Would you pull a gun on pro-coup soldiers or try to persuade them?

Would you pull a gun on pro-coup soldiers or try to persuade them?

How would an army commander respond to subordinate soldiers who are attempting a coup and have come to his door in the middle of the night, asking: “A coup d’état has taken place. You will remain on duty. Join us”? 

This commander is at the head of the Second Army, which has around 120,000 armed troops and is in charge of the security of Turkey’s borders with Iraq, Syria and Iran. He also has a key role in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast. 

What do you think he should do in this situation? Should he risk a clash, drawing his gun and chasing the coup plotters? Should he lock his residence’s door, asking for help from his loyal officers or the police so that the putschists outside are detained? Should he play for time, trying to understand what is going on and trying to persuade them? 

General Adem Huduti, the commander of the Second Army, chose the third option on the night of Turkey’s failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Two brigadier generals and one staff colonel knocked at the door of his official residence in the eastern province of Malatya. Huduti then went to the military headquarters with the putschists and, in his own words, “tried to persuade them.” This persuasion effort went on for more than 12 hours.  

However, Malatya Chief Prosecutor Ergül Yılmaz and his deputy Mehmet Badem have another option in mind: They claim that Huduti in fact participated in the coup attempt.  

They accept that Huduti is not a member of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), but they also claim that with the stance he adopted that evening, he was involved in actions defined as “criminal actions on behalf of the organization.”  

In brief, the accusations against Huduti and the evidence they are based on, as written in the indictment, are as follows:  

Although he knew the insurrection was illegal, Huduti did not make effective or timely decisions to block the coup-attempting personnel. He thus delayed their capture and blocked counter-coup operations.  

Despite the first and third army commanders and certain corps commanders declaring on TV that they were against the coup; and despite declarations from the president and the prime minister, Huduti did not make a statement until the early hours of the morning. Despite Malatya Governor Mustafa Toprak’s demand from him to issue an anti-coup statement, he only took a stance against the coup attempt after it was understood that it had failed. What’s more, Huduti wrote against the martial law declaration and assignment document brought to him by the putschists only after their surrender. 

In his defense, Huduti says he was against the coup attempt from the beginning. He said he ordered his troops against it and was trying to persuade the putschists to abandon their insurrection. 

Thus, there are contradictions between the prosecutors’ claims and Huduti’s defense. One of the main contradictions is that Huduti says he has declared his dissent against the coup attempt not in the morning, as prosecutors claim, but after he arrived at the headquarters at night.  

The prosecutors claim that Huduti made his anti-coup statement at 3:06 a.m. and find this delay problematic. Huduti, however, says he only had the opportunity to write an anti-coup statement at around 2:00 a.m. 

Regarding the prosecutors’ claim that he avoided contact with the local provincial governor that night, Huduti says that in fact he was constantly in contact with the governor: “I spoke to the governor at least four or five times that night. I told him to not conduct any operations and said I was trying to persuade the coup soldiers. I said that if they staged an operation this process would be interrupted.”  

In short, Huduti’s defense underlines that he solved the issue without any bloodshed. In the clash that erupted in the yard of the barracks, only one soldier - from the pro-coup side - lost his life. The role of a message sent to General Huduti from Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar in the morning that “a consensus has been reached that the putschists abandon their arms” was huge in the discouragement of the pro-coup soldiers at the Malatya headquarters. 

So to go back to the beginning, if you were in the place of the commander that night, how would you have acted?