Ex-Turkish PM: I was told pilot who shot down Russian jet was not linked to Gülen network
AFP photoThe Turkish pilot who shot down a Russian jet in November 2015 was not linked to the Fethullah Gülen network, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said, citing information he received from the country’s top soldier.
In written testimony to parliament’s coup panel, Davutoğlu addressed a number of key issues about the Gülenists, who are widely believed to have masterminded the July 15, 2016, coup. Davutoğlu said his government’s decision regarding the rules of engagement “was not targeting any country, including Russia, and that it targeted vehicles that violated our air space.”
Addressing the contentious issue of whether the Turkish pilot that downed the Russian jet was a member of the Gülenist movement, Davutoğlu said it was not possible for a prime minister, a chief of General Staff or an air force commander to know which soldier executed the rules, resulting in him refusing to make an explanation about the rules of engagement, which are set by the government.
Davutoğlu, however, added that he asked Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar to investigate if the pilot or any other army official who had a role in the process had links to the Gülenists.
“The chief of staff informed me that no concrete evidence was found suggesting any links,” Davutoğlu said in his written statement.
A debate surfaced after the failed coup attempt suggesting that the pilot who fired on the Russian plane might have been a member of the Gülenist network who was attempting to impair Turkish-Russian relations.
The downing precipitated a serious crisis until recent rapprochement that began in August 2016, nine months after the jet incident.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also believed the pilot was a Gülenist.
“When the plane crisis emerged, I did not believe that this order was given by some circles that wanted to deteriorate our relationship … But now the assassination targeting our ambassador by a riot police has caused my opinions to change. I started to think that everything is possible. I started to think that devastating forces infiltrated deep into the state structure, police and the army,” Putin said on Dec. 23, 2016, four days after the assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov.
The Turkish government believes that the policeman who shot dead Karlov was also a member of the Gülen network.
In his testimony, Davutoğlu also claimed that his much-debated meeting with Fethullah Gülen in Pennsylvania in mid-2013 was aimed at bringing the self-exiled cleric “under control” by bringing him to Turkey.
“As a result of our consultations with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prior to my attendance at the U.N. General Assembly in 2013, we came to the conclusion that bringing Gülen to Turkey and putting him under control had become necessary, considering that this [Gülen] organization was being used by various anti-Turkey circles,” Davutoğlu said in his 71-page response to the parliamentary commission tasked with inquiring into the failed July 2016 coup attempt.
Davutoğlu who left his position as prime minister to Binali Yıldırım on May 24, 2016, after differences with Erdoğan, has been accused of holding a secret meeting with Gülen in September 2013. In that visit he was said to have been accompanied by then-President Abdullah Gül, who later claimed that he was not informed of the trip. Davutoğlu did not refer to this contradiction in his lengthy reply to the panel.
Davutoğlu underlined that his visit to Gülen was “not a personal one” and was held with the permission of Erdoğan. “In the visit I expressed the necessary warnings to him in light of our assessment with our then-prime minister,” he said.
He also suggested that his visit showed that Gülen would not change his stance against the government and his organization would continue to conduct attacks against the government. “Apart from this visit, I never had any other meeting with him,” he added.
The Turkish government accuses its former close ally Gülen of being the mastermind of the July coup attempt and of leading the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ).”
Like many ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials, Davutoğlu said the turning point in the government’s stance on the Gülen movement was the attempt to arrest National Intelligence Organization (MIT) Hakan Fidan in early 2012.
“This incident strengthened question marks on the real intentions and characteristics of this organization, which had been known as a religious community and a civil society movement,” he said.
‘I urged top commander before leaving my job’
In addition, the former prime minister said he instructed Akar in early spring 2016 – before the July coup attempt – to expedite works for the upcoming Supreme Military Council meeting in August 2016 in order to expel the remaining Gülenist military personnel.
“In our last meeting before I stepped down from my position, I expressed my assessments about the security of our country and my concerns about the circle of fire in our neighborhood,” Davutoğlu said.
He claimed that he told Akar about the need to “protect the integrity and existence of the Turkish Armed Forces as the main guarantee of Turkey and therefore be aware of any attempt to create a junta within the military.”