Gareth Jenkins once criticised Turkey’s infamous Ergenekon indictments on the grounds that they were “products of ‘projective’ rather than deductive reasoning, working backwards from the premise that the organisation exists to weave unrelated individuals, statements and acts into a single massive conspiracy.” Other than being a far more extreme example of “projective” rather than “deductive reasoning,” how is the Turkish government’s and its media’s attempt at connecting Turkey’s failed coup with Fethullah Gülen and the Hizmet movement he inspires (also known as the “Gülen movement”), any different?
President Erdoğan has been projecting Gülen and Hizmet onto almost every development in Turkey since the corruption investigations of December 2013. From the Gezi protests to the downing of the Russian jet, almost all past, present and even potential future impediments to the wishes of the ruling party are pinned on Gülen. Consider the night of the coup; within two hours of the tanks rolling, President Erdoğan called into CNN Turk. He said that he was unaware of the whereabouts of his chief of staff, that the national intelligence services had not only failed to intercept intel on the coup and inform him of it before it had happened but that he was unable to reach his head of national intelligence even after the coup was underway; so much so, that despite the overbearing state machinery in place, President Erdoğan was informed of the coup as it took place by no other than his brother-in-law. Yet despite being in the dark and without being privy to the necessary facts, in part as the facts were still unfolding, President Erdoğan was sure of one thing, that he would pin this squarely on Gülen and Hizmet. If that’s not projecting, I don’t know what is.
Yet what disappoints me most is not President Erdoğan but the willingness of the Turkish intelligentsia to uncritically internalise the President’s accusations, especially those whom rightly criticised the evidentiary failings of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials; should they not be the very people to caution the country now against this collective déjà vu? What exactly is the weight of the evidence linking Gülen to the coup? Where is the judicial due process that has determined the culpability of Gülen and Hizmet? What is the point of a judicial investigation when its main objective of determining the culprit has already been pre-judged?
Gülen and Hizmet have not only been pre-judged but are being pre-punished even before any preliminary judicial investigation into the coup. I fear that by the time the judicial investigation into the failed coup is complete, there will be no Gülen or Hizmet left to prosecute; I suspect that is what the President and Turkish government would like to see. That so many use the term “FETO” (Fethullah Terror Organisation) when there is not a single court ruling, even now, on the existence of the thing, demonstrates my point about complete disregard for due process and the rule of law. Do we not recall that even when the Turkish government supported the Ergenekon trials, pundits were forced to refer to it as “the alleged Ergenekon organisation” to avoid being sued by the suspects of those indictments? What does it say of the motives and principles of those who claimed to defend the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer suspects in the name of justice and due process, when they so willingly betray those same principles and positions today?
As I have said before, don’t defend Gülen or Hizmet, but defend due process, the rule of law, judicial independence and the right to be heard in the face of overwhelming power. In the light of the tsunami of arrests and dismissals of journalists in Turkey, the cancellation of their press cards and passports and arrests of family members when the journalists themselves cannot be found, who is now able to challenge the Turkish government’s narrative about the attempted coup? Who can challenge the working assumptions within the executive, judiciary and intelligence services in Turkey? How can we know fact from fiction, distinguish claim from evidence? Turkey has fallen so far that even civil society and the media are unable or unwilling to offer an alternative perspective to that of the government. Al Jazeera’s “Gülen’s fingerprints in Turkey’s failed coup” is an example among many. The piece merely lists and explains the government’s most commonly cited five “pieces of evidence” to incriminate Gülen uncritically and does not provide a right to reply. These five pieces of “evidence” are being repeated in Turkish and in some foreign media, so they merit evaluation.
(In an attempt to address additional claims that have surfaced since completing this blog, I have added ‘Claim 6’ which discusses the allegations surrounding Adil Öksüz. The government and its media claim that Adil Öksüz is the linchpin of the coup as proven by the fact that he was the only civilian discovered at the putschist headquarters on the morning of the failed coup.)
The commonly cited five pieces of “evidence” (hereafter “claims”) are italicised and listed below by as explained by Al Jazeera. I evaluate each claim in turn in a point-by-point basis by posing questions and counter-perspectives. With limited time, resources and classified files that are unreachable, there is only so much that can be said. As a result, I am posting this as a ‘working blog’ that I will update based on feedback received from readers. Also, readers are welcome to suggest new or alternative hyperlinks to those inserted below. Methodical deconstruction is time consuming; I apologise therefore in advance for the length of what follows.
Claim 1 – Police officers were found among putschist soldiers
The first sign of “Gülen’s connection” with the coup came from the streets on the night of the coup attempt: Among the ones, who participated in the coup attempt along with the putschist soldiers, were ‘police officers who were prosecuted as part of the investigations regarding the Gülen’s organisation’s parallel structure but could not be found’. One of those under prosecution, former police chief, Mithat Aynacı was captured in an armored vehicle in front of the Istanbul Police Department. The fugitive police chief was in military camouflage when he was caught.
There were other police chiefs among putschists that night as well. Wanted former police chiefs Lokman Kırcalı and Gürsel Aktepe were among the soldiers captured in front of the Ankara Police Department. In his statement, Gürsel Aktepe said he has sympathy for Fethullah Gülen, adding that ‘he had gone to the US on a mission as part of his career, that he had stayed in Gülen’s house for two days there and attended his conversation gatherings’. Stating that he received a monthly financial support of 4,500 Turkish liras after he was be ostracised from profession, Aktepe said that on the night of the coup he received a message telling ‘everyone to go to their former places of duty’ and so he went to the front of the Ankara Police Department. Aktepe said “It is impossible for the coup attempt on the night of July 15th to have taken place without the knowledge and order of the top leader of this organisation, Fethullah Gülen.”
- The claim is that 3 “Gülenist” police officers were apprehended while supporting the coup and that this proves the link between Gülen and the coup. The first point to make is that if Hizmet wanted to support the attempted coup by reinforcing it with current or former policer officers, should there not have been thousands of such police officers involved, especially if we accept the government claim that the nation’s police force was overrun by “Gülenists”? Note that the government had purged 45,000 police officers and 2,500 judges and prosecutors by 2015 (and more since, until the failed coup of 2016 when it began a new wave of purges). How is it that of these 45,000 police officers, dismissed, wanted or still active, only 3 were identified as supporting the putschists?
- The piece mentions three police officers by name: Mithat Aynacı, Lokman Kırcalı, and Gürsel Aktepe. It claims these officers were “prosecuted” for being part of the “Gülen’s organisation’s parallel structure.” This is factually incorrect. Firstly, any prosecution alleging any link to Gülen or his movement is still ongoing and so far no court has given a ruling on any charge incriminating Fethullah Gülen, Hizmet or on any all alleged association with either. Therefore, suggesting that these police officers have been “prosecuted” and, by implication, found guilty, is grossly misleading. Furthermore, according to media reports, Mithat Aynacı was dismissed, not prosecuted, from the police force on November 1, 2014 for being a member of the so-called FETO/PDY. Mithat Aynacı is reported to have taken the matter to court, which ruled in his favour and reinstated him as a police officer. Therefore, at the time of his arrest on the night of the coup, Mithat Aynacı had no judicial investigation or decision against him proving his link to any organisation whatsoever.
- Secondly, had there been any evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, on Mithat Aynacı’s connection to Hizmet, he would have been dismissed immediately after the December 2013 corruption investigations and not approximately a year later. Thirdly, when eventually dismissed in November 2014, he would have been prosecuted and not just dismissed, as others are being, and fourthly, the government would have countered his claim for unfair dismissal in court.
- Moreover, neither of the terms (FETO or PDY) has any legal standing. FETO is an acronym for “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation”. According to Turkish law, an organisation can only be designated as being “terrorist” by a high court (Yargitay) decision and there is no such court decision. PDY is an acronym for “Parallel State Organisation”; again there is no court decision that has ruled on the existence of such an organisation. In its absence, the Turkish government passed a cabinet decree on June 29, 2015, many months after Mithat Aynacı’s dismissal, recognising “PDY” as an enemy of the state; that proves nothing about Aynacı.
- As for Lokman Kırcalı, and Gürsel Aktepe, the Al Jazeera piece states that these officers were wanted at the time of arrest on the night of the coup but does not state on what grounds they were wanted. Given the explanation above on FETO and PDY, it is very unlikely that these police officers were formally dismissed on the basis of links to the Hizmet movement if they were investigated prior to June 29, 2015. In any event, no court has yet ruled on any FETO or PDY charges, and therefore there is no formal link between the two police officers and that of Hizmet.
- What links the three police officers to Gülen is the popular assumption that the dismissals of police officers following the 2013 corruption investigations were based on links to Gülen. However, it is well documented that following the corruption investigations of 2013, the Turkish government purged 60,000 police officers, prosecutors and civil servants to disrupt the judicial investigations into government corruption and prevent new investigations from surfacing. Unless we concede that the government profiled 60,000 people prior to the 2013 corruption investigations, then we must assume that these were blanket purges of positions considered sensitive by the government. For example, immediately after the corruption investigations, the government purged all financial crime and organised crime units across the country’s police force – the very units that are responsible for investigating government corruption and money laundering charges. Without more evidence, we cannot assume that the police officers purged following the 2013 corruption investigations – including Mithat Aynacı, Lokman Kırcalı and Gürsel Aktepe – were linked to Gülen.Based on the above, the safest assumption is that Mithat Aynacı was purged as a non-loyalist (to the ruling party). We know from the current wave of purges, that people of all persuasions and walks of life are being purged under the pretext of being Gülenist. When these people resurface elsewhere, are we simply to assume that they were all Gülenists, because they were hanged with the same rope?
- Nevertheless, the discovery of an off-duty police officer in a tank on the night of the coup is an important lead. If nothing else it suggests collusion between the putschists and that particular police officer. However, despite his importance, there have been a number of news reports by pro-government media outlets that Mithat Aynacı committed suicide while in custody. Reports of Mithat Aynacı’s suicide also coincided with pro-government media reports that Gülen had ordered the assassination of key witnesses held in custody. Conceivably, these latter reports were run to cover up the number of “suicides” occurring in custody. However, soon thereafter, Yeni Safak ran a new story, this time claiming that Mithat Aynacı was alive and had attended court without providing any accompanying footage to prove its claim or its source. Given Amnesty’s report of detainees being tortured, beaten and in some cases, raped, coupled with unverified reports of the death of at least half a dozen detainees, it is possible that Mithat Aynacı did in fact die while in custody as originally reported by pro-government media. If that is the case, the question that must be asked is, given his importance as a suspect and material witness, why was Mithat Aynacı allowed to commit suicide, if that is in fact how he died? If Mithat Aynacı’s arrest proved the government’s allegation, as suggested by pro-government media and indeed this Al Jazeera piece, then why was he not guarded and supervised around the clock to prevent any harm from coming to him?The death and/or torture of Mithat Aynacı disproves the argument that his arrest was a key piece of evidence for the government. It further proves that the authorities are not interested in investigating this failed coup in a manner and form that provides a verdict that meets the standards of international law.
Claim 2 – Confessions of Akar’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Levent Türkkan
One of the most important developments, which reveals Gülen’s connection with the coup, took place within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Statements by the Chief of General Staff Hulûsi Akar’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Levent Türkkan have once again exposed this connection. Türkkan was the leader of the group which detained the Chief of General Staff that night. Türkkan, who names himself a member of the Gülen organisation, said that there was an “older brother” named Murat who was in charge of him. Adding that he was the child of a poor family and met with Gülen organisation’s older brothers while he was at junior high school, Türkkan also said he had been given the exam questions before he entered the Işıklar Military High School’s admission exams in 1989. He also told that while he was serving as the Assistant Adjutant of the former Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel, he planted a bugging device, “which Brother Murat gave him”, in Özel’s room.”
Claim 2 and 3 are evaluated together since both relate to so-called confessions. Please see below.
Claim 3 – Brigadier General Sağır: I had served the organisation for 10 years
Another statement revealing the Gülen organization’s connection with the coup came from a brigadier general. Commander of the 5th Infantry Training Brigade in Sivas and Garrison Commander Brigadier General Fatih Celaleddin Sağır, confessed his connection with the Gülen organisation. In his statement, Sağır said “I had been going to the [Gülen organization’s] houses and and dormitories between 1988-1992, 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
- Lieutenant Colonel Levent Türkkan’s statement was released to the press with a number of photographs. It is claimed that Levent Türkkan wrote his statement by hand. In the accompanying photographs, Levent Türkkan is shown with extensive bandages covering both hands and his entire waist, consistent with reports that his hands and ribs were broken. What is more, his face shows multiple bruises and swelling. Coupled with Amnesty’s report, it appears likely that Levent Türkkan was tortured while in custody. As a result, his “confession” would not serve to convict himself, let alone Gülen or anyone else. That Al Jazeera has used his statement as an “important development, which reveals Gülen’s connection” is deplorable. At the very least, they most certainly should have pointed out the significant possibility of torture given the accompanying photographs served by the pro-government media.
- Amnesty’s report, the number of deaths in custody, and the images and footage shown by the AA state news agency showing detainees bearing the bruises and marks of physical assault, all suggest that these so-called confessions and statements are being extracted with extreme prejudice and should therefore be treated with great caution. There is ample ground to have these statements dismissed when they eventually reach an independent court of law. Furthermore, we are accessing these statements in bits and pieces through the pro-government media, which is not renowned for its scrupulous reporting. It is both unethical and naive therefore to determine culpability for the coup on the basis of these statements. This applies to the statements of former police officer Gürsel Aktepe and Brigadier General Sağır too.
- Why is the government parading detainees whose appearance corroborates claims of torture, beatings and inhumane treatment? By using these tactics, the government proves that it is focused on scaring the court of public opinion and dissent into line, rather than making its case in any independent court of law. That it has opted out of the European Convention for Human Rights, in an attempt to elude the international court’s oversight on rights such as article 3 on the absolute prohibition of torture or degrading treatment, and article 6 on the right to a fair trial, further supports this view.
- President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Yildirim pre-judged and pre-sentenced Fethullah Gülen and Hizmet as the mastermind of the coup while the coup was still underway and before any official judicial investigation had been launched. Given that the coup failed, is it not highly likely that the putschists are tempted to point the finger elsewhere to protect their own affiliations and ideologies? And given that Erdoğan has already identified the mastermind of the coup, is it not convenient for these putschists to corroborate the President’s narrative? Faced with the literal, not metaphorical, stick and offered official and unofficial plea bargains, is life not easier for all concerned, apart from Gülen and Hizmet, if all just join the chorus of blame against Gülen? Does anybody in a position of authority now dare to disclose any evidence that contradicts the President’s narrative?
- It is reported that thousands putschists have been detained so far. How many of those interrogated have “confessed” their link to Gülen? How is it that Gülen was pre-judged as the mastermind of the coup without such information?
Claim 4 – Tasking list discovered on putschist General
One of the most notable information exposing the Gülen organisation’s connection with the coup attempt was a name on the putschists’ tasking list. That name, which the public had already been familiar with, was Brigadier General Hamza Celepoğlu. Although he is currently in prison as part of a case regarding the stop-and-search of Turkish intelligence agency trucks, Celepoğlu was on the junta’s ‘tasking list’. Next to his name it says ‘ Gendarmerie General Command, Department of Inspection” as his post-coup place of duty. The indictment prepared against him stated that Celepoğlu “was acting as part of the Gülen organisation’, which reveals ‘Gülen’s connection’ not only with the coup attempt, but also with the stopping of the Turkish intelligence agency trucks.
- A number of questions emerge in relation to this claim. For example, on whom was the “tasking list” discovered? How was it determined to be a tasking list for the failed coup? Has it been tested for fingerprints and authenticity? Why would the putschists not commit those names to memory and risk getting caught with a list? Why did the putschists not destroy the self-incriminating list when they realised that the coup was failing?
- On the coup statement being Kemalist in tone and language, some have argued that this does not preclude the coup plotters from being Gülenists as Gülenists like to hide their true identities behind others. Can that statement not equally apply to others, especially when attempting a coup, which should it fail, would have dire consequences for those behind it? Based on that logic, why can’t the tasking list be a decoy, in case the coup failed. The coup looked like it was failing from 1am local time onwards; if not prepared before, could the list not have been prepared as a decoy from that point onwards?
- Lets imagine that this was a genuine tasking list, envisaging Brigadier General Hamza Celepoğlu as head of intelligence. How has that got anything to do with Gülen?
- The Al Jazeera piece suggests Celepoğlu is in prison standing trial for the stop-and-search of Turkish intelligence agency trucks and that the indictment against him for this states that “he was acting as part of the Gülen organisation.” According to Al Jazeera, that is sufficient to link Celepoğlu with Gülen. The problem with this proposition is that the said trial is still ongoing, so the indictment proves nothing. Former editor-in-chief of secular Cumhuriyet newspaper Can Dundar is also being charged in relation to this incident; are we to concede that he is “Gülenist” also? Furthermore, Turkish authorities have been blaming a great deal on Gülen, willy-nilly, as even acknowledged by the likes of Mustafa Akyol. Therefore, that there is an indictment alleging a Gülen connection is indicative of nothing other than a government crackdown.
Claim 5 – Chief of Staff Hulûsi Akar offered to be put in touch with Gülen
One of the most striking information about ‘Pennsylvania’s connection’ with the coup can be found in Chief of General Staff Hulûsi Akar’s statement. According to the statement Akar gave to the prosecutor, the putschists asked him to sign the coup declaration that night and told him ‘I you want, we can get you in touch with our opinion leader, Fethullah Gülen”. In his statement, Akar said the person who made this proposal to him was Brigadier General Hakan Evrim, the commander of the Akinci Air Base, the command center of the attempted coup.
- Many argue that this is the most damning piece of evidence against Gülen. Al Jazeera describes it as the “most striking information” connecting Gülen to the coup. Its power comes from the fact that the statement is made by Hulûsi Akar, Turkey’s Chief of General Staff. However, this accusation is nonsensical and internally contradictory. Akar claims that he was told by putschist Brigadier General Hakan Evrim, that he could be put in touch with Fethullah Gülen over the phone. The purpose of this offer is to convince the Chief of General Staff to join the putschists. Why would an alleged crypto-Gülenist, sworn to secrecy, who has infiltrated the military ranks through stealth, patience and cunning, volunteer the most important piece of information regarding the coup, the mastermind behind it, to no other than the Chief of General Staff, who until that point has proven that he is adamantly against joining the putschists? It makes no sense whatsoever and is at complete odds with how these “secretive Gülenists” are described.
- Those that argue that the coup was masterminded by “Gülenists” explain the Kemalist tone and language of the coup statement as a ploy by “Gülenists” to hide behind a Kemalist cloak. But why would a group go to such lengths to cover its tracks, and then volunteer its affiliation to no less than the Chief of General Staff?
- Wouldn’t the putschists know that a call connecting Turkey’s Chief of General Staff from Turkey with Gülen in Pennsylvania, on the night of the coup, would be intercepted by dozens of foreign intelligence agencies, thereby alerting them as to the real mastermind behind the coup? Could they be so stealthy and stupid at the same time? Instead, according to German Focus magazine, within half an hour of the start of the coup, the UK’s GCHQ detected government communications stating that the coup would be pinned on Gülen and the purges would start the next day; it was, in Erdoğan’s words, a “gift from God.”
- The alleged offer to connect Hulûsi Akar to Gülen over the phone was made at the air base to which the Chief of Staff was subsequently transferred after being held in Ankara for some time; that is after the coup attempt started to look as if it was failing. Is it not possible therefore that the putschists attempted to misdirect and mislead Hulûsi Akar by offering to connect him to Gülen and thereby protect their true allegiances? How has this possibility been ruled out? Why is some evidence taken at face value, like this, but others, like the coup statement which points at a Kemalist leadership of the coup, not?
- Hulûsi Akar’s claim is not supported by the witness statements of the other people that were allegedly with him on the night of the coup. Brigadier General Hakan Evrim rejects the accusation and says he has nothing to do with Gülen or his movement whatsoever.
- The Chief of General Staff is no fan of Gülen. As a staunch secularist, he is likely to be against the Gülen movement and indeed the ruling party of Turkey. Given that the government pinned the failed coup on Gülen, does it not make sense for the Chief of General Staff to corroborate this and thereby eliminate a group that the Turkish military have traditionally opposed? Also, Hizmet participants do not refer to Fethullah Gülen as their “opinion leader.”There are multiple problems with Hulûsi Akar’s position and many unanswered questions which at best make him incompetent and at worst, implicate him as the missing leader of the failed coup. For example, we now know he was informed of the coup at 4pm, six hours before the coup took place. Why and how could he not avert it? Why did he not immediately discuss this life threatening intelligence with the President and Prime Minister, when, after all, they were the ones being overthrown? A number of Turkey experts, including Gareth Jenkins, Erik-Jan Zürcher, and others believe that the secularists were behind the coup, which would implicate him. Ahmet Şık claims that the coup had a much larger coalition but that the larger factions pulled out last minute. James Clapper, the head of US national intelligence, says he does not believe the Gülenists were behind this coup, making the secularist involvement all the more plausible. This scenario would also implicate Hulûsi Akar. In any event, given that Hulûsi Akar is an “interested party” in this coup, do his statements not merit far greater sceptical scrutiny?
Claim 6 – Adil Öksüz, imam of coup, found at Akıncı Air Base
- The challenge with addressing the Adil Öksüz allegation is that everything that we know about him, his alleged involvement in the coup and his denial thereof are all based on government sources and pro-government media. There is no information in the public domain beyond that; neither have we heard his side of the story from him directly. I enquired with Hizmet-related colleagues to establish whether this man was indeed Hizmet-connected. However, none of those I asked knew him or had heard of him prior to this. Either way, this is unsurprising and inconclusive. Given that Gülen categorically denied his involvement in the coup in a series of interviews with both broadcast and print media outlets over a number of days, it is also unsurprising that he has not come forward again to additionally deny his alleged collusion with Öksüz. As a result, the analysis below is based solely on government and pro-government media sources.
- It is alleged that the Akıncı Air Base was the headquarters of the failed coup. It is where senior putschist-figures were captured and where the Chief of General Staff was held captive until eventually freed when the airbase was re-taken by the regular army, following exchange of fire, at approximately 10am on July 16. Of the 98 people arrested at the airbase, Öksüz was the only civilian (an assistant professor of theology); he had no permit or acceptable reason for being on site (seen here part naked). Öksüz was kept in detention for two days. He was formally questioned for the purposes of a statement on the morning of July 18. Öksüz denied all charges and claimed that he was never at the airbase and that he was detained at a nearby place to inspect a plot of land for sale and brought back to the airbase. He also claims to have been beaten by police while in detention. His most extensive statement in the media can be found here. According to the prosecutor, his answers were wholly inadequate and untrue.
- The prosecutor asked the court to “charge and remand” Öksüz. Judge Köksal Şahin refused and ordered his release. The prosecutor appealed to the court of second instance where Judge Çetin Sönmez upheld the decision of the first court on the grounds of insufficient evidence and, for the second time that day, ordered Öksüz’s release. Security footage shows Öksüz leaving the court house in a calm manner and bidding his lawyer farewell. Media reports claim that he flew to Istanbul the same day and visited his in-laws the following morning. He is thought to have then travelled to Sakarya with no further reports in the media as to his movements thereafter. An arrest warrant for Öksüz was issued some time later.
- The first set of questions about the government’s claims relate to why Öksüz was at the Akinci Air Base in the first place, given the substantial risk of blowing his cover if he was indeed the head of the coup. The putschist-generals were allegedly the ones who had spent three days planning the coup and were naturally the ones to lead it, not Öksüz. So why was he on site? Those that claim that Gülen orchestrated this coup suggest that “crypto-Gülenists” work with extreme caution and care. They write their notes on digestible paper, keep to themselves even in ordinary life, and work in a cell-like fashion to prevent one group of crypto-Gülenists from knowing another. Is that description not at complete odds with Öksüz making himself available at the headquarters of the coup? Could a man of such caution not consider the possibility of failure? Is that not why the putschists had taken such care, as argued by some, in ensuring that the coup statement was couched in Kemalist tone and language to avoid detection, especially if the attempt at overthrow failed? And what of the other 97 military officers on site: were they all Gülenists in whom Öksüz had complete trust? Would an infiltrating man not consider the possibility of double agents amidst the ranks? Was that not the entire purpose of their supposed cell-like structure in the military?
- In his statement to the prosecutor, Öksüz strenuously denies all allegations and claims that he was never at the airbase but detained nearby. However, we are now told that there is CCTV footage proving that Adil Öksüz was at the base on the night of the coup. How is it that such a secretive man heading such a daring coup does not ensure that the security cameras recording his every move on site are not disabled? This is a man who allegedly avoids being photographed even at his perfectly legal day job (assistant professor), presumably to draw as little attention to himself as possible given his completely illegal alleged night job. How is it conceivable that the same man would be so forgiving of being recorded at the airbase? It was clear that the coup was beginning to fail from 1am, local time, onwards. Adil Öksüz was arrested at approximately 10am, that is some 9 hours later. If he did not have the cameras disabled before arriving on site, why did he not have the security footage deleted at 1am or anytime thereafter?
- Additionally and more importantly, why did he not utilise the intervening 9 hours to leave? He was at an airbase with helicopters (at least the one that brought the Chief of Staff there) and was surrounded by supposed Gülenist pilots. Why did he not have one of these pilots fly him to safety? Surely being caught anywhere else, if caught at all, was far more preferable to being found wandering around as the only civilian at the epicentre of the coup. Yet it is claimed that he remained. If the sheer perplexity of the Adil Öksüz case ended here, we could attribute the above, in the absence of more convincing answers, to the human potential for self-destruction, delusions of grandeur or downright stupidity. The problem is that the story of Adil Öksüz gets even more bizarre from this point onwards.
- The Turkish government is very sensitive to the alleged “infiltration” in the Turkish judiciary. They have been purging the Turkish judiciary since 2013. The day after the coup, the Turkish government suspended, and have since dismissed, 2,745 judges and prosecutors. They have not just been purging but also appointing people to the judiciary. In 2014, they introduced a new breed of hand picked ‘super judges’ with extraordinary unilateral powers to whom all politically-sensitive cases have since been assigned. In fact, Judge Köksal Şahin was one such super judge, meaning he was strictly vetted for government loyalty, and the first to rule for the release of Öksüz. Judge Şahin is known for his punitive and vindictive summary judgements against Hizmet. Pro-government pundit Abdulkadir Selvi vows by the judge’s loyalty to the government. We know from past practice that the government ensures that cases involving critical suspects are assigned to only the most trustworthy of prosecutors and judges. The Turkish authorities have even ensured that the state appointed lawyer for Gülen is a self-proclaimed anti-Gülenist. So clearly, when it comes to guaranteeing a particular verdict, nothing is left to chance.
- That being the case, how could the court of first and second instance both rule in favour of Öksüz’s release? Being discovered as the only civilian at the headquarters of the coup with a wholly inadequate statement should have sufficed many times over to alert all parties concerned to the importance of the detainee before them. If true, it was without doubt, the single most important discovery following the failed coup. In the context of Gülen’s alleged involvement, that the detainee was an assistant professor of theology would have only have worked to Öksüz’s disadvantage. When journalists and academics are being detained for “subliminally influencing public opinion in favour of the coup“, how can this man be allowed to walk free? It is completely nonsensical and at complete odds with the current practice in Turkey. (There are also media reports by pro-government newspapers that Öksüz was suspect as being a “Gülenist” as soon as he was detained at the airbase and was referred to the prosecutor on those grounds contradicting the prosecutor’s claim. This one is from Star published on July 21.)
- How could the prosecutor not protest immediately, informing the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) or even go directly to the press. If for no other reason, a sense of self-preservation should have compelled the prosecutor to take extraordinary measures to prevent the release of Öksüz. After all, there is precedence for extra-judicial action for exactly this type of scenario in Turkey’s judiciary. Recall how the prosecutor and prison services director unlawfully refused the release order of Hidayet Karaca (director of Samanyolu TV) following his successful bail application and how the two judges of that bail hearing were suspended within two, and arrested and charged, within four days. A more recent example involves a panel of judges who were immediately replaced when three out of four of them decided that a group of 28 academics should not be charged for lack of evidence. Needless to say, the renewed court of judges ruled unanimously in favour of charging all them on terror-related offences. (See para’s 78-83 for more examples dating between December 2013 and June 2015.) How can this “system” of forcing through decisions work so well in remote parts of the country concerning individuals with “no case to answer” but fail in one of the most strategically composed court houses hearing applications concerning the most critical of suspects? How could the prosecutor and his staff allow this to pass?
- In an attempt to preempt this question, the prosecutor claims that Öksüz was released because there was no intelligence against him. What he means of course is that he did not protest in the manner described above despite requesting Öksüz’s release because there was no intelligence against him. How could the absence of intelligence on Adil Öksüz make any difference whatsoever, especially when it is entirely expected for such a linchpin figure to be secretive. If there had been any intelligence on Öksüz prior to this surely he would have been arrested sooner. So the lack of intelligence is entirely consistent with his alleged role in the coup.
- Based on the government paradigm, the only possible explanation is that these judges (and the prosecutor) were deeply embedded ‘crypto-Gülenists’ who had acted against the movement in the past in order to maintain their cover for more critical occasions in the future, such as this. We are told that President Erdoğan receives daily updates on the purge of Gülenists and putschists. So it is reasonable to expect that he was informed of the release of the only civilian detained at the putschist airbase. If not then, then surely when the first news report on Öksüz was published, which was by Diken on July 19. (Interestingly the Diken report gives the impression that Öksüz is still being detained when of course he had been released a day earlier. Had the police acted straight away, they could have apprehended Öksüz who visited his in-laws on the same day this report was published.) The Diken news report should have alerted Erdoğan and his government to the great “treachery” of those responsible for Öksüz’s release. As per established practice in Turkey now, this should have led to the immediate dismissal, detainment, asset seizure, passport cancellation and licensing practice revocation of the two judges (and prosecutor and possibly others) involved. Yet the two judges were only just suspended on August 16; that is almost a month later. That means that during this time, these two judges were allowed to continue adjudicating on critical suspects such as Öksüz and others. Furthermore, none of the punitive summary measures not above have been taken against these judges.
- This delay and form of treatment is totally inexplicable. Recall how the then-Prime Minister Erdogan had complained about the lapse of time it had taken HYSK to suspend the Hidayet Karaca bail-hearing-judges (see this press conference, 0:18 – 0:30) and how the head of that body issued a public apology in response. That lapse of time was two (non-work) days! If we compare this with other cases, there is an inverse relation between the gravity of the alleged treachery and the immediacy and form of punitive action to follow. Like everything else concerning the Adil Öksüz claim, nothing makes sense.
- That something does not make sense does not necessarily mean it did not happen. We should not underestimate our capacity for overestimating the level-headedness and intelligence of others. However, had Adil Öksüz’s story begun and ended with his arrest at the airbase, perhaps we could have sought recourse in the explanatory power of human stupidity. Yet, as sketched above, it only gets more inexplicable from there onwards. For Adil Öksüz to be overlooked and released, for it to take so long for this monumental decision to register with the powers that be, for the prosecutor and judges involved in his release to be shielded from all kinds of punitive action that would ordinarily follow, cannot be explained by human error (or alleged Gülenist meddling) but by strategic intervention that only the government could exert. If nothing else, that the two judges were not even suspended for almost a month after their decision and their treatment since, demonstrates that this could not have been a Gülenist-exercise to save Öksüz. Based on the information at hand, Turkey’s atmosphere of fear, over-zealous purge, micro-managing governance and handpicked and strategically composed court houses exclude any other plausible explanation. All in all, this once again proves that we must be extremely cautious and reserve judgement until we know more.
10.09.2016 – Claim 1, clause c: three further points on Mithat Aynacı
12.09.2016 – 8 new hyperlinks added: 6 to Introduction, 1 each to Claim 4 and 5
19.09.2016 – In an attempt to address additional claims that have surfaced since completing this blog, I have added ‘Claim 6’ which discusses the allegations surrounding Adil Öksüz. The government and its media claim that Adil Öksüz is the linchpin of the coup as proven by the fact that he was the only civilian discovered at the putschist headquarters on the morning of the failed coup.
This article was originally published in the author’s personal website.
Questions we dare not ask: Gülen and the coup
Turkey has fallen so far that even civil society and the media are unable or unwilling to offer an alternative perspective to that of the government. Al Jazeera’s “Gülen’s fingerprints in Turkey’s failed coup” is an example among many.