Political wing of Turkey’s coup plot still shrouded in mystery

Three years have passed since the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, and Turkey has witnessed tens of thousands of arrests and the ongoing trials of thousands from every walk of life. Yet the coup plotters’ political connections, and the political wing of the coup attempt, still remain shrouded in mystery. 

Up to now, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has voted down all motions the opposition has made in parliament to investigate these political connections. Most recently, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a motion to investigate claims of bribery and extortion in the judicial system after a number of suspects in the coup trials were released. Once again, the motion was opposed by the AKP and its far-right alliance partners, the Nationalist Movement Party. 

The report that is being prepared, commissioned days after the coup attempt after a motion was presented by all four parties in parliament, has been problematic. As the AKP delayed naming members of the commission, it could not hold its first meeting until October 2016, and the commission only worked for a three-month period. 

While many people, from former chiefs of staff to ex intelligence chiefs were called to give testimony, the commission failed to take statements from two key figures on the night of the coup: National Intelligence Agency (MIT) chief Hakan Fidan, who is said to have learned about the attempt hours before troops took the streets, and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, the chief of the general staff on the night who was taken captive by the coup plotters.

What is publicly known about the report has also raised concerns. Two early drafts of the report were leaked, with the second reaching 1,097 pages. Yet currently, the report has been brought down to 637 pages and has still not been presented to parliament or released to the public.

The opposition wants answers. The period following the coup has only multiplied Erdoğan’s power, ushering him in as the country’s first executive president with unparalleled powers after elections last year, and a referendum held the previous year under emergency rule. 

The CHP has called the coup attempt a “foreseen and preventable controlled coup whose results have been exploited”, using the phrase as the title of its minority report on the coup and its aftermath, including the elusive parliamentary report. 

The writing process of the draft report, they say, has been kept from commission members by the AKP-appointed chair, Reşat Petek. The CHP’s minority report noted that 293 pages were removed from the latest draft, which it says included information on the Gülen movement, former AKP allies that the government says were behind plot.

Interviews broaching the subject with important figures, including former chiefs of general staff İlker Başbuğ, Hilmi Özkök and Işık Koşaner, as well as former MIT chief Emre Taner, former Interior Minister Efkan Ala, and journalists Nedim Şener and Fehmi Koru have been completely left out of the report.

This all points, the opposition says, to a concerted effort by the ruling party to conceal its own culpability in the Gülen movement’s rise.

As the CHP says in its minority report, the movement was not first defined as a terrorist organisation after its conflict with the ruling party exploded into the public eye when Gülen-linked prosecutors launched investigations into government ministers in 2013, but in a meeting of the National Security Council (MGK) in 2004, the second year after the AKP came to power.

At that time the generals in the MGK were a guiding force in Turkish politics, but that would change over the next decade.

In what is seen in Turkey as one of the most damning episodes related to the Gülen movement, Gülenist-linked police and prosecutors targeted hundreds of secularist military officers and prominent civilians in trials that were given the tacit approval of the AKP government. 

The trials helped end the military tutelage that had shaped Turkish politics for decades, and cemented the AKP’s authority over the country. But much of the evidence was found to be false, and after a sea change in the government’s network of allies and the beginning of conflict with the Gülen movement in 2013, the suspects were eventually freed and acquitted. 

The CHP’s minority report argues that the AKP government in its earlier years protected Gülenists in the state despite the MGK’s 2004 warnings, and that the draft report on the coup attempt was trying to conceal this fact, describing the coup attempt in terms befitting a natural disaster rather than a political event.

“Throughout its 320 pages the report describes ‘FETÖ’ as the perpetrator, and in a sense it mythologizes it”, the minority report said, referring to the government’s acronym for the Gülen movement, signifying the Fethullahist Terror Organisation. 

“The July 15 coup attempt from this angle remains in the dark; the organisation is claimed to have attempted to take over the state on a scale ranging from chefs to singers, from generals to academics. Yet the report contains no findings on the organisation’s political wing.”

In his party’s minority report, Mithat Sancar, a deputy from the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said the commission had veered off from its original purpose to instead focus on strengthening the AKP’s narrative of the coup attempt, leaving a long list of crucial questions about July 15 unanswered.

How is it, Sancar asked, that if MIT received word of the coup attempt at 6 p.m., that the president was not notified immediately? Why were the prime minister and interior minister not informed? Why is there still no clear information on how and when the president learned about the coup? Why has he made so many contradictory statements regarding what happened that night? Why were both Erdoğan and then-prime minister Binali Yıldırım unable to reach intelligence chief Fidan after the coup attempt began at 9:30 p.m.?

“The state of emergency made commonplace the type of illegalities seen only in a coup. Moreover, it was during the AKP period that the Gülen movement became ossified in all levels of the state, used the judiciary to enter a critical phase and pursue its agenda, and rose to the peak of its power,” Sancar’s commentary read.

The failure of the commission report to provide real answers on the coup attempt drew harsh words from the MHP, the far-right nationalist party that entered a formal electoral alliance with the AKP in 2018. 

In its own minority report in 2017, the MHP said the commission council had “raised suspicions” by obstructing its attempts to shed light on the coup plotters’ political connections. 

Moreover, it said, the commission had failed to investigate the funding sources behind the conspiracy, and AKP members of the commission had voted against calling some of the most important actors among the coup plotters for statements, including generals Mehmet Dişli, Mehmet Partigöç and Akın Öztürk.

The MHP’s minority report, like the others, demanded answers on the political footing for the coup attempt, stressing that light must be shed on whether or not AKP deputies and municipal mayors had played a role in it.

The Justice Ministry figures published this month, showing that over 155,000 people are under investigation for links to the Gülen movement, with another 69,000 on trial, demonstrate just how important the questions raised in the minority reports are.

Millions of Turks on Monday will celebrate the bravery shown by citizens of Turkey who stood up to the tanks on July 15, 2016. But until answers on the full scope of the coup attempt, and its connections to Turkey’s political class are given there will be no justice for the 248 killed and thousands injured on the night of the coup attempt.


© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.