Narrative is heading towards genocide
ACCORDING to numbers from the Turkish Army General Staff, 8 651 military personnel took part in the July 15 coup attempt last year. According to Turkey’s Ministry of Justice, 168 801 people have been subject to legal proceedings, 50 504 arrested, 48 371 released under police supervision, 8 551 detained and later released, again under police supervision.
One woman soldier was involved, over 17 000 civilian women are detained. Some overlap with the victims of the administrative measures that saw 138 148 public officials sacked, 8 271 academics lose their jobs and titles, 4 424 judges and prosecutors dismissed, and 149 media outlets closed.
The discrepancy between the number and nature of suspects and victims of the ensuing purge says only one thing: this is not about the coup.
In the initial stages, the purge was all about affiliation with the Gülen Movement, the former ally and later arch-enemy of (President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan’s version of political Islamism. Having a bank account at the Movement’s Bankasya; using Bylock – an encrypted messaging system allegedly used by Gülenists; subscribing to periodicals of the Movement like Zaman daily or Sizinti monthly magazine; or possessing Fethullah Gülen’s books or even a $1 bill was enough to be detained and prosecuted. Now, it is enough to be a voice of dissent to be labelled as a Gülenist and face the same fate.
There are countless court cases against alleged members of the movement – all linking them to the coup, labelling them as terrorists and depicting their daily activities as secretive acts of infiltrating the Turkish state apparatus. But the indictments lack that most crucial element: evidence.
I do not claim the coup attempt never took place, neither do I claim that no Gülen-affiliated soldiers were involved. On August 10 in Le Monde, Gülen weighed this possibility and commented, “If there are any officers among the coup plotters who consider themselves as a sympathizer of Hizmet movement, in my opinion those people committed treason against the unity of their country by taking part in an event where their own citizens lost their lives. They also violated the values that I have cherished throughout my life.”
My claim extends Gülen’s point: Even if there were Gülen Movement sympathisers in the coup, it is not because of a secret agenda of the movement, but because of the interventionist culture dominant in the Turkish army; and whatever the number of the Gülenist soldiers involved, this does not prove anything about the rest of the movement.
What we are seeing is the commonplace profiling of the sympathisers of a movement without any evidence, execution without due process, collective punishment, guilt by association, enforced disappearances, suspicious deaths and suicides and lately preparations for targeted killings (Dutch) of members who have fled to Western capitals.
Speaking at a photo exhibition of the coup night, Turkish Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag complained that Turkey is “not able to tell and convince” the Westerners about what happened. This is a confession in the form of accusation. The US, UK and German authorities made it clear that what their Turkish colleagues have presented as “proof” of Gülen’s or the movement’s involvement does not amount to evidence by universal standards. Erdogan is furious at the American unwillingness to extradite Gülen, who lives in the US. “For the terrorists you have asked from us, we didn’t ask for evidence,” he said. This is evidence of no evidence… The single court verdict so far about the soldiers involved acquitted 23 out of 24 of all charges, and underlined that the officer given a life sentence for his participation had no involvement with the movement. But AKP (Justice and Development Party) politicians do not care for facts. When it was revealed the police officer Mevlut Altuntas, killer of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, had been attending sermons of a pro-government preacher for two years, the propaganda machinery claimed this was an attempt by the movement to throw the security forces off the scent. When Erdogan-critic, former prosecutor Gultekin Avci, arrested before the coup, insisted on hearing the crime he was accused of, the judge responded, “What is the hurry? We will eventually find one.”
The coup is the crime “eventually found” for all the sympathisers of the movement. They were already on Erdogan’s “to-be-persecuted” list.
The AKP government of Turkey and the prosecutors collaborating with the regime have created a narrative that mixes speculation with facts, extrapolation with witnessed evidence. Indictments prepared against sympathisers of the movement take the involvement of Gülen as a given and base the rest on this “unquestionable” assumption. The indictments are full of legally irrelevant terms like “coherence with the terrorist organisation”, whereby prominent journalists are jailed for the alleged coherence of their acts with presupposed acts of the movement; or “natural flux of events”, whereby tens of thousands of people are prosecuted on the grounds that having been so involved with the movement, it would be against the “natural flux of events” for them not to know of the coup attempt beforehand.
And as human rights advocates have already started to warn, these two are steps towards a genocide.
The indictments lack that most crucial element: evidence
Kerim Balci is a former columnist with Zaman Daily, a newspaper closed down by the Turkish government. He currently volunteers for Turkey Institute’s London Advocacy Group, a group trying to raise awareness about human rights violations in Turkey