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SEDAT ERGİN >The promotion of naval colonels prevented by fictitious cases

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The July 15 failed coup attempt has revealed a reality. The staff colonels in the Naval Forces, the ones who were the most successful staff officers of their terms, who held post graduate degrees, who had served abroad, who were expecting to be promoted to admiral positions, were blocked through the fictitious Sledgehammer (Balyoz) and military spying cases, so that admirals who took part in the July 15 coup attempt would have their promotions and positions instead.

I spent a substantial amount of time in the summer of 2010 studying the first Balyoz indictment and its addendum. At that stage, I wrote about 30 pieces on the subject. Even though the Balyoz case seemed as if it was targeting a planning seminar held at the 1st Army Command - in other words an activity of the Land Forces members - it looked strange that there were so many naval officers among the 194 suspects.

More interestingly, there were many staff colonels from the Naval Forces as well as 22 admirals among the suspects. A significant portion of them were officers in line for promotion to admiral positions. When I reviewed the personal files of the staff officers in the appendix, I recognized this fact: The naval suspects were the brightest officers of their terms with postgraduate qualifications and overseas studies or services. Some of them were the best of the best.

Proved but could not convince   

These officers were charged with taking part in the Balyoz coup attempt. Some of them, even though they proved that they were not in Turkey on the date they allegedly agreed to participate in the coup plan, were not able to convince the prosecutors. More importantly, even though the evidence against them was proven to have been forged, the prosecutors, then the judges, then the Supreme Court of Appeals, did not take these facts into account.

At the end of the summer of 2010, I had reached the opinion that this case was targeting the Naval Forces more than the Land Forces. The “cutting off” of so many bright officers with unquestionably forged evidence was clearly unlawful; it was open oppression.  

It was obvious that a certain “command” or “will” was targeting and aiming to abolish the most well-equipped, highly qualified staff of the Naval Forces. 

Today, the police officers who wrote the summary of proceedings of these officers, the prosecutors who wrote the indictments, the judges who tried them, and the members of the Supreme Court of Appeals who rejected their appeals are all either being tried within the scope of the “Fethullah Gülen Community” investigation or are suspects in the investigation phase. There are also some who are fugitives.

Let’s now look at another aspect of the matter. The fact that in the summer of 2010 several naval staff colonels became defendants in the Balyoz indictment did not pose an obstacle to the process of the promotion system in the Naval Forces during the annual August meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ). In the 2010 YAŞ meeting, seven staff colonels were promoted to rear admiral positions. But there was an unfair competition environment here because many staff colonels in line to be promoted to become admirals at that year’s YAŞ were defendants at the time. As a result they were left out of any evaluation at the council.  

Imperfect competition  

When they were pulled out, inevitably those who were not affected by the Balyoz case were led up. Now comes a critical question: Can you guess where the admiral whose path was cleared by the Balyoz case in 2010 is today?  

Let me tell you. He is Rear Admiral Ömer Faruk Harmancık. He has been arrested as one of the leading actors at the Naval Forces front in the coup attempt last week, after he occupied the chief of staff of the Northern Sea Area Command in Istanbul. Where do you think he was arrested? He was arrested at the main center of the coup attempt, the Akıncılar Air Base in Ankara.

The Balyoz case was later expanded by two additional indictments, increasing to nearly 90 the number of naval staff colonels who were prevented from promotion by being made defendants then later convicted, causing most of them to be discharged from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) or forced to resign. You can add to them about 50 more naval staff colonels who were blocked or sidelined with the spying cases opened later in Istanbul, İzmir and in other cases.

Elimination at the supreme council

When this elimination mechanism was functioning cruelly after 2010, every year a certain number of staff colonels were promoted to admiral positions without facing these obstacles. When I reviewed the list of admirals who were arrested or were at large within the scope of the July 15 coup attempt with the YAŞ promotions between the years 2010 and 2015, I was able to confirm the conclusion I had reached in the summer of 2010.

Look at how the role of the naval officers in the coup attempt unfolded, they were mostly people who were promoted from colonels to admirals at the annual YAŞ meeting at some point over the past six years.  

Half of the promoted were coup plotters  

YAŞ 2010 (Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner, Naval Forces Commander Admiral Uğur Yiğit): One of the eight staff colonels who were made admirals at YAŞ was Harmancık, and he was arrested last week. 

YAŞ 2011 (Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, Naval Forces Commander Admiral Murat Bilgel): Among the seven staff colonels who were made rear admirals at this council two of them were arrested last week for participating in the coup attempt and two of them are at large. More interestingly, two rear admirals of this term (Aydın Şirin and Nihat Doğan) were arrested by the coup plotters and they were later saved.

YAŞ 2012 (Özel/Bilgel): In this council, eight staff colonels were made rear admirals. After the coup attempt, from this term, three of them are arrested, one is at large. 

YAŞ 2013 (Özel/Bilgel): This council seems to be the peak in terms of the Gülen Community, because out of the eight staff colonels who were made rear admirals that year, seven of them are today accused of being related to the coup attempt, six of them are arrested, one is at large.  

Important note: Hakan Üstem, who was promoted from rear admiral to an upper position in this council, was also arrested after the coup attempt.

YAŞ 2014 (Özel/Bülent Bostanoğlu): Two out of the eight rear admirals promoted in this year’s council were arrested on grounds of participating in the coup attempt. Separately, arrestee Harmancık’s tenure was extended at this year’s meeting.   

YAŞ 2015 (Özel/Bostanoğlu): Another prosperous year in terms of the community. Out of the seven rear admirals promoted this year, five of them are accused of taking part in the coup attempt. Separately, Mustafa Zeki Uğurlu, who was promoted to an upper position that year, is at large in the U.S. Uğurlu was made a rear admiral in 2011. Three rear admirals who were promoted that year were extended in last year’s council and thus kept within the system one way or the other.   

Today, the Naval Forces Command has a total staff of 58 admirals – 51 of them combatant, seven of them in other fields. The number of admirals who were arrested or at large because of their involvement in the coup attempt is 24. 

As a result, it is possible to say that the Gülen community controlled almost half of the admirals of the Naval Forces in the period before the coup attempt. We do not know whether this figure will increase in the coming days.

From Balyoz to July 15

In conclusion, it is possible to say that fictitious cases such as Balyoz played a very important function in how things got to this point. It is quite obvious that while about 150 naval staff colonels were blocked in these cases, the coup plotter generals were able to rise. We should also point out that almost half of the regular admirals were also done away with, again through these bogus cases during this period, meaning that the top positions were vacated.  

There is another very thought-provoking aspect here. Despite the fact that the Gülen movement got into an open clash with the government in the period after the Dec. 17-25, 2013 investigations, their gains in the Naval Forces were absolutely not affected by this situation.  

At the time when the Balyoz case was launched, the Gülen movement and a portion of the opinion leaders in Turkey presented this case with absolute precision as a definite coup plot case. Journalists and writers who drew attention to the irregularities and the falsity of the evidence were labeled as “pro-coup, coup lovers or coup plotters” by these segments.

In light of today’s facts, we have learned from experience that Balyoz and the following cases actually opened the path to the coup attempt.  

It is best to leave to history the matter of how those who supported the Balyoz case, based on prejudice and without reviewing the files, could actually support it.

July/25/2016

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