Almost one year ago, a coup attempt took place against Turkish President Erdogan. Even today, it remains unclear who was behind the attempt to overthrow the government. SPIEGEL reviewed numerous documents to create a chronology of events, as they happened.
The buses stop half a kilometer short of the courthouse and the prisoners are forced to disembark and walk the rest of the way. Each prisoner is flanked by two guards, who force them to keep moving, while soldiers in battle gear, their assault rifles at the ready, escort the proceedings. Demonstrators are crowded behind a fence screaming “traitors!” and “murderers!” The screaming gets louder the closer the prisoners get to the courthouse.
It is May 22, 2017, in Ankara and the Turkish state is indicting 221 men, accused of having led the July 15, 2016, coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Twelve of the accused are either still at large or in exile, including the man who Turkish authorities believe is the primary backer of the putsch: Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Journalists are waiting at the courthouse entrance. Each of the accused is marched up the steps on his own so that the cameras are able to capture close-ups of their faces. Their expressions are blank and most are staring at the ground. The state is putting them on display like hunting trophies.
Even today, almost a year after the attempted coup, it is still unclear what exactly happened on July 15, 2016, in Turkey. According to Erdogan, Gülen ordered the coup from his U.S. exile and his followers in the military, particularly in the Turkish air force, tried to take over control by force. But the revolt, according to the official narrative, failed due to popular resistance as people took to the streets in opposition to the soldiers.
Fethullah Gülen says that the attempted coup was staged by Erdogan himself in order to tighten his grip on power. Turkey’s Western allies are unable to say for sure which version is closer to the truth.
President Erdogan has used the attack on his government as an excuse to launch an offensive against all parts of society that do not support him. Since last July, almost 140,000 civil servants have been suspended and around 50,000 people have been arrested.
With the first anniversary of the coup attempt approaching, SPIEGEL has reconstructed the crucial hours, which cost the lives of almost 300 people and marked the suspension of democracy in Turkey. The documents, indictments and investigation reports that SPIEGEL has obtained must be approached with caution. Witnesses contradict themselves, the judiciary is under Erdogan’s control and some confessions are said to have been coerced through torture committed by Turkish police.
Taken together, however, the documents — including files from state prosecutors, reports from the military and the parliamentary investigative committee, witness statements from the police investigation and interviews with more than two dozen participants such as military officers, politicians and police personnel — provide a new and more immediate narrative of that fateful day.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
Theologian Adil Öksüz has gathered a group of men in a villa, including two Turkish army generals, an admiral and several civilians. A compactly built, mustachioed 49-year-old, Öksüz hasn’t published anything during his career as an academic in western Anatolia aside from his dissertation, but he is nevertheless extremely influential. Öksüz is considered to be a confidante of the exiled Turkish cleric Fetullah Gülen. There are pictures that show the two of them praying together at Gülen’s estate in Pennsylvania.
Gülen has built up an empire of schools, universities and media companies in more than 160 countries worldwide and his followers occupied key positions in the Turkish state. For every institution, Gülen has identified a leader, a so-called imam. Adil Öksüz, say Gülen followers, is the “imam of the army,” responsible for ensuring the Gülen movement’s influence over the military. It is alleged that many soldiers have more loyalty to him than to the general staff.
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For many years, Erdogan and Gülen controlled Turkey together, until a power struggle led to a falling out in 2013. Since then, Erdogan has viewed the cleric’s followers as terrorists while the Gülen movement tried to get rid of Turkey’s head of state.
Adil Öksüz opens the secret meeting in Ankara with a prayer. According to witness testimony given to state prosecutors, the group then goes through the final details of the plan that Özküz has prepared: A team of elite soldiers is to take President Erdogan into custody and bring him to a ship on the Mediterranean. Hulusi Akar, the head of the army, is to be convinced to lead the coup. Some of the meeting participants express doubts about the plan’s prospects for success. “Let’s not invite Satan in with negative thoughts,” says coup planner Öksüz, according to his indictment.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Istanbul, 6:45 a.m.
Adil Öksüz takes off on Turkish Airlines Flight 003 for New York. Sitting in the same plane is Kemal Batmaz, a former manager of the Gülen-controlled company Kaynak. State prosecutors believe that Öksüz and Batmaz flew to the U.S. to get Gülen’s final approval for the coup attempt, but they have no evidence for their supposition. It has been established, however, that Öksüz and Batmaz returned to Turkey two days later in the same airplane. Security cameras show the two arriving back at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Güvercinlik Military Airport
Ankara, in the morning
Pilot Osman Karaca returns earlier than planned from his camping vacation on the Aegean Sea. He is picked up by a major. That is the story that Karaca would later tell investigators. The major asked him to turn off his mobile phone before saying: “I know that you belong to the Gülen movement. We are activating tonight. I will pick up (intelligence chief) Hakan Fidan with the helicopter. Much blood will flow.”
Karaca has admitted that he was once a follower of Gülen and that he lived in a residential complex belonging to the movement — and that in the military, he would meet with members of the movement every two weeks. But he disassociated himself from the Gülen community and now he is overcome with doubts. He sneaks out of the barracks and takes a taxi to the headquarters of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT.
Ankara, 2:20 p.m.
Four officials question the pilot and ask him what he thinks is in the works. He answers: “It will be a large action, perhaps even a coup.”
At this point, at the latest, MIT is aware that a coup could be in the making. Intelligence head Hakan Fidan is considered a confidante of Erdogan’s, but in this fateful moment, the only person he informed was the deputy head of the army.
According to his own testimony, the intelligence chief first spoke on the phone with Erdogan only hours later, at 10 p.m. Did he not trust the source? Or did he conceal the truth to protect the president? Fidan still hasn’t provided a sufficient answer to that question.
Akinci Air Force Base
Ankara, early afternoon
Commander Hakan Evrim sends some of his soldiers home earlier than usual. Only those who later take part in the plot against Erdogan remain. Coup participants use encrypted text messages to order other co-conspirators to the base. Only those who know the password “Peace at Home” are allowed to pass through the entrance. As the day progresses, all of the alleged coup leaders make their way to Akinci:
- Four-star general Akin Öztürk, the former commander of the air force. According to federal prosecutors, he is the one who delivered the order to start the coup attempt.
- Major-General Mehmet Disli, brother of Saban Disli, the deputy head of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
- Lieutenant-Colonel Muzaffer Düzenli. He will lead the operation by telephone from Istanbul.
Along with 35 additional officers, the three are part of the “Peace at Home” council. The name is a reference to Atatürk’s slogan “peace at home, peace in the world.” Civilians are not allowed access to military facilities in Turkey, but coup planners and Gülen confidante Öksüz are nevertheless present in the Akinci base on July 15. Later, he will claim to have been looking at farmland to buy not far from the military base.