Turkey’s Curious Coup: What Turkey’s Western Allies Make of the Evidence against Gülen

A year after the Turkey’s coup attempt, there are still many questions that need to be considered. Below you could find a summary of what makes the coup attempt so curious and the positions of the Turkish Government, Gulen Movement and Turkey’s Western allies.

What happened on July 15, 2016

  • 8,561 soldiers took part in what appears to have been an attempted coup. Members of the public took to the streets resulting in the deaths of 249.
  • The coup failed because it had almost no support from the Turkish military (only 1.5%) and was so badly executed that it gives the impression that it was planned to fail. Moreover, the ruling party enjoys significant public support with an even greater proportion opposing the coup.

What is ‘curious’ about the coup

  • That a coup was attempted with the support of only 1.5% of the Turkish military
  • That a coup was attempted against an incumbent party with remarkable public support (circa 50%)
  • That despite the military’s extensive experience of coups, the coup bid comprised a long list of irrational actions and inactions by the putschists, such as a road block of only one direction of the Bosphorus Bridge creating maximum exposure; bombing the parliament building – the symbol of public will and political representation; failure to close down all forms of telecommunications and broadcasting including TV, internet and phone lines; failure to capture any political leaders, etc.
  •  That, inexplicably, despite conceding that they had received a tip-off about aberrant military action 8 hours earlier, neither the head of National Intelligence nor the head of the Armed Forces claims to have informed the President or the government at that time.
  • Contradictions in the official narrative as to what happened on the night in question.

What the Turkish government claims

  • The Turkish government claims that the coup was orchestrated by Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic scholar exiled in the US, and the Gülen movement. President Erdogan made this claim within 2 hours of start of the coup and while it was still underway.
  • Turkey has submitted to the United States what it describes as ‘85 boxes of damning evidence’ in support of the extradition of Fethullah Gülen. Curiously, the extradition request is not for Gülen’s involvement in the coup.
  • The Turkish government claims that the Gülen movement has infiltrated everywhere and blames it for Turkey’s past and present troubles, including current judicial investigations in the US against an Iranian businessman implicating Turkish politicians and banks.

How Fethullah Gülen has responded

  • Gülen has consistently and categorically denied any involvement in the coup. He held press conferences in the three days following the coup in which he answered questions put to him by the world’s media.
  • Gülen has called for an international commission to investigate the coup and said that he will agree to its findings outright. He said that he would travel to Turkey of his own free will if such a commission were to discover any evidence implicating him in the coup.
  • The Gülen movement has defended itself by saying that it would have been organisational suicide for a transnational movement that is bigger outside of Turkey than inside to criminalise itself by orchestrating a coup; that it would have been ethical suicide for a movement whose most consistent teaching is non-violence to orchestrate a coup; and that it makes no sense in terms of timing: ordinarily, a young and dynamic movement would outlast Erdogan and his government. Why would the movement have risked that by attempting a bloody coup and giving Erdogan the perfect excuse to ‘annihilate the movement.’

What Turkey’s Western allies make of the evidence against Gülen

  • US Department of Justice: Turkey has not submitted an extradition request for Gülen’s involvement in the coup. The extradition request submitted with 85 boxes of documents was for other alleged offenses. Where an application for extradition is received, the Department of Justice refers the matter to a judge after it reviews the application for ‘sufficiency.’ The DoJ’s decision not to refer the application concerning Gulen is revealing as it suggests that the DoJ has yet to find the evidence submitted by Turkey ‘sufficient.’
  • US House Intelligence Committee of US Congress: Devin Nunes, head of the US House Intelligence Committee, said during a TV interview in March 2017, ‘I haven’t seen evidence for that, that Gülen was involved [in Turkey’s failed coup] and anything like that.’
  • EU intelligence centre: The leaked European Union Intelligence Centre report that appeared in the Times on January 17, 2017, says ‘[i]t is unlikely that Gülen himself played a role in the attempt… . It is unlikely Gülen really had the abilities and capacities to take such steps.’
  • German Intelligence Agency: Bruno Kahl, head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency, said during an interview in March 2017 that he did not believe Gülen was behind the coup. He said, ‘Turkey has tried to convince us of that [Gülen’s involvement] at every level but so far it has not succeeded.’ Of the Gülen movement he said, it is a ‘civil association that aims to provide further religious and secular education.’
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK: On being questioned during a parliamentary committee hearing about what ‘information, intelligence or evidence’ the FCO had on Gülen’s involvement in the coup, Lindsay Appleby, Director for Europe of the FCO, said on January 31, 2017 that ‘[w]e know quite a lot about the individuals who seem to have been involved in the coup … we know much less about the organisations to which those individuals belonged … so it isn’t clear how many of the military people were Gülenists.’
  • Foreign Affairs Committee, UK: The Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry on UK-Turkey relations dedicated considerable time to hearing and appraising public and private evidence on the failed coup. It published its findings on March 25, 2017 in which it said that there was no hard evidence to implicate Gülen or the Gülen movement: what there was, at most, was circumstantial evidence indicating that ‘some individual Gülenists’ were involved and that even then, the circumstantial evidence was ‘mostly anecdotal or circumstantial, sometimes premised on information from confessions or informants.’
  • Director of US National Intelligence: Within days of the coup attempt, James Clapper, the then-Director of US National Intelligence, said that they had not seen any intelligence indicating Gülen’s involvement.

Purges and persecution

  • President Erdogan described the coup as a “gift from God” allowing him to purge extra-judicially.
  • Since the failed coup, Turkey has purged 200,000 state employees including teachers, lecturers, doctors and judges. The purges are done without any due process and cannot be appealed.
  • Since the failed coup, Turkey has incarcerated 150,000 people for up to 8 months. Of those detained, it has charged and is holding on remand over 50,000 political prisoners. Those charged and held on remand include all categories and professions of people including journalists, novelists, footballers, and comedians. Military personnel are a minority of those detained on coup charges. Turkey has for example purged more teachers and academics than it has soldiers and military officers.

© 2017 Centre for Hizmet Studies