Interview, Politics, Turkey

Defense Strategies of Putschists, An Interview with Dr. Hüseyin Aydın

The organization's civil administrator Kemal Batmaz didn't say with whom he was staying on the night of the coup on purpose. However, he said the following: "Even if my statement or his testimony can save me, I won't give his name. Even if I were to be executed or imprisoned for a lifetime, I won't give his name."
21 min read

While a year has passed since the July 15 coup attempt, trials, especially those in Istanbul and Ankara, are proceeding swiftly. While there are newly opened cases, there are also those that have been concluded and upheld by the Supreme Court. The leading trials in Ankara and Istanbul along with the Akıncı Airbase trial continue with the defenses of the suspects. Despite factors including the hardships faced by the judiciary due to the increased workload following the dismissal of judges, FETO’s secretive and insidious nature, negative publicity abroad and multiple threats within the country, the coup attempt is being successfully fought against in courtrooms. Cem Duran Uzun, Dr. at the Faculty of Law at Çankaya University, spoke with Dr. Hüseyin Aydın, the attorney of President Erdoğan who is observing the trials, about the status of the coup attempt trials, uncovered truths, issues that are being faced, the performance of the judiciary and the future of the trials.


The fight against FETO will take time

Mr. Aydın, at which stage are we in coup attempt trials and the fight against FETO? Could you outline the process?

First of all, we have to distinguish the fight against FETO and the coup attempt trials chronologically. In terms of administrative and legal proceedings, the fight against FETO goes back farther than the latter. We can mention December 17-25 as the date the fight against FETO took a new dimension. In this respect, we should evaluate the period between December 17-25 and July 15 and the period following July 15 separately. The successfulness of the fight and their conception is completely different than each other. In the former, even though President Erdoğan underscored the threat posed by FETO towards the state and public and emphasized the prominence of fighting this organization within the boundaries of law, we have seen that institutions weren’t able to keep up with the political will until July 15, unfortunately.

When the fight against FETO during the period between December 17-25 and July 15 is compared with the current, it could be argued that it was less successful in producing results. The presence of FETO-member judges and prosecutors, FETO members in said institutions and their overt and covert efforts to halt these investigations caused such a result.

After the July 15 coup attempt, the intelligence organization, security forces and Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have increased their cooperation with the judiciary and significant progress was made in FETO investigations. Today, we are seeing that legal procedures are being taken against tens of thousands of FETO suspects, thousands of investigations are being conducted and we’re even seeing some cases being upheld by the judiciary. However, looking at the bigger picture, we are currently at the beginning of this fight and there is a long legal process awaiting us; especially when we consider the secretive structuring of the organization. More cases and trials may emerge after new evidence is found. It will definitely take time.

FETO-member prosecutors fled after obfuscating evidence

Could we claim that the judiciary largely uncovered FETO and perpetrators of the coup attempt? Is the judiciary successful in this matter?

We have to give credit where it’s due. No legal procedure took place after the 1960 coup, 1971 memorandum, nor the 1980 coup. Similarly, the February 28 postmodern coup took place in the near past; at the time, instead of investigating the coup, the judiciary preferred to be the accomplice of those who realized this postmodern coup. The judiciary in Turkey has such an unfortunate tradition. In this respect, we could say that the judiciary was on its tracks; while the July 15 coup attempt was going on and its success or failure was uncertain, we saw that the judiciary started investigations on putschists in Ankara, Istanbul, İzmir and many other cities around 23:00, even issuing warrants. This was a welcome development and we have to be thankful as a nation to those members of the judiciary who took the initiative.

Coup attempt investigations are mostly complete. Now criminal cases are being conducted. Some with fewer suspects are already concluded. Moreover, a criminal case was concluded in Erzurum and was upheld by the Supreme Court. Therefore, it became definite that this was a Gülenist coup attempt with the court decision. However, there are cases with numerous suspects; these are the crucial ones. The Akıncı Airbase trial along with the Ankara and Istanbul class action suits are still going on.

Is it possible to say that we know every nook and cranny of the coup attempt, so to speak?

We cannot say that all aspects of the coup attempt have been revealed by the judiciary. There are a couple of reasons. First of all, only a very limited portion of the TSK members involved in the coup attempt became confessors. This proves to be an issue when you try to uncover certain aspects of the coup attempt.

Secondly, during the coup attempt state institutions were caught off guard and weren’t prepared for it. As the putschists were aware of this situation, we believe they may have obfuscated evidence and documents that could be used against them during the coup attempt and even on the day after. We were unable to reach a part of the sought evidence because of this mass obfuscation. For instance, we have learned that those prosecutors who investigated the Akıncı Airbase were actually FETO members and that they have fled Turkey.

As a portion of the evidence is obfuscated and confessors are limited among the putschists, it could be said that certain aspects of the coup attempt are still in the dark. However, I can clearly say that there is a clear picture about who planned the coup, who lead it, who were involved in it and how it was done. If we consider that the leader of this terrorist organization resides abroad, we can easily assume that plans for the post-coup Turkey along with the coup preparation plans are abroad. Moreover, there is most probably information that was unbeknownst even to those who were in command. In this respect, it wasn’t possible to access to the said evidence, legally speaking.

Class action suits may be finalized in 2018

As you have said, certain cases are being concluded and new ones are being opened. In your opinion, how will these class action suits in Ankara and Istanbul proceed? When will these trials reach a conclusion?

We have previously experienced trials with hundreds of suspects and we have seen that they took 15 to 20 years to reach a conclusion, while many cases were dropped because of statute of limitations. In order to not have to go through the same experience in these trials, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) took some precautions and judges started to practice new methods. For instance, all of the courthouses are conducting these trials without any adjournment. This isn’t a practice that you would usually see in our judiciary system. These hearings take one or two months, so that a decision could be reached in a shorter time.

HSK has taken a precaution recently. The courts which are trying the coup attempt suspects aren’t only working on a single case; they work on multiple coup attempt cases. As these courts look at all cases regarding terror and terrorism, they are working on cases about FETO, PKK, Daesh and DHKP-C. Therefore, there are numerous cases they should work on. For this reason, HSK has appointed additional staff to these courts; the additional staff will probably work on other files than the coup attempt case. This will allow the presiding judge board to focus on the coup attempt cases and conduct uninterrupted hearings. Considering all of these precautions, I believe the class action suits, including Akıncı Airbase and General Staff cases, will be resolved in 2018.

What do suspects’ statements, their defenses and behaviors such as wearing t-shirts with the word “HERO” on it account for? Is there a common FETO strategy behind these? How could the judiciary counteract these strategies?

Even though it has taken a large hit with the investigations, FETO still maintains its organizational mobility in Turkey. We can say that these suspects are following a common defense strategy. This strategy is based on several pillars.

Firstly, they deny all and just lie. As I have said before, there are a limited number of confessors; the rest of them are denying their actions even though there is clear material evidence against them. Moreover, they’re claiming that they aren’t Gülenists, attempting to acquit FETO. Most of them are saying that FETO members might be among the putschists; however, none of the suspects admit that they are members. If all suspects are acquitted for not being FETO members, it won’t be possible to legally prove that FETO convened the coup. As suspects know this, they are saying what they are saying. They are trying not to accuse each other or make statements that might be used against one of their own.

Then, in order to create the image that the organization is still standing tall, they are trying to have high spirits and morale. As our imprisonment system has prison wings, they are able to consolidate. On the other hand, keeping morale high prevents them from unraveling and discourages confessors from confessing. Indeed, we have seen certain confessors renouncing confessions. It’s not hard to foresee that some of the current confessors are doing the same. This is their strategy.

Meanwhile, the organization is taking care of families of the incarcerated. As most of the relatives of the incarcerated, especially those of the TSK, had intra-organizational marriages, there is a significant solidarity. They are helping each other. It’s not a secret that the organization is providing material and moral aid to their families. Therefore, we can say that the organization has taken every necessary precaution in order to prevent them from falling apart and panicking.

While it can be argued that parents tended to disown their own children for their actions one day after the coup, this tendency is no longer relevant; we are observing that the organization is trying to have a hold on these families. We are currently focusing on the legal procedure; yet we don’t have a policy about other aspects of this organization, such as familial relations, their social circles and cutting their ties with FETO. Therefore, we have some shortcomings in these issues. I believe institutions should work on these issues.

Cem Duran Uzun (left) with Hüseyin Aydın (right).

Suspects are denying all as they are relying on the ECHR

Will their denials and attempts to acquit FETO save them? What are their goals?

Firstly, they believe denying actions despite clear material evidence doesn’t have serious legal consequences. It’s a gleam of hope; not all of them will be saved. Yet, even if one of them is saved by just denial, it’s a gain for the organization.

Secondly, the organization isn’t only limited to Turkey; FETO is present in over 160 countries. Therefore, admitting the organization’s involvement in the coup will have significant repercussions abroad. For this reason, their denial is about saving face.

Thirdly, there is a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) process. Even if denying won’t produce results for them in Turkish courts, they might be hoping that their denials might lead to their acquittal at the ECHR.

Fourthly, I believe that they might be denying their actions just in case, as they are calculating that a political change might take place in Turkey and hope that their acquittal will be easier in such a political climate if they don’t admit anything.

Could it also be about projecting a strong and united image to their members abroad, encouraging them to stay together?

Indeed, let me provide an example. The organization’s civil administrator Kemal Batmaz didn’t say with whom he was staying on the night of the coup on purpose. However, he said the following: “Even if my statement or his testimony can save me, I won’t give his name. Even if I were to be executed or imprisoned for a lifetime, I won’t give his name.” He is a civil administrator of the organization; what he is saying is a message to all FETO members. I deliberately asked him whether he was encouraging other suspects to stay silent and not give names. He replied “Don’t evoke a thought that I wasn’t thinking of.” Nevertheless, the message was clear. Keeping a high morale and keeping the organization intact is what FETO members prioritize.

It’s not possible to block FETO’s concealed messages

There is an anger towards the putschists from all segments of society, regardless of their relation with those who were martyred or wounded on the night of the coup. They demand these putschists to be tried and punished swiftly. What are the duties of society, politicians and the media during these trials?

We have to agree that these are challenging trials for the judges, as well. Investigating a coup and putting the putschists on trial is unprecedented for our country. The judiciary never had the courage before. Considering all these challenges, we as the people have to be respectful to the legal procedure and contribute to the trials for a swift conclusion. Meanwhile, the principle of fair trial, a prominent component of international agreements and our legal procedure, is as important as the swiftness of the result. If we disregard this principle and allow misconduct, this might cause us to lose our righteous position because of a technicality. In order to avoid this possibility, we have to be patient and allow the trials to be conducted in the way they should be.

You have mentioned that these suspects act with a strategy and we have spoken about how they continue to communicate with each other. Is it possible to block their communications in prisons, preventing them from encouraging each other and showing resistance in trials? Can we talk about negligence, in this regard?

First of all, we should clarify that any person who is trained in the ways of such an organization would know how to act without any communication. Therefore, cutting their communications wouldn’t and won’t produce a completely different outcome. Such expectations are not realistic, as we’re talking about an organizational training that has transformed into a lifestyle.

What could’ve been done that wasn’t? We have a certain imprisonment system. This isn’t the first time that somebody is being tried according to Article 309 of Turkish Penal Code. Imprisonment doesn’t mean conviction. In this respect, the imprisoned have certain rights and you can’t just infringe your own laws. Visits from relatives, open and private conversations and legal advice are some of the said rights. Moreover, they can still relay concealed messages during these conversations. As you know, the organization has a system of concealed messages. For this reason, they don’t need to relay messages in an open way. This mustn’t be disregarded.

On the other hand, it’s not possible to keep all suspects apart from each other, both legally and technically. Prominent figures are being held in single rooms; however, this isn’t possible for all. We have a wing system in our prisons; there are 6-person, 8-person, 10-person and 16-person rooms. This system, therefore, becomes an advantage for them in terms of communications and solidarity. In addition, there are 485 suspects and they’re all in a mass trial, sitting next to each other and listening to what others are saying. Moreover, in our trials, the most prominent suspect’s name is the first in an indictment and our courts hear their defenses first. This prominent suspect’s statement and his/her defense style are a message to the rest. Therefore, it’s not possible to block open or conceal messages neither legally nor technically.

Civil and military administrators captured at Akıncı Airbase

Civil administrators of FETO have given their statements first at the Akıncı Airbase trial; a trial that you have been observing closely. Now, military suspects are defending themselves. What are some of the most striking details or information that you have heard during the trial?

There are striking details about civil administrators of the organization. First of all, all of them have worked at Kaynak Holding and its subsidiaries. They have FETO in their past. Moreover, most of them have relatives that are members of FETO. On the other hand, all of them were captured near the village of Akıncılar. Some claimed they were looking for land to buy; however, it’s not a suitable place to look for land. Others have said they were there, at 08:00 in the morning, to shoot a documentary about animal husbandry, while some claim they were there for a social event.

In terms of profiles, civil administrators are completely different from each other. All of their skills are complementary. For instance, we can say Kemal Batmaz has a great command of FETO’s ideology and terminology; thus, he has internalized the core principles of the organization. He is possibly FETO’s imam of Air Force. Nurettin Oruç seems more of an average person; however, uncovered evidence suggest that he is the imam of Gendarmerie. Moreover, Oruç’s connections in Germany are intriguing. Hakan Çiçek, on the other hand, looks like a people’s person. He’s seemingly a Kemalist and he’s not breaking his character even during trials. His U.S. connections and visitations are also intriguing. Aside from going to Pennsylvania, where FETO’s leader Fetullah Gülen resides, he seems to have visited other places for other reasons.

We believe Harun Biniş prepared the technical infrastructure of the putschist command, established their communications with others abroad and procured necessary equipment. Thus, we believe him to be the one who set up communications with Fetullah Gülen and prepared the technical infrastructure for the coordination of the coup. He is an electrical and electronic engineer that graduated from Bilkent University and he is an arrested suspect in the “Wiretapping Encrypted Telephones” case.

So, they have complemented each other and managed the coup attempt in coordination?

We can definitely say that. For instance, Hakan Çiçek isn’t your average person; he was managing the canteen at Fetullah Gülen’s FEM Preparatory School in Altunizade, Istanbul. He has been in the organization for a long time. Moreover, it was later found out that that very same preparatory school was where the young TSK personnel paid homage to FETO, especially those who have recently became lieutenants. There is such a connection. We can assume that Hakan Çiçek has continued to be in touch with these military personnel who have became members to the organization.

Witness testimonies suggest that there were more civil administrators at Akıncı Airbase. Is this possible?

It’s very probable. Some have mentioned numbers around 20-30 or even 40-50. However, some of these civil administrators may have been military personnel with civilian clothing; there are witness testimonies suggesting this. Nevertheless, we can say that there were more than just 5 civil administrators at the Akıncı Airbase on the night of the coup attempt; it is possible to assume that there were lower ranking civil administrators at the military base. Some of them have fled and we’re seeing that they all didn’t go in the same direction. Those who went to Akıncılar village were captured, while those went to separate directions may have fled.

Who are the more prominent military administrators of the coup attempt? Who were involved in its planning and application?

If we’re to speak about Akıncı Airbase, Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar was greeted by four figures when he arrived at the airbase: Kubilay Selçuk, Ömer Faruk Harmancık, Hakan Evrim and Mehmet Dişli. Mehmet Dişli arrived there together with Akar. Then, Akın Öztürk came to the airbase. These were the people who surrounded Akar. Moreover, Akın Öztürk clearly says that Mehmet Dişli, Ömer Faruk Harmancık, Kubilay Selçuk and Hakan Evrim were putschists and claims that he has been trying to persuade them not to carry out the coup attempt. Therefore, these five figures are important. On the other hand, there were others on that night who were at the military base, coordinating the coup in other cities. Osman Kılıç is one of them; he’s being tried in the “Assassination Attempt of  President” case.

A figure we have scarcely heard of.

Kılıç is a prominent figure and an influential colonel. Similarly, Muzaffer Düzenli was at the Akıncı Airbase, coordinating the putschists in Istanbul. Gökhan Sönmezateş, who coordinated the operation in Muğla, is also a crucial figure. Mehmet Partigöç, who has signed the martial law decisions, is a very important figure. We believe that Partigöç was one of the brains behind this coup attempt, assessing his behavior at the court and his files. We can say that these are the higher-ranking figures.

No data to support “controlled coup” allegations

We know from the indictment that serious preparations were made for the coup attempt. How was the coup attempt thwarted despite these preparations? According to what data does the opposition allege this was a “controlled coup”?

First, we have to clarify that this coup wasn’t foreseen by the government. There was a lack of intelligence.

So, there are administrative and informative mistakes.

We may argue whether there were such mistakes. The second thing I want to emphasize is that intelligence was received on the day the coup took place. Once again, we may ask whether precautions taken after this intelligence were adequate or not. However, the allegation of a controlled coup implies that there is a force that commands and there is another force that is being commanded. Those who make this allegation aren’t overt about what they are saying. Yet, it is clear that they are claiming the coup was commanded by President Erdoğan and that the commanded forces were Gülenists. This is an irrational suggestion, as the coup targeted President Erdoğan. It’s not a secret that FETO is hostile to Erdoğan; the organization’s leader and members have been very clear about this. Would an organization hostile to Erdoğan submit their forces to him and allow him to mastermind a coup for his own benefit? Secondly, in order to support this allegation, you have to establish concrete relations between President Erdoğan and those who administered the coup attempt. As this is impossible and there is no evidence, this theory isn’t even mentioned in the files.

No concrete data, document, information or even suspect statements.

Exactly. Just by considering these two facts, it’s not possible to make such an allegation. They’re just interpreting, so to speak, the outcomes of the coup attempt and this is a faulty approach. Because the coup attempt failed, it has repercussions for the organization. Yet, those who planned this coup didn’t believe it would fail; they believed they would succeed. In this respect, we have to seek an answer for the following question: “If it was successful, who would benefit from it?” On the other hand, some are alleging that it was planned to fail right from the start. This isn’t true, not in any way. Looking at the evidence, we can say that it was a near perfect plan.

There are several factors which made the coup attempt a failure. Firstly, there was intelligence on an operation to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). This was regarded as part of a larger plan and certain precautions, including flight restrictions, were taken by the General Staff. These precautions caused the putschists to think that the coup was uncovered and they decided to act earlier. The coup that was planned to start at 03:00 was rescheduled to 20:00-21:00. This rescheduling caused issues with the planning and its application.

After these, they failed to capture or kill President Erdoğan along with Prime Minister Yıldırım. In this respect, their failure is due to rescheduling. If the coup started at 03:00, they might’ve been successful. On the other hand, President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Yıldırım calling people to take the streets and resist the putschists was also an important factor. This wouldn’t be possible at 03:00. However, rescheduling the coup caused all plans to go awry for them and they were forced to make new plans. These plans were faulty and caused the failure of the coup. Therefore, claiming that the coup was rigged for failure right from the beginning is nothing but a farce.

Lastly, I want to ask: what should we do to explain the coup attempt trials better both in Turkey and abroad? Also, would you want to add anything?

First of all, as a nation, we have thwarted a serious attack on July 15. Only a few nations could have achieved this. Therefore, we have to be aware of the gravity of what we have achieved. This will allow us to see that we can overpower this organization. The fight against FETO is going well; the possibility of this organization reestablishing itself in Turkey and becoming a threat to our nation and state is largely removed.

Our people shouldn’t despair in this fight. We have achieved great things and I believe these achievements will lead to new achievements for our state and our people. This fight concerns all; it’s not only President Erdoğan’s or the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) cause. Regardless of political outlooks, it’s the fight of all citizens in Turkey. We have to put our differences, ideologies and political outlooks aside. No one should forget that this organization wouldn’t have been allowing any dissidents to exist, if they had been successful.

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Cem Duran Uzun received his BA from the School of Law at Ankara University in 1999, MA from the Department of Public Law at the Institute of Social Sciences in 2002 and PhD in 2009 in the same department. He was a visiting researcher at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNNC) in 2007. Upon his return to Turkey in 2010, Uzun became a Research Assistant at the Faculty of Law at Çankaya University and has since then been providing lessons on Constitutional Law, Political Parties Law and Constitutional Jurisdiction.