Turkey’s modern history has been interrupted with several military coups since its establishment in 1923. The military served as the protector of secular values in the newly established republic and intervened in the political system at certain points in history. The single party period continued until 1946 with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) and attempts to move into a multi party system were suppressed with the excuse that the country was not yet “ready”. The year 1946 marked the end of the single party period with the establishment of the Democratic Party, which gained the majority of the votes in 1950 and became the ruling party. Within ten years, on 27 May 1960, the first military coup d’etat of modern Turkey took place, resulting in not only the removal but also the execution of the prime minister, Adnan Menderes.
The political system in the aftermath of the 1960 coup generated a series of unstable government coalitions. The army staged another coup in 1971, another one on 12 September 1980. On 28 February 1997, the military presented an ultimatum to the RP (Welfare Party) and DYP (True Path Party) led coalition government with the concerns of secularism being under threat. This ultimatum was recorded as a post modern coup and resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. On 15 July 2016, a group of soldiers within the army attempted a coup to overthrow the democratically elected government, the fifth coup bid in Turkey’s history. This time, however, the bid failed.
The confessions of some of the putschist soldiers and a number of incidents that took place on the night of coup pointed at Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in the US, as the person who actually ordered the coup. Before the coup took place, the Gulen movement was formally declared as a terrorist organization (FETO) by the Turkish government in May 2016 following a National Security Council Meeting after it became clear that followers of the movement had infiltrated the strategic institutions of the state.
Fetullah Gulen is a 75 year-old Turkish cult leader who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania since 1999. He is said to have moved there for medical reasons and has stayed there since then. He established a movement called Hizmet, meaning “service” in Turkish.
Gulen himself denied any involvement in the failed coup. However, the examination of the surprisingly intricate and extensive network of Gulen’s movement and the evolution of it raises suspicion. In this section, the evidence regarding Gulen and his followers’ involvement in the coup is presented.
What happened on 15 July?
On 15 July 2016, a faction within the Turkish army launched a coup attempt to topple the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Army helicopters opened fire on people who gathered in front of the Turkish General Staff headquarters in Ankara. Pro-coup soldiers seized the General Staff headquarters and the state television TRT, and blocked two bridges over the Bosphorus. The Gölbaşı Special Forces Department in Ankara was hit from the air; 50 police personnel were killed.
The Turkish parliament was bombed by fighter jets 11 times. Helicopters opened fire on a hotel in Marmaris where President Erdogan was holidaying. He had just escaped minutes earlier. Coup soldiers blockaded the premises; two police officers were killed in the clash that followed.
Coup plotters also dropped two bombs near the Presidential Complex in Ankara; 5 civilians died. . 246 people were killed, 179 of whom were civilians, and 1,540 people were wounded, 1,390 of whom were civilians, by the coup plotters.
What did the testimonies say about what happened?
In a testimony given to prosecutors in Ankara, Lt. Col. Levent Turkkan, the aide-de-camp to Chief of General Staff Gen. Akar, reportedly admitted to having links to FETO. Turkkan is reported to have said that he had been a loyal member of the Gulen Movement since his youth. He also confessed to spying on former Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel between 2011 and 2015. “I was spying on [former] Chief of Staff Necdet Ozel all the time. I put a bug in the room in the morning and took it back in the evening hours,” Turkkan said.
Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar is reported to have said in his testimony that the putschists tried to make him speak to Fetullah Gulen. Akar said that Brigadier General Hakan Evrim tried to convince him to talk to Gulen during the coup attempt, but he refused to do so. He added that he tried to persuade coup officers to give up their attempt before anyone was killed.
State council investigation judge, Ebubekir Basel, is reported to have said that he met with Gulenists at high school and began to go to the Işık Evleri (Houses of Light) -the first unit of the organization – back then. “Our job, as the Hizmet Movement, was to create a new condition in the bureaucracy and to eliminate those who tried to hinder it. This is how people who were unfit for this movement were discharged and prevented from returning to their office by means of judicial processes.”
Sergeant Zekeriya Kuzu said that he got in touch with FETO in 2007 and that sometimes he met with a FETO member and informed him about the condition of military staff.
“Since confidentiality is principal in FETO, I did not recognize the FETO members who infiltrated the military until the coup attempt. Two people came to my home Wednesday. One of them told me that they are preparing a list of 3,000 FETO members in the military, will fire them after the upcoming Supreme Military Council in August and that I was also in the list,” remarked Major Erkan Karlıdag.
Police chief Gursel Aktepe is reported to have said “It is impossible that the coup attempt could have been launched without the person on top of this organization, Fetullah Gulen, knowing and ordering. Our phones received a message via Tango on the coup night which read ‘The coup was launched. Everybody go out to give support to the coup and contact General Mehmet’.” He provided the police with the names of tens of FETO members.
Mustafa Kocyigit, an expert on the prime minister, is reported to have said “We seized the list of 20,000 FETO members prepared by MIT (National Intelligence Organization) by means of engineers. The last application we used for communication was Tango and 30,000 FETÖ members were using it. I regret what I have done.”
Some speeches of Fetullah Gulen are also considered as evidence and they have gone viral since the 15 July coup attempt. We provided below the transcriptions of some of those viral videos. Though the exact dates of recording is not clear, it is assumed that they were recorded in the 1990s. These videos are widely accepted as exemplifying Gulen’s inculcations of how to infiltrate the Turkish state. The word ‘service’ refers to the Turkish word ‘hizmet’ which is what Gulenists call their organization.
- “The presence of our friends [in certain positions] is a guarantee for our Islamic future. To this end, the presence of our friends within the judiciary, military or in another vital position should not be evaluated as individual posts. These people are a guarantee for us in those units. These are the pulse of our existence to a certain extent. It is highly important to protect our friends in any of these positions. Our friends will have bright futures within the system.”
- “It is obligatory and necessary that they [followers of Gulen] continue service this way until they reach a certain point of maturity. If they make a mistake and take a step without reaching maturity, without properly identifying with their essences, without the necessary progress, the world would smash their heads. . . . In an age like this, until you find your essence, until you reach maturity and the strength to carry the world on your back, until you acquire those things that will let you represent power, until you absorb the entire power and strength in all constitutional institutions as determined by the Turkish state structure, every step is untimely. Every step would be like cracking the egg without 20 days to reach maturity. “I told these feelings and thoughts of mine in a so-called confidential way. But I did so relying on your sentiments loyal to and sensitive about privacy. I know that you will trash these ideas in terms of their visibility just as you will trash the empty juice cans in your hands as you leave here. Do I make sense? Right. Your secret is your slave. It will enslave you if you reveal it.”
- “If we fail to maintain this service at a pace that will prevent them [all state officials worldwide] from getting the picture, they would set us back. Do I make sense? We need to move swiftly. The KGB has gotten the picture to an extent, so to speak. Mossad has gotten the picture to some extent. . . . But if you fail to penetrate that society’s whole life, blood and arteries as these [schools] start fruiting in the future, they can come at you and smother you by changing their system.”