Classified documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed that the Turkish Air Force Intelligence Directorate filed criminal complaints against its own personnel without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing.
On May 24, 2019 then-Brig. Gen. Ali Serin, the head of the directorate at the time, conveyed profiling files of 681 military personnel to the İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office claiming that the people profiled were suspected to have ties to the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of being behind a coup attempt in 2016.
The documents suggest that the criminal suspicion for people profiled was literally being young, having a relative who used the ByLock messaging app, or being mentioned in previous assertions by others. Noncommissioned officers who were commissioned through written and physical exams were also blacklisted in addition to officers under contract.
Classified letter signed by Brig. Gen. Serin to the public prosecutor’s officeAli Serin letter
Nordic Monitor has confirmed that a large number of Turkish Air Force personnel were fired and, moreover, detained or arrested based on these profiling files even if some of the suspects’ names did not appear in the files.
Maj. Gen. Serin, who was promoted to head of the Turkish Air Force Intelligence Directorate following the abortive coup, was rewarded with running the General Staff Intelligence Directorate in August 2019 in return for his efforts in the purge.
Since 2016 Turkish police had been investigating whether suspects used a mobile phone messaging application called ByLock, which is similar to WhatsApp and Signal. Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement despite the fact that it was available to anyone on Google Play. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives have either been dismissed from their jobs or arrested for allegedly using ByLock since July 15, 2016. Aydın Sefa Akay, a judge for the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) who had been behind bars for almost a year in 2017 because ByLock was found to have been installed in his phone, said he downloaded the program upon the suggestion of the foreign minister of Burkina Faso.
NATO’s southern flank was dealt a huge blow by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that has seriously degraded Turkey’s air force with a massive purge of hundreds of pilots and thousands of ground personnel from the service on fabricated charges of terrorism and coup plotting.
The Turkish Air Force was already in distress before 2016 thanks to a bill in 2012 that facilitated the departure of pilots who chose well-paying jobs in the private aviation industry. The Turkish General Staff had to put pressure on Erdoğan to reverse the bill and eventually succeeded in getting an amendment in 2014 to slow the bleeding of the force.
But the damage had been done in the meantime, with 251 pilots asking for retirement or resigning under the 2012 law, which shortened compulsory service to 13 years. The unexpected purge of hundreds of pilots in the summer of 2016 made it worse for the air force, grounding many warplanes without pilots to fly them. The Turkish Air Force — which concluded in a study months before the coup bid that the loss of pilots was a national security risk for Turkey — was crippled beyond belief with the unprecedented purge of pilots by the Erdoğan government with no effective administrative, military or judicial investigation into any wrongdoing whatsoever.
The air force in 2017 recalled 1,040 military pilot candidates who had been eliminated in previous tests. Eight hundred thirty of them reportedly passed the competency test and were in training to become military pilots.
In an effort to fix the shortage, the Turkish government also issued a call in 2017 to former fighter pilots, most of whom work in civil aviation. Only 40 of the 300 former pilots responded to the call to return to duty.
The Turkish government also carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 20,610 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.
Profiling notes of 681 Air Force personnel who were investigated by the prosecutor:Turkish Air Force profiling notes