Class of ‘94: Rise of Gülenists in the Turkish army

Class of ‘94: Rise of Gülenists in the Turkish army

We carry the same name: Brigadier Gen. Murat Yetkin used to be the commander of the 9th Commando Brigade in Sarıkamış, in the northeastern border province of Kars, until the military coup attempt of July 15-16, 2016. He is now appearing before a court and being sought three life sentences for taking part in the coup attempt and for having his name appear on the list of appointments of important ranks had the coup plot reached its goal to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government and shut down the parliament. He was supposed to be the Chief of Staff of the Land Forces of the coup d’etat.

The ironic part is that Brigadier Murat Yetkin worked in the cabinet of former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ for years. Başbuğ was arrested on charges of conspiring against the AK Parti government in January 2012, after his retirement in 2010, and was sentenced to life in the Ergenekon trials by judges who are now either arrested or on the run for being members of the “Fethullahist Terror Organization [FETÖ],” as the indictments say, the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the coup attempt.

The profiles of the majority of ranking soldiers, who will appear before judges on charges of taking part in the July 15 putsch, hint the working strategy of the illegal Gülenist network in the Turkish military.

There is an overwhelming concentration of colonels and brigadier generals (or commandos in the navy) among military officers who were arrested red-handed on July 15-16 during and after their defeated uprising. Out of 38 members of the “Peace at Home Council,” which the coup plotters called their committee to take over the government and shut down the parliament, 28 officers belong to those ranks and six others are about to be promoted as colonels.

A majority of them are graduates of the Military College from the years 1993, 1994 and 1995. We can call them the Class of ’94.

The years they entered into military colleges are between 1989 and 1992, and for those who joined military schools at the high school level entries were in 1984, 1985 and 1986, when the Turkish media first started reporting on stolen questions from entry examinations in exams.

As they climbed up the ranks of the military, which was helped by those already positioned in the military, especially in the offices of personnel in the judicial advisory and inspection departments by for example clearing their files or searching their ways up by spoiling the files of their competitors for the ranks, the Gülenist officers reached the stage of Military Academy level, which would enable them in the future to become generals or admirals by the years 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Officers who graduated from the Military Academy as first lieutenants or captains reached promoted ranks as colonels or brigadier generals by the years 2014, 2015 and 2016.

It is not a coincidence that as the Turkish National Intelligence (MİT) started to decipher Gülenists’ secret communication software ByLock by the spring of 2016 and learned about the situation of some 600 officers who would be promoted in the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) in late 2016, the plotters decided to act before YAŞ in order not to lose precious names that they cultivated in the last two decades. The network must have thought that they had reached a sufficient number of officers in the commanding post to lead the putsch.

How was it possible for Gülenists not to be spotted by the Kemalist establishment of the higher ranks in the military during those years? The following factors might be helpful to find an answer:

1- The individualist competition of the army made it vulnerable to break it with a collective mechanism.

2- The officers did not know each other. They were reporting to civilian “imams” outside the system and were instructed not to reveal themselves, but to pretend as Kemalists, liberals or apolitical individuals and drink alcohol if necessary to disguise themselves.

It was the Class of ‘94 generation who is likely to be the backbone of the July 15 plot. It failed because they underestimated the resistance by the government, parliament, people and the majority of the military who remained loyal to the regime.