Erdoğan's Coup Attempt Narrative Falling Apart

July 17, 2020
by Mehmet Çelik, published on 18 July 2020
Erdoğan's Coup Attempt Narrative Falling Apart

In one fable of Aesop, a man and a lion were once travelling together and boasting of their respective strength. As they passed by a statue that showed a man choking a lion, the man pointed to it and said: “See! What more proof do you need?” The lion replied: “This is your version of the story. If lions could erect statues, you would see twenty dead men under the paw of that lion.”

Aesop’s fable is quite relevant also in understanding the events of the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. So far, a one-sided official narrative has dominated the scene and many people bought this version at face value without feeling the need to check its reliability.

Four years have passed since the coup attempt; however, it still remains "controversial" as it has not been fully exposed to reveal the real perpetrators of the dark night that claimed the lives of 251 Turkish citizens and left more than two thousand people wounded. The clouds of suspicion have not been lifted yet. Almost no real effort has been made to shed light on it. Rather, it seems that a thorough investigation has been obstructed by President Erdogan even though he has always portrayed himself as the number one target of the putschists.

An inquiry commission composed of lawmakers was set up at the Turkish Parliament to probe the events of the July 15 attempted coup. Nevertheless, the parliamentary commission proved to be inept and the developments surrounding the procedures and workings of the Commission indicated the existence of an intervention from outside, casting doubts on the objectivity and reliability of its work.

First, due to the late appointment of its members from President Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Commission had to wait for 75 days until October 4, 2016 to commence its work after its mandate had been adopted on the 27th of July, implying a sense of unwillingness on the side of the government.

Second, the Commission ceased to hold hearings and wrapped its work up abruptly on January 4, 2017, a month earlier than its scheduled deadline. The opposition parties’ calls for extension were rejected by Erdogan’s AKP. Not surprisingly, the unexpected early dissolution of the Commission came soon after President Erdogan’s statements requesting the ending of its operation.

Third, the Commission did not hear the key figures of July 15, in particular, the Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and the Chief of Intelligence Organization (MIT) Hakan Fidan, thus, leaving many questions unanswered. Without a doubt, these two officials had the most intimate knowledge of the events prior to and on July 15. Had they been invited to the Commission to testify, their first-hand information would definitely have given way to the illumination of many dark areas. Yet, President Erdogan blocked their testimony at the parliament. How could the truth do harm to Erdogan if he was the plaintiff in this case? Ironically, despite their failure to prevent the coup, Akar and Fidan were not even asked to resign, they both maintained their posts and Akar was later even promoted to Minister of Defense.

While War College students and even privates were sentenced to life imprisonment for their alleged role in the coup attempt, despite the fact that they were not aware of where they were heading and did not have any option but to follow the orders of their commanders, is it reasonable not to hear army generals and the Chief of General Staff?  

Fourth, the fate of the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission Report remains mysterious. The report was handed over by the Chairperson of the Commission to the then Speaker of the Parliament, Ismail Kahraman on July 12, 2017. Nonetheless, two years after the submission of the Report, Mustafa Sentop, Speaker of the Parliament and AKP deputy, stated that “no finalized report did exist in their possession.” The mysterious evaporation of the Commission Report was met with widespread criticism from the opposition. Ozgur Ozel, MP of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), commented on it as “a hand extended out from the Palace (referring to President Erdogan) and blocked the investigation of some facts about July 15.”

Besides, the opposition’s subsequent proposals at the Parliament to investigate the political collaborators of the attempted coup were also rejected by the MPs of the AKP and its ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Erdogan has pursued a zero-tolerance policy against any critical perspective challenging his narrative of the coup attempt. Turkey has been the number one jailer of journalists for the last years in parallel to Erdogan’s rising authoritarian rule with sweeping new powers, alienating the country from the long aspired Western democracy path.

Despite the massive propaganda of Erdogan’s government to impose a one-sided narrative of the July 15 coup attempt, promising counter arguments have been raised particularly by the Turkish journalists, ex-military officers, experts, activists living abroad. These findings put forward a challenging alternative narrative of the thwarted coup.

For instance, the government’s narrative of the bombing of the Parliament and the Presidential Palace on the night of the coup attempt has been challenged by a persuasive counter narrative. It was claimed that, inter alia, the damages in the Turkish Parliament building would have been more devastating and the roof would have been torn inward; had it been hit by a fighter jet bomb. It was also asserted that the images and videos distributed by the government indicate that pre-installed C4-type explosives might have been used from inside rather than a bomb from a fighter jet, given the fact that even a highly fragile TV screen remained intact, the books stayed on the bookshelf, no burning trace had been seen on the curtains or couches, that would otherwise not remain untouched if the site had been hit by a jet.

Moreover, in the last four years, statements of some senior government officials have also supported the claims that it was in fact a “controlled coup" staged on the basis of a pre-planned scenario as described by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition CHP. For instance, Binali Yıldırım, the then Prime Minister at the time of the coup attempt, said in a mocking way, in response to a question at an interview with a group of like-minded journalists, that “the July 15 coup attempt was the project he liked the least.” Yıldırım’s remarks brought about further suspicions on the government narrative.

Furthermore, a video posted on social media has also indicated that the incidents on the Bosphorus Bridge had been planned in advance. In the video, a person with a large Turkish flag on his back was telling the others what the upcoming developments would be at the night of the coup attempt, including where the sniper would be installed. The same person was seen on the images and videos from the bridge on the night of the July 15 and he was in the mob lynching and beheading the defenseless military cadets.

Last but not least, perhaps the most devastating blow to Erdoğan’s narrative came from a document found in the indictment of the Akıncı Base case. It was an official trial report (minutes) written by a prosecutor and used as a basis for the first investigation about the coup attempt. What makes this document unique and important is that some events which had not taken place yet were written in the document as if they had actually happened. The document was signed by the prosecutor at 01:00 on July 16 but it included the events that would take place the next morning. The prosecutor must have had “nostradamus” skills to predict what would happen in the upcoming hours.

Simply put, those who challenge Erdoğan’s official July 15 narrative have already developed a robust alternative that would eventually completely destroy the government’s one-sided approach. When the fog over July 15 is lifted, it will not be surprising if today's heroes and traitors swap places. Therefore, a truth-seeker never takes events at face value! As underlined by Aesop twenty-six centuries ago, “facts speak plainer than words.”

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