKP to silence all who opposed them.
During a live broadcast on Halk TV, former Republican People’s Party (CHP) İstanbul deputy, singer and writer Zülfü Livaneli rejected use of the word Fetö, (a derogatory term coined by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization) and called it simply the Gülen movement. Livaneli said no one can convince him to use the term Fetö and called on journalists to investigate the Gülen movement and to avoid acting on prejudices.
The Gülen movement strongly denies involvement in the failed putsch or any terrorist activity.
Confessions from former AKP officials and secular journalists have greatly agitated pro-Erdoğan writers at the helm of Erdoğan’s costly PR network. Pro-Erdoğan Sabah newspaper columnist and TV host Melih Altınok criticized these people for not calling the Gülen movement a terrorist group. Altınok wrote on July 17 that these opposition figures are desperate and working together with the Gülen movement. Another leading pro-Erdoğan TV personality, Fatih Uğur, expressed anger and frustration, saying that these people are carrying out the propaganda of the Gülen movement.
Turkish opposition leaders and secular elites alike, including leftists and liberals, have always been critical of the Erdoğan regime; however, they have until now supported Turkey’s official narrative by labelling the movement as a terrorist organization and have also largely remained silent on the AKP’s ongoing massive post-coup purge intended to root out Gülen followers from state institutions, isolating them from public life.
Turkey is a highly polarized country, and secular elites likely hoped and intended to be among those who would fill the state positions vacated by the Gülen community, but Erdoğan managed to control the military, judiciary, academia and all other key institutions by appointing AKP-affiliated members and sympathizers. Erdoğan has already completely transformed Turkey from the secular regime that was built by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. He is no longer in pursuit of European Union membership but is involved in wars from Libya to the Caucasus to Afghanistan. The confessions from Turkey’s secular elite and former AKP figures are too late, as Erdoğan’s one-man rule is becoming increasingly clear.