Update on the failed Turkish coup. Part 3 Was it a false flag by Erdogan?
In part 1 and part 2 of this series of posts a general overview of the recent post coup events in Turkey was given. The situation within Turkey has more or less stayed the same, although there have been some developments. So far over 15,000 have been detained, the majority of which are military personnel, but also imprisoned are significant numbers of police, judges and prosecutors, along with some journalists and business people.1 There are credible reports that some of the detained are being tortured and raped, while according to Kayseri Haber suspected Gülenists are being kept in a “concentration camp” in Kayseri province.2 If one doesn’t believe these reports then maybe the stern warning of Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi will suffice, “We will put them into such holes [jails] for punishment that they won’t even be able to see the sun of God as long as they breathe. They will not see the light of day. They will not hear a human voice. They will beg for death, saying ‘just kill us.’”3 There has also been over 81,000 public officials suspended or fired from their jobs for links to Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).4
Hundreds of Schools, unions, hospitals, foundations and organizations have been closed. Media organizations, websites and journalists have been targeted, along with corporations in the private sector. Erdoğan wants to re-institute the death penalty to dissuade others from executing another coup and to punish those involved in the most recent coup attempt. A three-month long nationwide state of emergency has been declared in which the European Convention on Human Rights has been suspended. On a lighter note, FETÖ members have been accused “of plotting the Fenerbahçe match-fixing case in 2011.”5 For those unaware Fenerbahçe is a popular Turkish soccer team. Maybe deputy Prime Minister Tuğrul Türkeş wasn’t joking when he quipped, “When the shock absorber of your car is broken, they put blame on people with ties to FETÖ.”6
The most significant recent development in Turkey is the proposed reforms to the Turkish military and intelligence apparatus. “The Land Forces, Naval Forces and Air Force commands will come under the control of the Defense Ministry, while the president and the prime minister will have the authority to receive direct information and issue force commanders direct orders that will be executed immediately without the need for approval from another post.”7 In addition among other changes, all current military academies will be closed and replaced with a single National Defence University. According to Prime Minister Benali Yıldırım with these changes the military “will not even dare to make an[other coup] attempt.”8
Turkey’s intelligence agency the MİT will also be restructured into two separate agencies to deal with domestic and foreign intelligence needs respectively.9 Domestic intelligence will be performed by the police and gendarmerie, who will answer to the Interior Ministry. Interestingly, the police will now be equipped with heavy weapons.10 All of these changes to the military and intelligence structures of Turkey, serve to weaken the military and bring them more under the direct control of Erdogan, and to strengthen the police. This new balance of power will make it more difficult for the military to launch a successful coup in the future.
Was the attempted coup a false-flag event?
The circumstances surrounding the July 15 attempted coup are such that many within Turkey and some abroad do not believe the official account of it. Many Turks believe the event to be a hoax staged by Erdoğan. Such ‘conspiracy theorists’ have been derisively dismissed by the Turkish government and are also being investigated. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ went so far as to state “Most of them are losers who think it is honorable to die at Fethullah Gülen’s command.”11
Notwithstanding Bozdağ’s dismissiveness, is it really so absurd–based on what we know of Erdoğan, on his vigorous response to the coup and on the inconsistencies surrounding the events of July 15–to wonder whether Erdoğan orchestrated a false flag style event to further his power? When considering the important domestic and international ramifications of the attempted coup, to me there is nothing asinine in asking critical questions of the events in question. Ultimately, there are four possibilities:
- The coup was truly intended to overthrow the Turkish government and Erdoğan had no foreknowledge of it, and was completely caught off guard.
- Same as 1 except Erdoğan realized that a coup was likely and therefore made general preparations and knew who his ‘enemies’ in the military and state were. In this scenario Erdoğan had no specific forewarning of the July 15 coup, only that a coup was likely sometime in the future.
- Same as 2 except Erdoğan had specific foreknowledge of the July 15 coup attempt. However, instead of preventing it he allowed it to happen, knowing that it would give him the pretext he needed to purge his enemies and begin implementing his desired authoritarian Presidential system. This possibility can be termed as a stand-down false flag event.
- The coup was a completely staged event by Erdoğan himself. It should be realized that such a scenario does not necessary imply that every participant in the coup was aware that it was a false flag. To the contrary, it is much more likely that the grunts and mid-level officers involved in the coup actually believed it was a real attempt to overthrow Erdoğan or that they were told that they were conducting a mission with some other aims, which has already been reported by some of the coup members.12 Only those at the highest level would have known of the actual aims of the coup. In fact even those at the top may not have known what was going on as they could have been manipulated and led along by a handful of intelligence operatives (agent provocateurs) working for Erdoğan.
With these possibilities defined, 1 and 2 can be considered to be authentic coup scenario while 3 and 4 are false flag type events. Having an idea of what could have possibly happened on July 15, we shall now explore these possibilities and determine whether there is evidence to support or dispute them
Was the coup an authentic one?
Many will probably just take, by default, possibility 1 or 2 as being valid, and in fact there is much to support such a conclusion. It could be argued that during the last 50 years Turkey has had numerous previous coup attempts,13 both successful and unsuccessful, 2 of which occurred during Erdoğan’s times as Prime Minister, and as such there is no need to resort to conspiracy theories to explain what has just happened in Turkey. So plausible is such a possibility that in March Michael Rubin asked in an article the question “Could there be a coup in Turkey?” and concluded “no one should be surprised if Turkey’s rocky politics soon get rockier.”14 One should realize that Erdoğan’s actions during his tenure in power, while popular among a certain large segment of society as evinced by the popular resistance to the coup, is unpopular among many other Turks, particularly Atatürkists and Kemalists in the military, who are proponents of Turkey’s secular democratic institutions founded by Kemal Atatürk almost a century ago. They see Erdoğan as a force antithetical to Turkey’s secular institutions and traditions (a fair assessment). For these reasons, elements of the Turkish military would have a legitimate motivation to carry out an actual coup.
There has also been analysis that some in the Turkish military, and NATO, have not been very pleased with Turkey’s recent rapprochement with Russia. Shelley Kasli argues that the coup plotters, from within Turkey and without, partly intended to stop further cooperation between Russia and Turkey.15 It is also interesting to note that the two pilots involved in the downing of the Russian Su-24 in November of 2014 were also accused of being involved in the coup and have been arrested.16 These arrests may be of no significance, however they are rather suspicious.
Beyond the secular sentiment of the military, there are also Gülenists in Turkey who would like to see Erdoğan removed from power. If we are to believe Turkish officials, the danger posed to the Turkish state by Gülen and FETÖ is very great. As Turkish EU Minister Ömer Çelik claimed, “The head of the terrorists, Fethullah Gülen is more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden.”17 Erdoğan has argued that there is no difference between FETÖ and the terrorist groups ISIL, PKK, PYD and YPG, they all “have the capability of acting together against the Republic of Turkey.”18 We are also being told that FETÖ members “have infiltrated the Daesh terror network; particularly one of its brigades in Havija.”19 So if we are to believe what Turkish officials are telling us, FETÖ is a terrorist group as menacing and vile as ISIL.
Of course such statements and reports may be overstating the danger posed by Gülen to Turkey, however there is reason to believe he does in fact pose a legitimate threat. People may assume Gülen is a good guy as he is enemies with Erdoğan–although up until 2013 they were allies–but Gülen appears to be a clever Islamist, who instead of using force and overt political machinations to further his agenda, employs subversive tactics, such as insidiously spreading his ideology through educational and religious institutions. After educating loyal adherents to his ideology these minions can be used to infiltrate important posts in a society and government, and eventually take it over. As Gülen was secretly recorded as saying to his followers, “work patiently and to creep silently into the institutions in order to seize power in the state.”15 In the Turkish indictment against Gülen, he was quoted as stating in 1980 that “The putsch movement has started. However, this movement will only be implemented after 35 to 40 years, as it is not possible to carry it out in the current setting.”20 In Russia Gülenist schools are banned, and in Uzbekistan they have been closed. While in Holland and Turkmenistan the Gülenist movement has come under investigation.
Beyond such evidence pointing to the subversive nature of Gülen and his movement, there is also evidence of his involvement in the July 15 attempted coup. A number of the soldiers involved in the coup have confessed to being members of FETÖ.21 According to Erdoğan “One of those who took our chief-of-staff hostage even went beyond to say: ‘Let’s put you in touch with our opinion leader Fethullah Gülen.’”22 It is also interesting to note that according to surveys at least 65% of Turks believe that Gülen is behind the coup, while journalist Burak Bekdil, not one to blindly accept whatever the Turkish government says, wrote “Every piece of evidence emerging after the failed putsch on July 15 says that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the victim of a failed Gülenist coup d’état.”23 As such it seems very plausible, even likely, that Gülen and the FETÖ were involved in the attempted coup.
Further evidence supporting the coup’s authenticity is that according to reporteds Peace in the Country Council (PCC) forces attempted to kill and capture Erdoğan while he was on vacation at the Aegean resort town of Marmaris, but he was able escape before the attack.24 Such was the danger to Erdoğan that his associates counseled him to flee to a Greek island, but he refused and instead carried on to Istanbul.25 During the coup Prime Minister Benali Yildirim’s convey was shot at by coup forces, but he managed to escape.26 In the aftermath of the coup, while attending a funeral for his supporters killed in the coup, Erdoğan was overwhelmed with emotion and began crying.27 Maybe Erdoğan is a skilled thespian, but it does appear that he was emotionally effected by the events of the coup and that PCC forces did attempt to take him and other Turkish leaders out.
False flag possibility
As has been shown there is evidence and reason to believe that the July 15 attempted coup was an authentic one, but there is also evidence to the contrary, that we are in fact dealing with a false flag event, either a stand down or one completely organized by Erdoğan. Lets start with Cengiz Çandar a noted Turkish journalist. Çandar, who has had first hand experience with Turkish coups, wrote an article for Al-Monitor in which he questioned the amateurishness of the attempted coup.28 He wrote, “More surprising for me is the amateurishness of the attempted coup on the night of July 15. As a veteran observer of military coups and coup attempts in Turkey, I have never seen any with this magnitude of such inexplicable sloppiness.” Çandar adduces numerous examples of such sloppiness. For instance why did the PCC not detain Erdoğan and prevent him from returning to Istanbul, why did they not seize the nation’s main TV news stations, and why did they fire on civilians?
He was also impressed by Erdoğan’s reaction to the coup, “The swiftness and scope of the action of the executive branch was remarkable. It gave the impression that Erdogan and the government were prepared for a coup attempt and had ample intelligence as to who in the state system would be associated with it.” So to were some EU officials. Johannes Hahn commented “It looks at least as if something has been prepared. The lists are available, which indicates it was prepared and to be used at a certain stage. I’m very concerned. It is exactly what we feared.”29 The lists Hahn is referring to are of those who were arrested and suspended in the wake of the coup. Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, was also rather skeptical, remarking “I am under the impression that the amateurish plan of the coup is met with a very professional response. To be able to identify in a matter of only a few hours 13,000 people, who are either arrested or suspended from their duties is a real feat.”30
It is suspicious to say the least that Erdoğan acted so swiftly to arrest and detain thousands, within the military, police and state, who were suspected of having links to FETÖ. Such a response does suggest a certain level of preparedness. The question is whether this preparedness indicated Erdoğan’s complicity with the coup (possibilities 3 or 4) or due to his foresight and prudence he was expecting a coup against him (2) Related to this issue the leader of the CHP opposition party Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu raised a pertinent question. He asked why nothing was done sooner to stop the Gülenists: “Why did you turn a blind eye? Why didn’t you do what was necessary until today?”31 Kılıçdaroğlu’s point is well-taken, especially when juxtaposed with Erdoğan’s swift post coup response and preparedness.
There are also other suspicious oddities that occurred during the coup, specifically during the failed operations to nab or kill Erdoğan.32 It was reported that Erdoğan’s plane flying from Marmaris to Istanbul was intercepted by two F-16’s loyal to the PCC. According to a military officer “They locked their radars on his plane and on two other F-16s protecting him. Why they didn’t fire is a mystery.” The official explanation was that the two jets were running low of fuel and had to return to base.33 However, even if the jets were low on fuel, they were already within range of their air-to-air missiles, so they still could have taken an extra few moments to fire their missiles at Erdoğan’s plane and then returned to base. It has also been reported that the PCC special forces unit raided Erdoğan’s Marmaris hotel nearly one hour after the President landed in Istanbul and gave a televised address. Maybe these are just two further examples of the PCC’s amateurishness as noted by Çandar, or maybe they indicate that the coup plotters never wanted to nab or kill Erdoğan because the coup was a false flag operation.
It has also been reported that Turkish officials had forewarning of the attempted coup. Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) informed top generals that a coup was about to take place on July 15, a few hours before it happened.34 The article in question does not mention when Erdoğan was notified of this information. Maybe this forewarning enabled him to escape from Marmaris before the PCC forces could nab him. Maybe they had such even earlier, days or weeks ago. However, at the very least the Turkish government was not completely caught off guard by the attempted coup.
We have four possibilities when it comes to the July 15 attempted coup, yet we also have evidence supporting all of them. It is plausible that Erdoğan had some hand in the coup, especially given the reported inconsistencies and his vigorous and well coordinated response. However, there is no current evidence, purely consistent with the false flag scenarios, as such evidence can also be rationalized under the framework of the authentic coup scenarios. All we are able to do is speculate, but in my view I think that scenario 2 is the most likely. Erdoğan was fully aware that be it Kemalists, Gülenists or whoever, there exists groups within Turkey that want him out of power. It is likely he was was expecting a coup and therefore made the necessary preparations to counter one. Furthermore, Erdoğan is astute and compunctionless enough to take advantage of “a gift from God”35 and go after his enemies and opposition, even though they may have nothing to do with the attempted coup. I suspect Erdoğan is familiar with Rahm Emanuel’s maxim “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”36
Ultimately, to a certain extent it is immaterial what the exact motivation of the coup was, as Erdoğan is taking advantage of the situation to the utmost, false flag or not. Even the Deputy Prime Minister Tuğrul Türkeş admitted that the coup response, “is being turned into a witch-hunt.”6 So all we can do is continue to speculate and watch what Erdoğan’s next move will be. Maybe if we are lucky some hackers will be able to acquire and leak information that will conclusively tell us what really occurred on July 15.
 http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/coup-suspects-confess-gulen-links-to-the-attempt.aspx?pageID=238&nID=102243&NewsCatID=341 , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/soldiers-testimony-reveals-how-gulenists-lured-recruits.aspx?pageID=238&nID=102326&NewsCatID=341