Former lieutenant Mehmet Ali Çelebi, who was a defendant in the trial of the clandestine Ergenekon organization and recently joined the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has said generals jailed as part of the Ergenekon proceedings agreed that only Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could fight the Gülen movement.
The Turkish public for the first time witnessed the mass arrest of high-ranking military officers in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer coup plot trials between 2008 and 2016, with the defendants accused of having attempted to overthrow the AKP government.
“They all said only Erdoğan could fight those from FETÖ,” Çelebi said during a television program on A Haber on Wednesday, using a derogatory term coined by the Turkish government to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement as a terrorist organization.
Çelebi said he witnessed the generals behind bars thinking that they would all be killed during the attempted coup on July 15, 2016 if it weren’t for Erdoğan. He added that some even wrote letters to Erdoğan following the abortive putsch, offering to help in the president’s fight against Gülenists.
Although Erdoğan fully backed the prosecutors during the Ergenekon trials, many high-profile defendants were released in March 2014 after Erdoğan forged an alliance with Ergenekon, months after the December 17-25, 2013 corruption cases that targeted the then-prime minister and current president’s inner circle, including his son Bilal Erdoğan.
Turkey’s ODA TV, closely linked to the military establishment, reported on March 14, 2014 that Erdoğan ensured the release of military officers to fight against his former ally, the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. Instead of making the trial of those implicated in corruption possible, Erdoğan attempted to convince the public that the corruption cases were part of a coup attempt against his government being carried out by Gülen movement-affiliated police and prosecutors. Since then, Erdoğan has established a relationship with the convicted military officers who planned the coup attempts against him in 2003 and 2004.
Dismissing the corruption 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 intensified the crackdown on the movement following the 2016 coup attempt that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
New AKP member Çelebi, who was arrested in 2008 on accusations of “membership in a terrorist organization” and was a defendant in the Ergenekon trial, was sentenced to 16 and a half years in prison. However, he was released in 2014 after spending only three years, five months behind bars.