Turkish intelligence agencies secretly investigated thousands of cadets at military academies and high schools and looked into their families in order uncover any links to government critic the Gülen movement, confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor show.
The documents laid bare of the real motive behind a massive purge of cadets and the closure of military schools immediately after a failed coup on July 15, 2016 that was deemed by many observers to be a false flag operation to transform NATO’s second largest army into a bastion for Islamists and neo-nationalists. The documents reveal that the intelligence agencies found no link to the Gulen group in almost all cases in which an investigation was requested. The allegations leveled against the cadets turned out out to be fabricated in nearly every instance. In a very few cases some association was found through family members, which was not sufficient evidence for the military to dismiss the cadets under the laws in force at the time, which barred any punishment by reason of guilt by association.
This revelation explains why the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan orchestrated a limited mobilization during the 2016 events with the involvement of hundreds of cadets who were sent unarmed into the streets on the pretext of a military exercise. Although the evidence showed they did not participate into the failed coup and were acting in line with orders from their commanders, the government charged them with a crime and the courts convicted and sentenced the young students to life in prison. Using the coup as a pretext, all military schools were shut down and all students were dismissed.
A secret interagency working group was established to administer the purge of the military cadets, according to the documents. Yet the result was frustrating for the government not only because the evidence did not support such dismissals in most cases but also since the laws in effect at the time and legal safeguards did not allow unlawful dismissals. Some cadets who were dismissed managed to return to military schools after they contested the evidence in the military courts.
According to a secret annotation penned in April 2016 by now-retired Maj. Gen. İzzet Çetingöz, the then-commander of the Turkish Military Academy, a disciplinary committee within the Turkish army was established to gather evidence and documents on students at military high schools and academies who were allegedly affiliated with the Parallel State Structure (PDY), a term used to refer to the civic Gülen movement at the time.
The annotation reads that members of the committee met with the Ankara chief public prosecutor and judges who had ruled on cases involving the Gülen movement, and they were advised that the committee must work with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the police to gather information about students and their families since judicial procedure might not allow the collection of private information. This confirms the view that the government profiled both officers and cadets long before the failed coup and prepared a list of people marked for dismissal with no justification.
The Turkish General Staff reportedly asked MİT and the police to investigate 4,813 military cadets and students who were enrolled in 2014 and 2015.
The secret document confirms that both MİT and the police complied with the request and submitted their findings to the General Staff. The committee noted that they had received complete intelligence reports about all students.
The intelligence reports from MİT and the police alleged that only 140 students (or his/her families) out of 4,813 were affiliated with the Gülen movement, 11 with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), two with Hizbullah and 39 with “others” that are not indicated by name.
Another internal memo that appears to be a compilation of previous intelligence reports and the General Staff’s own investigations claimed there were 149 military cadets from all classes under suspicion and that 128 of them were affiliated with the Gulen movement. Twenty-four out of the 128 had direct links to the movement, while family members of the remaining 104 cadets were affiliated. These family members include fathers, brothers and uncles. Five cadets were suspected of connections to the PKK and 16 to other organizations not indicated by name.
According to the same documents, 20 students were discharged from the military due to links to the Gülen movement, nine of whom returned after the evidence was challenged in a court of law. One hundred twenty students were put on probation.
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The official documents refute the long-circulating propaganda that Gülen movement followers made up the majority of officers in the military as well as students at military schools. However, during a state of emergency declared after the coup attempt, a total of 16,409 military cadets allegedly affiliated with the movement, consisting of 4,090 military high school students, 6,140 students from the Vocational School for Noncommissioned Officers and 6,179 undergraduate students at the Military Academy, the Naval War College, the Air War Academy, the Gülhane Military Medical Academy and the Nursing College were dismissed under decree-laws without any judicial process.
In addition Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced in August 2019 that more than 17,000 military personnel including 150 generals and 7,595 officers had been purged from the military since the coup attempt.
Meanwhile, 259 military cadets were detained on coup charges on July 16, 2016 and were arrested four days later. The cadets were indicted one year after they were sent to pretrial detention, and their trial was concluded in May 2018. One hundred eighty-seven of the cadets were given life sentences on charges of attempting to overturn the constitutional order and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and parliament by use of force as well as membership in a terrorist organization.
Military cadets claimed that they did not have any idea about the coup attempt unfolding as their superiors told them there was a terrorist attack on the Bosporus Bridge.
Murat Tekin, a military cadet who was taken to the bridge on the night of the coup attempt, was killed by an angry mob.
More interesting is that a government decree published on December 24, 2017 stated that regardless of the person’s official title, individuals who acted “within the context of quashing the July 15 coup attempt, terrorist acts or acts transpiring as a follow-up to any of these do not bear any legal, administrative or penal responsibility.” In other words, civilians who took to the streets to stop the coup were granted immunity from prosecution, including those who committed crimes.
Turkey shut down military academies and all military schools due to alleged involvement in the coup attempt only 10 days after the incident. With a government decree on July 25, 2016 the National Defense University was founded as a replacement for the academies.
President Erdoğan said on July 12, 2017 that thanks to the state of emergency, they had gained ground against the Gülen movement. He also called the failed coup “a gift from God” a few hours after abortive putsch began.
The movement strongly denies any role in the failed coup, and the government has failed to present any evidence of the movement’s complicity in the putschist attempt.