Six years have passed since July 15, 2016, the day a controversial coup attempt took place in Turkey, but what we don’t know about that day is still more than what we do know, according to Adem Yavuz Arslan, a Turkish journalist living in exile and working for the TR724 news website, who spoke to Turkish Minute on the anniversary of the abortive putsch.
Turkey experienced a military coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016 which, according to many, was a false flag aimed at entrenching the authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by rooting out dissidents and eliminating powerful actors such as the military in his desire for absolute power.
The failed coup killed 251 people and wounded more than a thousand others. The next morning, after announcing the coup had been put down, the Turkish government immediately started a wide-ranging purge of military officers, judges, police officers, teachers and other civil servants that ultimately led to the dismissal of more than 130,000 from their jobs.
On the night of the abortive putsch, President Erdoğan immediately blamed the Gülen movement for the attempt. He has been targeting followers of the movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.
Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
“The way to find out what really happened that night was through parliamentary committees and the courts,” Arslan said, adding that those institutions could not function due to the obstruction by Erdoğan and his government.
A parliamentary inquiry committee abruptly suspended its work on a report about the coup attempt in 2017, when Erdoğan expressed his disapproval of the deepening investigations.
In July 2021 Selçuk Özdağ, the then-vice chair of the committee, said Turkish authorities had refrained from publishing the findings of the inquiry, following legal advice warning that the report could help members of the Gülen movement in future legal claims for compensation.
“Then-Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and the head of intelligence, Hakan Fidan, never testified to the committee to shed more light on what happened that night,” Arslan said.
Akar and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Fidan did not appear before the parliamentary committee and did not testify in court during the coup trials.
Despite the apparent failure of the Turkish intelligence authorities to gather intel about the coup plans, no intelligence official has resigned or been fired by the government. Likewise, Akar was not fired and became defense minister after retiring.
Many questions still persist as to what happened before and after the coup attempt.
Major O.K. said in his testimony to a court that he personally went and informed MİT at 14:30, about seven hours before the coup attempt started.
Why MİT chief Fidan informed neither President Erdoğan nor then-Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım during those seven hours, despite the fact that he had learned of the coup attempt at 14:30, is one of the questions still being asked.
It was also revealed in 2017 that Chief of General Staff Gen. Akar and MİT chief Fidan had a six-hour meeting in Ankara a day before the failed coup.
“Instead of finding out what happened on July 15th, every political party was more interested in how to profit politically from this event,” Arslan said.
“The government [Justice and Development Party, AKP] changed the [system of governance] under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. The MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] became a partner in the government and filled key government jobs. The CHP [Republican People’s Party] and the İYİ [Good] Party, instead of investigating the coup and finding out what really happened, have sought to score political points,” he added.
“Due to the intense pressure on the press, journalists were unable to follow and report on the coup trials,” Arslan said.
Turkey, which is known as one of the top jailers of journalists in the world, was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
“Journalists questioning the official narrative were imprisoned. As a result, six years have passed and we still don’t know what really happened,” said Arslan.
Dozens of critical journalists were jailed in Turkey, while many media outlets were closed down in the aftermath of the coup attempt.
Cracks in the government narrative on the coup attempt
According to Arslan, statements by former Erdoğan allies indicate that there is more to the attempted coup than the government’s account of events.
“Confessions of people like Sedat Peker and Selim Temurci came out. In addition, the statements of Nilah Olçok and Ümit Özdağ show that those who are silent today for various reasons know that the official July 15th narrative is not true.”
Last week, Temurci, a former member of the ruling AKP, said that he would reveal everything he knows about claims that a large number of civilians were armed with unregistered guns during the coup attempt after the AKP government is removed from power following the elections of 2023.
It was Peker, the head of one of Turkey’s most powerful mafia groups and once a staunch supporter of Erdoğan, who first claimed in a series of tweets in July 2021 that a large number of civilians were armed with unregistered guns during the July 15 coup attempt and afterward, under the coordination of then-minister of labor and current interior minister Süleyman Soylu.
There are widespread suspicions that the weapons delivered to civilians that night were not only used against the coup plotters but also to provoke people who took to the streets to suppress the coup attempt upon a call from Erdoğan.
While allies like Temurci and Peker are cautious, others like Nihal Olçok, whose husband and AKP publicist Erol Olçok and son Abdullah Olçok were killed during the 2016 failed coup, were more straightforward.
Olçok has said her husband and son had been killed by a sniper who shot them in the back during the coup attempt, knowing who they were. Turkish authorities haven’t been able to shed light on the murder of the father and son in the past six years.
In February of this year, Olçok said on a live broadcast on pro-CHP Halk TV that her son Abdullah was killed to keep the government’s story on the July 15 coup attempt intact, because, according to her, his testimony would harm the official narrative.
In May, Özdağ, the leader of the far-right and anti-refugee Victory Party (ZP), revealed a conversation he had with Adnan Tanrıverdi, the head of SADAT International Defense Consultancy –- a company with alleged links to Erdoğan –- in the aftermath of July 15.
Özdağ said Tanrıverdi told him that his firm had been preparing to overrun military bases with civilians in the event of a coup long before July 15 and that much of what happened with regard to the civilian resistance to the coup was SADAT’s doing.
His revelation almost six years after the coup is significant according to observers as it is seen by many as another crack in the government narrative on the coup attempt, which claims that officials learned about the putsch mere hours in advance.
“If the actors or their allies spoke out, it would be very easy to reveal what really happened on July 15th. But I think everyone who will speak is waiting for the end of the Erdoğan regime,” Arslan said
Many in Turkey believe that Erdoğan knew of the coup attempt or was part of the group that plotted it as he wanted a pretext to launch a crackdown on the Gülen movement and his critics to consolidate his one-man rule.
The Turkish government labels the faith-based movement as a terrorist organization and accuses Gülen and his followers of masterminding the attempted coup.
Although both Gülen and the members of his group strongly deny any involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity, Erdoğan initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
A total of 332,467 people have been detained and 101,305 arrested in operations against supporters of the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on June 30.
According to recent figures provided by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, 117,208 people have been convicted, with 1,366 sentenced to life in prison and 1,634 to aggravated life with no chance of parole over Gülen links.
Yet judicial experts voice skepticism about the figures announced by Bozdağ, saying that 117,208 convictions are only those that have been upheld by an appeals court, since Justice Ministry data show that more than 265,000 people were sentenced on charges of terrorist organization membership between 2016 and 2020 due to their alleged Gülen links.