Last July, Turkey was rocked when a group of rogue soldiers attempted to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government. Unlike previous coups, this time the putschists were met with strong civic opposition. Thousands of people poured into the streets of Turkey’s metropolitan cities in protest against the coup attempt as soon as the news broke.
In the wake of the foiled coup, the Turkish parliament set up an inquiry commission to investigate the dynamics of the coup attempt and to clearly establish who its main instigators were. The commission was formed with cross-party support, and members of all political parties participated in its hearings.
The head of the commission was Resat Petek, a former legal expert and a two-term MP for the governing AK Party. In the 1990s, Petek was a Turkish prosecutor, until he was dismissed by the strictly secularist judiciary establishment. One of the main reasons for his dismissal was his advocacy in favour of the rights of women who wore headscarves, who were, at the time, heavily stigmatised and even banned from government institutions and public universities.
Petek spoke to TRT World about the commission and its findings. He thinks concrete evidence shows that the Gulenists, who are followers of Fethullah Gulen, are mainly behind the coup attempt. Fethullah Gulen is a US-based Turkish cleric; and Petek says his findings support that assertion. The Gulenist organisation is accused of infiltrating virtually every state institution, from the military and the judiciary to the civil services, in a plot aimed at taking over the state.
How do you define the dynamics of July 15 coup attempt?
Resat Petek: If we are to understand this incident, based on what the concrete evidence suggests, we see that the July 15 coup was an attempt by the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation [FETO] members who have infiltrated the Turkish military forces and hid their allegiance for years, to forcibly push out the Turkish government. The Republic of Turkey was faced with an illegitimate, illegal and anti-democratic organised attack.
Governments, of course, are the main target of such coup attempts. Therefore there is no doubt this was an attempt against the Turkish government, on the lives of the prime minister and president, to arrest them, and to form a putschist government of their own choosing. All the evidence we have gathered suggests that the coup attempt was indeed undertaken by the organisation that we call the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation [FETO], which was previously referred to as the “parallel state” and in National Security Council meetings was called “a legal-seeming illegal structure.” This organisation is a terrorist organisation which has shown itself without a doubt to be capable of attempting a coup.
Now of course Turkey has gone through certain stages as a democratic country ruled by law. The bar for democracy was raised high, especially in the past 15 years. There were many advances made in the areas of human rights and freedoms, in keeping with universal standards. In fact there is no doubt [Turkey is] a country that respects human rights and personal freedoms more than Western countries that are known for their advanced democracies. But taking advantage of these freedoms, the [secret] structure that we call FETO has, over the years, made use of Turkey’s social, religious and political conditions by exploiting people’s sacred religious feelings, and organised itself into a structure.
This structure has been meticulous about its three central tenets. It has closely followed its three principles: secrecy, deception [takiye, wherein one hides his true religious beliefs in the presence of opposition] and caution. Using these three guiding principles, they have infiltrated and increased their numbers in the justice system, the civil service and the military, all in preparation for today. The most fundamental observation is that FETO is the organisation that attempted the coup. There is no doubt about that. Secondly, there is no doubt that it was an armed attack. Thirdly, when we look at what the coup plotters called the Peace at Home Council, composed of 38 high-ranking military officers who are currently on trial, we realise that at least for those who are at general rank, that [FETO’s] secret infiltration work in the Turkish military goes back to 30 or 40 years ago, according to the findings of our investigation.
Here we see an effort to present a false front; an effort to trick and deceive. We’re talking about a secret organisation that hides itself by altering its image in line with whoever they’re deceiving, putting up a front that aligns with their [interlocutor's] ideology; their beliefs. This very wealthy organisation has, depending on circumstances, appeared to be Kemalist [Turkey's main secularist political grouping] at times, or conservative or leftist. They have organised in the same way within both the justice system and in the police force.
They have exploited political parties that they think may be useful by appearing to be leftist at times, or liberal, or conservative, or nationalist, or religiously minded. But their main aim is to rule Turkey under the thumb of foreign nations; to enslave Turkey and to set up a republic that serves the whims of foreign nations. In the framework of these goals this organisation’s last choice is to attempt a coup that would bring about coup rule [enforced by the military].
What did the coup organisers want to accomplish with their attempt [last July]?
RP: One of the most discussed topics by the public is whether the coup had a political dimension, and it’s related to this question. According to our investigation, FETO has a cell structure and everybody has only the information that is shared directly with him. He or she doesn’t have information about anybody else’s area or duties. Even high-ranking managers [in the group] only have information about their own area.
Therefore we can say, when we evaluate the work done with the justice department, and taking into account correspondence signed by Mehmet Partigoc [who was a brigader general and the president of human resources, planning and management department at Turkish general staff on July 15] that asserts that martial law commanders have been assigned, that the 38 people who are members of the Peace at Home Council are directly involved in the coup. [There may be others who are involved in the coup, but we cannot implicate them directly.]
Long story short, we can say the [only] person who knows exactly what will happen after the coup is the so-called leader of the FETO organisation, Fethullah Gulen. He hasn’t shared this information with anyone. My personal opinion is that if the coup had succeeded would he have appointed people [to key position] and he kept his plans private. Neither the justice department nor we have received any concrete evidence of what would have happened.
How do you estimate the Gulenist involvement in the coup attempt?
RP: We know that Fethullah Gulen is someone who supports coups and coup attempts based on his writings and his speeches … Gulen speaks of an operation called huruc (sortie) 35-40 years ago. “You are not to expose yourself until the day [comes]. You will hide yourself until you reach the highest ranks. You will infiltrate the capillaries of the justice department, the police force, the military. You will infiltrate.” These commands are Fethullah Gulen’s. Who does he give these commands to? To the members of his organisation, then known as “the community (cemaat)”.
In 1981-82, military schools start accepting civilian high schoolers for the first time, and a special class is set up. Few people, but not everyone at the time was aware of this, but in this special class were “students” of Fethullah Gulen. These students did well, rose through the military ranks quickly and were a success story. Eleven to twelve of the generals who participated in the July 15 coup attempt are from this class. That’s no coincidence. Once the military’s personnel management, that is human resources, was in FETO’s hands, as I mentioned before, they stole answers [to tests administered to students] that resulted in their members acing the tests and [reinforce their organisation within the military] …
Moreover we see that officers who studied overseas the most are also coup participants. This foreign study was something arranged by [human resources] staff that oversees personnel management in the Turkish military. In the cell structure those associated with the organisation rose through the ranks quickly and were sent overseas to take on important duties; these were the officials who had taken part in the coup.
According to your commission’s report, how did the attempted coup’s timeline get moved to an earlier hour? Which factors were at play here? What about the news reports that the coup was exposed on the afternoon of July 15, that an army aviation officer came to the Turkish intelligence agency [to inform them of the plot]? How do you interpret the night of July 15? According to the report of the commission you chaired, what happened on the night of July 15?
RP: First of all let me say that it was noted that state intelligence agencies didn’t have a time frame for a coup plot on July 15. Because there is no intel about the time and place of the coup, this point will doubtless be interpreted as an intelligence gap.
A few days after the coup attempt, some persons and institutions claimed to have forewarned about the coup. Some said there had been notifications, intelligence. We can also dismiss these as non-serious claims. Our commission did not receive any information that state officials knew of the time and place of the coup in advance.
On the other hand, we also investigated reports that an army aviation officer came to the national intelligence agency on July 15 to tell them about the coup. There was much discussion in the media about whether this aforementioned officer informed the agency of the coup or that the undersecretary of the intelligence agency would be removed from his post with an operation.
Our information, evaluated in the light of the intelligence agency’s report to our commission and the letter we received from the office of the general staff in response to our questions, indicate that at the first stage there was intel that the undersecretary of the intelligence agency was to be removed from office with a military operation. And nobody slept on this information.
The intelligence agency, the office of the general staff and others in charge got together and necessary instructions were given just in case there is a coup attempt. It is because of these instructions that those who were planning the coup attempt for July 16 at 3 AM panicked about being exposed. The office of the general staff was giving orders that there were to be no flights and no one would leave from military bases, all planes in the air were to be grounded.
When these orders were given to central command and all other command posts, the plotting commanders realised they were exposed and decided to move the coup to an earlier time, to July 15 at 8:30 pm. (There is a general consensus in Turkish public that this time change played a critical role in the failure of the coup attempt.) Because the [revised] time is close to sunset it allowed citizens to find out about the coup [early on] and to take to the streets following the president’s call – the emergence of a [popular] resistance is seen as a key factor in blocking the coup.
So do you think the arrival of the army aviation officer to the Turkish intelligence agency played a critical role in thwarting the coup?
RP: It played a critical role. Thanks to the information he supplied, the Turkish intelligence agency did the necessary work and shared information; first the deputy secretary, then the undersecretary himself went to the Turkish general staff and worked for close to two hours there. With the Turkish general staff’s orders, the undersecretary of the army and chief of staff went to the army aviation school to investigate what was going on there and took precautions. So when we consider these details, the necessary precautionary measures were taken as much as possible.
Let me say that these things are not correct as far as public criticism goes: Some people say “Well if at 6:00 pm when the chief of staff and the undersecretary of the intelligence agency convened they knew about the coup and decided such an attempt was possible why didn’t they prevent it?” I would also like to answer those questioning whether this coup was a “controlled coup.” Based on the information and documents we have at hand in our commission, I can say this: If troops were not given precautionary orders (against the coup), if orders were not given to shut airspace to flights and halt military mobility, then it would be possible to talk about gross negligence or other possibilities. [But that was not the case at all.]
So what you are saying is if the army aviation officer hadn’t alerted the Turkish intelligence agency this coup attempt may have taken a very different turn.
RP: There may have been dire consequences. Therefore whoever it is who informed [of the coup plot] it doesn’t matter what his rank or name is, you know much has been said about that, no need to dwell on a name. What matters is the result. The information he has provided is incredibly important. If an attempt had been made at 3:00 am in the morning that would not simply be a coup. Because foreign powers were at the centre of the discussion about the coup attempt, the coup was a movement to drag Turkey into civil war, an attempt to occupy Turkey starting from our southern borders.
So that night could have been the beginning of a great disaster for Turkey, but God didn’t allow that to happen. And people resisting [the coup attempt], following the call of their leader, our president, and that [the coup attempt] was exposed early on, were important factors in quashing the coup.
You said that if the coup had been attempted at 3:00 am foreign powers would have reached their goals and Turkey would have been at risk of an occupation starting on its southern borders. Could you expand on that, about foreign interference and what could happen on Turkey’s southern borders?
RP: There is a struggle in Turkey [conducted by local collaborators and their foreign backers] to split the country apart, to establish [their] sovereignty, or instead – to establish a rule with the pressure of terror organisations – that would do anything that foreign powers want.
These coup attempts would not be made against Turkey if Turkey weren’t a country that stands with the oppressed in the Middle East, if it didn’t stand with the righteous, if it didn’t speak up against the riches of [the Middle East] being exploited by so-called superpowers, if it didn’t follow foreign policy that defends the law in all countries by saying “The world is bigger than five;” if it followed a national and foreign policy that humoured all – ready to be ruled, ready for mandate government, ready to do as it’s told. Turkey carrying out national and foreign policy independently is the primary reason for this coup attempt by FETO.
When we take into account the Gulenist terror organisation’s cooperation with other terror organisations, [this is what would happen:] Their members within the military and the judiciary and the police force would topple the government and at the same time there would be attacks against Turkey and there would be carnage in Turkey. There would be an absolute state of chaos. They want to bring Turkey into a state of anarchy and violence like in Syria or Iraq, God forbid, like in countries that are struggling internally in the Middle East.
What do you think about the allegations that the UAE and some other Gulf countries had supported the coup attempt on July 15?
RP: We need to evaluate the attitudes of some Arab countries – with Muslim citizens and questionable rulers– in the context of the aforementioned agendas of foreign powers.
Do you think there was an intelligence deficit in terms of July 15 coup attempt?
RP: There is a hole in intelligence, considering specific details about time and place of the coup were not discovered and shared with the president and prime minister. Our president and prime minister have already said as much. There are reasons for this. Testimonials of numerous people and information we have received reveal that the coordination among our intelligence units is lacking. Moreover it turns out that Turkey’s intelligence agency is not legally authorised to track movements of general staff personnel out of barracks and that this has resulted in a lack of information about the activities of the military.
We should say that some [religious] activities in the military have been the focus of attention for a long time but organisational structures like FETO were not monitored sufficiently. When we asked commanders who came to the commission why these surveillance activities were not carried out, they said they had no authority to do so. However we should add that when we asked them “But you have dismissed many officers from the army on February 28 [1997, during Turkey’s latest successful coup, referred to as the postmodern coup] accusing them of being overtly religious. Why didn’t you seriously monitor these people?” They couldn’t give us satisfactory answers.
Do you see any possibility for other coup attempts in Turkey’s near future?
RP: If we had done this interview in June 2016 and you had asked me this question, many people would have probably said “Well democracy is stronger in Turkey now, people are more aware, at this point no one would attempt to stage a coup.”
But people who attempt such things as coups work in secrecy and the public may not be aware of their activities. That’s why, Turkey should not be complacent in the future. However, FETO’s organisation in Turkey has received a deadly blow and it no longer has the strength to attempt another coup in Turkey. Yet the organisation continues to receive support overseas, financial and otherwise, and retains a certain amount of power, primarily in the United States.
Considering the fact that all coups in Turkey were partially supported by foreign powers, Turkey should not consider [coups] “all in the past” and take precautions against coups with the decisions it makes about [taking measures to fix] its intelligence agencies, judiciary, and democracy.