The chain of errors that led to Turkey’s coup attempt

The chain of errors that led to Turkey’s coup attempt

The main issues leading to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt can be analyzed through the minutes of the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission, which I have been examining for the past two weeks.

The first conclusion in this process can be that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) paid practically no attention for about 10 years to several warnings from various state institutions on the real intentions of the Gülen movement and the risks it posed. It should be highlighted that the “action plan” to be prepared against the Gülen movement, recommended in the National Security Council (MGK) in 2004, was never executed. A very significant breaking point was the official removal of the Gülen movement as a “threat” from the National Security Policy Document in 2010. From this decision to the end of 2015, no action was taken against any Gülenist officer or noncommissioned officer in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). This strategic decision of the AK Party government in 2010 granted enormous freedom of movement to the Gülen movement. 

The year 2010 also marked the start of an unprecedented expulsion movement within the TSK, particularly with trumped up conspiracy cases - primarily the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) case. As a result of this process, Gülenist officers were able to secure rapid promotion in general and admiral positions for several years.

 Quite a large portion of these promoted officers are today under arrest. Similarly, the movement gained important positions within the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) to enlarge its sphere of influence.

 The Gülen network subsequently turned its attacks to directly target the AK Party government. With its attempt to arrest MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan on Feb. 7, 2012, the Gülenists came to the brink of openly challenging the government. In the two years between this move and the Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption investigations it launched against senior government figures, the Gülen movement was able to protect its positions within the system and grow without any serious deterrence. The Gülen network opened corruption cases against four cabinet ministers and conducted a very serious attack against the AK Party government by leaking illegal phone taps. This was effectively a declaration of war, which brought about the end of relations between Gülen and the government. It triggered a determined fight against Gülenists within the police and the judiciary. But the interesting aspect is that the military front was not covered, because - as we also learn from the coup arrests - the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) continued to promote Gülenist officers in 2014 and 2015.

How did the system became so blind? One of the reasons is the gap and the gray areas existing in terms of the jurisdiction of institutions’ intelligence responsibilities. But it should also be recognized that the Gülenists seriously infiltrated into the institutions that should have carried out this intelligence, thus preventing effective counter actions. For example, the intelligence and personnel units of the military were occupied by Gülenist staff to a large extent. The same is true for the MİT, because it has taken action against 558 people among its staff since the coup attempt. As July 15, 2016 was approaching, the situation called for extra clarification. In fact, the identities of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) members of in the military had already largely been determined, but no swift action was taken. The Gülen movement, aware of a comprehensive discharge of its members planned at the YAŞ meeting in August of that year, rushed and played its last card with the coup attempt.

The intelligence system was ultimately not able to detect the planned coup of the Gülenist actors, who they actually knew very well or were at least suspicious of. The MİT was able to figure out that a coup was possible but was not able to collect the necessary intelligence on how and when it was approaching.  

When we look back from today with the information we have accumulated, nothing seems surprising. 

“Considering the circumstances created through legal cases based on conspiracies, the claims of the victims, and the Feb. 7 and Dec. 17-25 operations, we should say that the government was seriously inadequate in terms of finding political responsibilities. State institutions fell short of fulfilling their duties with regard to the continuation of the state and the future of Turkey’s democracy. The existence and effects of foreign threats do not change this fact,” Former MİT Deputy Undersecretary Cevat Öneş has said regarding the coup attempt, the first anniversary of which will be marked this week.