The shocking account of a torture victim in Turkey reveals how rampant anti-Semitic and anti-Christian sentiment functioned as key motivators for police to beat and abuse detainees who were accused of coup plotting against the government, a Nordic Monitor investigation has revealed.
“Some [torturers] were saying that those who make friends with Jews and Christians cannot escape the wrath of Allah,” said Brig. Gen. Ahmet Bircan Kırker, the former head of the Land Forces’ Staff Planning and Management Department (Kara Kuvvetleri Karargahı Personel Plan Yönetim Daire Başkanı). He finally had the opportunity to tell his story in court on June 6, 2017, almost a year after he had sustained severe torture under police custody at an unofficial detention center operated by Turkish authorities in Ankara.
“Some were saying let’s bring his wife and his children here. Someone took a selfie while we were being tortured,” Kırker said as he recalled the ordeal he had experienced in a sports hall that was converted into an unofficial detention center with hundreds of people crammed in like sardines for weeks without access to lawyers, family members or medical doctors. He identified Maj. Barış Dedebağ, a member of the government-linked private paramilitary force SADAT as the man who beat and kicked him while he was handcuffed from behind and forced to kneel. “He [Dedebağ] hit me with a vengeance in the back of my head using the butt of his gun. At that moment the floor disappeared in front of my eyes. When the blood was gushing from my neck and covering the floor in front of me, I felt like I was being tortured in Guantanamo. I thought the end of this would be similar to images of Srebrenica,” the general said.
Dedebağ told people around him that he was in charge and ordered soldiers and police officers at the detention site to kill anybody whom they suspected to be an accomplice of the victims, saying that he assumed all responsibility for any action they might take. Dedebağ’s aide videotaped him giving a speech standing amid some 200 detainees who had been turned over to the police in the wake of a failed coup on July 15, 2016.
“Police officers who came in groups of five or 10 every hour or two were randomly beating and insulting those people whose handcuffs were so tight, they [felt they] were at risk of getting gangrene and who were left half naked in their underwear,” Kırker stated. “A healthcare official pointed out a bleeding wound about four-and-a-half centimeters on the back of my head and said stitches would be needed, but the police said, ‘Let him die,’ and Dedebağ punched the wound and increased the bleeding even more,” the officer, who had served in the Turkish army with distinction, said in recounting his experiences.
After a while the police came up to him and said he needed to sign papers admitting he was detained while he had multiple guns and hundreds of bullets on him. When Kırker refused, saying that no such thing had taken place, the police pointed to other victims whose faces were injured from beatings and had burn marks on their bodies. “I had no strength left, so I signed the papers to free myself [from further torture],” he said. The torture continued for three days for him and for weeks for the others. “They were kicking people who fell asleep on the wooden floors,” Kırker noted.
On the third day, they were provided with clothing and taken to court, where they briefly met with their bar-appointed lawyers at the door of the courtroom right before their arraignment, had to repeat the scripted police statements and admit to things they did not do. “When I was given food after the court proceeding and at the end of the third day, I realized I had never really thought about my hunger even though I hadn’t had a single bite to eat for the last three days,” the officer explained.
Brig. Gen. Ahmet Bircan Kırker’s court statement:ahmetBircan_kirker_statement
TURKEY BLOCKED PUBLICATION OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE’S TORTURE REPORT
Kırker and his lawyer had tried to obtain medical records that showed what he suffered under custody in order to file complaints against his torturers, but Turkish authorities refused to provide copies, citing a government decree issued by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that provided blanket immunity for officials who were involved in coup investigations. Decree-law No. 667, issued by the government on July 23, 2016, granted sweeping protection for law enforcement officers in order to prevent victims from pressing complaints of torture, ill treatment or abuse against officials. There were multiple cases in which Turkish prosecutors refused to investigate torture allegations, citing this decree-law, othweise known as the KHK (Kanun Hükmünde Kararname).
Article 9 of the KHK stated that “Legal, administrative, financial and criminal liabilities shall not arise in respect of the persons who have adopted decisions and fulfill their duties within the scope of this Decree-Law.” The decree was criticized by human rights organizations for being a clear breach of articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party, yet it was never annulled. In fact, the Turkish parliament passed the decree into law on October 18, 2016.
When Kırker and his lawyer tried to explain to the panel of judges how they were prevented from filing criminal complaints of torture, the attorney for the Prime Ministry, Süleyman Ayhan, warned the defense that their accusations against officials on such charges meant that the government had failed to do its duty. “Now this has nothing to do with torture, Your Honor. He says that violence was inflicted on him. He casts doubt on the Prime Ministry and the Ministry of Justice [for failing to do their job].” It was clear that the government did not want such claims to come out in a public hearing and that the attorney was sending a message to the three-judge panel that was overseeing the proceedings. Presiding judge Oğuz Dik told the attorney he understood.
Gen. Kırker was one of the victims who gave a statement to the visiting members of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a Council of Europe-affiliated body, when the CPT delegation was in Turkey to conduct inspections between August 28 and September 6, 2016. The delegation’s visit came amid widespread allegations first raised by Amnesty International, which stated that it had collected credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were beaten, tortured and on some occasions raped in official and unofficial detention centers across the country.
According to Kırker’s court statement, CPT investigators interviewed him in prison and recorded his story in a report that was compiled after the visit. However, the details were never made public because Turkey vetoed the publication of the report and has not lifted its objection since 2016. In fact, CPT President Mykola Gnatovskyy stated in 2017 that even though he “[wanted] to discuss the findings,” he could not comment on the report due to Ankara’s decision.
There were not only other witness statements but also a video recording that corroborated the general’s account. The video recording that was shared by A-Haber TV, which is owned by President Erdoğan’s family, clearly showed how the general was beaten and humiliated as part of the government’s systematic campaign of intimidation to send a chilling message to its critics. The video, also shared by a few other networks, revealed Dedebağ’s kicking of Kırker with the butt of a gun and then bragging about how he assaulted him while the camera was rolling. “I take full responsibility for this,” he shouted while a man standing next to him was trying to put napkins on the back of the general’s neck to stop the bleeding.
In the footage Dedebağ is seen coming back after the beating and starting to shake the general’s head and insult him. He is also seen holding the head of another senior officer and squeezing his neck while instructing a sergeant there to read out loud what the officer allegedly said at the military base. The officer could not speak because of near suffocation from Dedebağ’s grip on his neck but tried to raise his eyebrows several times to signal that he rejected the accusations.
The footage confirms the account provided in the testimony of Gen. Kırker; yet, no action was taken against Dedebağ, who later retired from the military but continued to work for the government. The torturer was hailed as a hero on government TV networks and was interviewed many times as an expert on coup cases.
In court hearings, witnesses who were present at the detention site testified about the torture and confirmed how Kırker was hit with the butt of a gun. On January 15, 2019 Staff Col. Mustafa Çiçek told the court about the involvement Maj. Dedebağ and asked the judges to investigate him and the torture practices at the detention site.
NO INVOLVEMENT IN THE COUP
The general was not involved in any action that might be construed as part of a military mobilization for a coup. On the night of July 15, Kırker received a secure call at around 21:30 from the Land Forces Operations Center informing him of a terrorist threat and ordering him to go to the Training Division and Armor School in Ankara’s Etimesgut district. When he arrived at the school, he received a fresh order stating that he was assigned as commander of the school and instructing him to deploy reinforcements to General Staff and Gendarmerie General Command headquarters to deter the attack. He sensed something was off in the chain of command after making several calls. He never authorized any troops to exit the base.
In the meantime, a civilian group of around 100 people had gathered at the entrance of the base, and the local municipality had blocked the entrance with sand trucks and heavy equipment. The commander went to see for himself what was happening at the guard post. He noticed Maj. Dedebağ in civilian clothes firing shots into the air, rallying civilians against the base command some time after 03:30 on July 16. Kırker ordered the major to stand down, but he refused. The commander decided to return to his office, ordering everybody to stand down until the situation eased up to avoid any clash or accidental shooting.
29-page court transcript and defense statement by Gen. Kırker:Ahmet_Bircan_kirker
“When I looked back, I noticed that the civilians I saw at the gate earlier had started to get on two buses. They were apparently dispatched to another place. My decision [to calm the situation] was countered by someone who was coordinating the civilians outside. I realized that I had fallen into a trap,” he said in court. In the morning Dedebağ entered the base with the police and started arresting officers including Kırker, although by law only the Central Command is authorized to make arrests on military bases. His indictment was based on the account provided by Dedebağ on May 17, 2017.
There was no real evidence presented against him in the case file that showed Kırker was involved with the putschist attempt on the night of July 15. The prosecutor who indicted him submitted to the court the transcripts of the 1960 coup trials as evidence of his involvement. In his defense statement Kırker explained that those transcripts were part of an official military archive kept in a department he ran and that they had been preserved there for some 50 years. He also said similar transcripts could easily be located in other branches of the military as part of the military’s policy to keep historical records. The transcripts were in fact published by the General Staff and distributed to the forces for educational purposes, he added.
Another piece of “evidence” against him was a book titled “İhtilal çıkmazı” (Dilemma of a Coup) which is actually critical of coups and how they politicized the military. The writer, who was a member of the coup plotters of 1960, revealed in his book that politicians encouraged all the coups of the past and that such actions dealt a heavy blow to discipline in the military, concluding that such attempts must be prevented to keep the army professional and out of politics. If anything, such a book should have been evidence in favor of the general.
MAJOR’S PLOT WAS EXPOSED WITH NEW REVELATIONS
Maj. Dedebağ’s role in the coup attempt, for which the evidence suggested a false flag orchestrated by Turkish intelligence, was exposed following revelations of his links to paramilitary group SADAT, run by Adnan Tanrıverdi, the former chief military aide of President Erdoğan. After his retirement from the military, Dedebağ was hired by the government as a consultant at the Public Security Undersecretariat (Kamu Güvenliği Müsteşarlığı), a role that was just a cover for him to continue performing clandestine services for the government. He personally met and talked to President Erdoğan.
In the trial hearings it was later revealed Dedebağ offered high positions to noncommissioned officers for false statements incriminating Lt. Gen. Metin İyidil on coup charges. When one of his men submitted to the court WhatsApp conversations with Dedebağ that confirmed he encouraged the men to make false statements, his assignment at the Public Security Undersecretariat was cancelled. Yet, İyidil who was wrongfully jailed, still remains in prison as of today.
The claim that detained generals ordered troops to fire at civilians was also a lie. A sergeant who worked with Dedebağ on the night of the coup attempt later testified in court against him, saying that lieutenants fired two warning shots in the air, not at the people who were gathered in front of the gate. It was also alleged that it was Dedebağ who distributed MP-5 semi-automatic guns to civilians on the night of the coup that were used in the killing of both civilians and troops.
More information was brought to the attention of the judges by defense lawyer Sabit Aktaş, who represented Kırker. He underlined that not a single shot was fired at the military school until the major showed up and that no mobilization ever took place. Things were calm until Dedebağ arrived on the scene, he said. He refused to obey orders, mingled with the civilians and started brandishing his two guns and firing in the air near the gate.
Maj. Dedebağ was the point man who coordinated municipal employees and local residents and mobilized them around the military school. During cross-examination, Dedebağ admitted how he had coordinated with district police and the municipality. When the defense asked the judge to hear police and municipal officials to clarify how Dedebağ interacted with the locals, and when and how the busses and sand trucks were made ready and brought to the gate of the school, the judge refused, saying that their statements would have no bearing on the outcome. Kırker later complained about the judge’s refusal to hear witnesses whose statements might have shed further light on the false flag coup attempt.
Aktaş recalled Dedebağ’s statement in which said he was informed about the coup attempt hours before and left home after praying. On his way out, he stopped and asked two people for the time as if he wanted to leave evidence about his exact movements and whereabouts. “Such actions were quite unusual,” the lawyer said, for a man who was ordered to go to the base by his commander in the middle of an urgent terror threat. Aktaş asked the judge to order the government to present the major’s phone records, detailing with whom he had spoken on the night of the coup. He explained that his client and other unsuspecting officers were apparently set up in a trap by Dedebağ and his accomplices.
On the morning on July 16 Dedebağ, accompanied by the police, entered the school and started detaining officers in the Training Division and Armor School without due process and in a breach of protocols that regulate the detention of soldiers. He claimed that as a disciplinary officer he was authorized by the prosecutor to make arrests, which was not the case at all. It was later revealed that there was no such authorization. The officers who challenged his decisions were threatened with arrest and even execution on the spot.
In July 2019 Kırker was convicted and sentenced to life in prison despite the fact that there was no evidence of his involvement in the coup attempt.
Torture and other inhumane treatment have become part of domestic policy in Turkey under the government of President Erdoğan. This practice peaked in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt, which was used by the Erdoğan government as a pretext for cracking down on dissidents. Despite the repeated calls of relevant international organizations including the UN, the Council of Europe, the EU and various NGOs, Turkish authorities have continued to this day to turn a deaf ear to combatting torture and to punishing torturers in defiance of its international obligations.