In this interview, Cihad Erginay, Ambassador of Turkey in Afghanistan, discusses issues related to the July 15, 2016, attempted coup in Turkey that was followed by various arrests by the Turkish government. The ambassador also highlights Turkey’s role in the Afghan peace process.
Q: Five years after the attempted coup in Turkey, what changes has it brought to Turkish society?
A: The heinous coup attempt has erased any possible remaining questions in the minds of the Turkish public regarding the true criminal nature of FETO and the extent to which it had infiltrated Turkish society, specifically the military and the bureaucracy. The eradication of these FETO elements from Turkish society was akin to the removal of a malignant tumor and it opened the way for a more democratic, open, confident and fair society. The Turkish nation will never forget the 251 martyrs killed and over 2,000 wounded during the terrorist group’s coup attempt on the evening of 15 July 2016, using aircraft, tanks, and other equipment hijacked from the military.
Q: Many were arrested. Some policies were changed. Turkey was shocked by the incident. How many of the tens of thousands arrested have been released and how many of them are in prison?
A: Suspected members of the terror organization have been put on trial and those who were proven to be involved in criminal activities have been charged and sentenced by the independent judiciary according to relevant penal codes. Prevalence of the rule of law dictates that as with any other criminal, those who have carried out their sentences be released.
Q: Some measures followed by the attempted coup were taken regarding Turkey’s education centers in Afghanistan. Please take us through the status of the schools in Afghanistan. There were some changes in the Afghan-Turk schools in Kabul. Have they been effective?
A: The Afghan and Turkish Governments signed an agreement regarding the handover of FETO schools in Afghanistan to the Turkish Maarif Foundation (TMF). In accordance with the agreement, TMF is not only running the schools it took over, but also opening new schools with the highest standard throughout Afghanistan. In this respect, TMF has greatly increased the range of its schools and is currently operating 20 schools across 7 provinces, serving more than 6,000 students. We attach great importance in reaching the whole of Afghanistan and have most recently opened schools in Wardak and Helmand. TMF plans to continue opening new schools across the provinces.
FETO affiliated institutions still operating in Afghanistan use the name “Turkish” thereby misusing the trust Afghans put in the name and spread lies about their affiliation with Turkey. Those affiliated with FETO institutions will not be able to benefit from the high standards of education provided by TMF, not be able to study in Turkey or receive Turkey scholarships. We trust that necessary steps will be taken to put an end to the illegal activities of remaining FETO institutions.
Q: Has your government done an assessment on the factors that led to the attempted coup?
A: Gülen is the mastermind behind what happened in Turkey on July 15 th, 2016. Gülen and his followers planned and tried to capture the Turkish Republic on that date.
His disciples within the armed forces did not shy away from using lethal military force against innocent civilians, killing 251 and wounding thousands. They tried to assassinate the President of the Republic of Turkey. They attacked the Prime Minister’s vehicle and air-bombarded the Grand National Assembly. The Presidential Complex, the buildings of the National Intelligence Organization and Turkish National Police departments were attacked. The Police Special Operations Center, the crucial counter-terrorism operational body of Turkey in Ankara, was bombed by fighter jets, killing 55 police officers and injuring hundreds on the spot.
Hundreds of civilians protesting the coup attempt in Ankara and Istanbul were shot to death. The FETO coup plotters targeted public and private communication outlets, including TRT (state broadcasting channel) and CNN Türk.
All the evidence collected so far throughout the investigations and trials demonstrates that the bloodiest terrorist attack in the history of Turkey was orchestrated by FETO under the instructions of Fetullah Gülen.
Q: Of course, every such attempt might leave an impact on a country or society. What helped Turkey to move forward from that type of temporary situation and what lessons have been learned?
A: As the Turkish Government understood the true nature of FETO, the necessary legal actions were taken against it. In particular, the disclosure of their secret communication systems (ByLock, Eagle, etc.) and interceptions of FETO instructions made our efforts easier to identify their schemes and to incriminate them.
July 15th was plotted at the time when the government had discovered and listed most of the so-called military personnel who were actually recruits of FETO and thus was getting ready to dismiss them. In other words, July 15th was a desperate final move of Fetullah Gülen and his followers to keep their control in place in Turkey and capture the state.
The 15th of July armed coup attempt demonstrated FETO’s resolute to unwaveringly use terror, alongside other crimes, as a means to achieve its ultimate aim. With this act, FETO has clearly shown itself to the world as one of the most dangerous terrorist groups. Hence, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation decreed on April 24, 2017, by its judgement merit no . 2015/3 and decision no . 2017/3 that FETO is an armed terrorist organization and the Assembly of Criminal Chambers of the Court of Cassation upheld this judgement.
FETO was present in around 160 countries, with schools, businesses, NGOs and media houses. Their modus operandi is the same all around the world. As they aim to infiltrate and enlarge their global economic and political influence, they constitute a direct security threat for any country where they operate.
Q: How do you describe the Hizmet movement?
A: It all started under the guise of a charitable education effort back in the 1970s. Fetullah Gülen and his followers disguised themselves as a benign education movement, when they started the campaign of establishing schools in Turkey and later around the world. At the peak of their power, they controlled thousands of schools in Turkey and more than eight hundred educational institutes worldwide. In terms of their reach, they were unprecedented.
We now understand that this was the first step of an infiltration campaign where kids and their parents were recruited with the seemingly innocent promise of a better education and a good job. These kids were put through school with academic and financial help and mainly a heavy hand in indoctrination. They turned into unquestioning foot soldiers of Fetullah Gülen who claims to be the “Chosen One”. The goal was to subvert the democratic foundations of the Turkish state and establish a new anti-democratic one under the absolute rule of Gülen. His students were also told that, to achieve their main goal of taking the control of the state, they should remain hidden and they could eschew all ethical, religious or personal beliefs. Attaching great importance to confidentiality in its structure, and calling the confidentiality as a "precaution", the organisation gives "code" names to its members apart from their real names to ensure secrecy. In this way, this is a unique and peculiar armed terrorist organisation where its lower level members know each other by their code names and which has a "cell-type" structure.
Q: What are other accusations against this movement?
A: Currently Fetullah Gülen himself is the prime suspect in different criminal indictments.
The recent probes into the activities of the FETO by Public Prosecutor’s Office have shown that under the banner of service, tolerance and humanitarian organizations, FETO and Fetullah Gülen have established and managed an illegal organization, exposed confidential information belonging to the state for political or military espionage purposes, violated the confidentiality of private life, conducted unlawful recording of personal information, forged official documents, fabricated criminal cases, destroyed evidence, laundered money and committed murder.
Q: Is there any reason for the Turkish government’s attempts to eradicate Gulen and his followers from Turkey’s politics?
A: To judge the deeds of Fetullah Gülen and FETO only with what transpired on July 15th would be a mistake. The crimes committed on the night of July 15th were just the tip of an iceberg.
There were mass-scale exam cheatings as well: In order to infiltrate the critical government posts, FETO affiliated students were provided with the answers to entrance exams. There are currently many investigations into mass-scale exam cheatings in Turkey, including the Police Academy entrance tests, the Centralized Public Service Admission Tests, Military Schools and other governmental jobs.
The handlers of those FETO members staffed at critical governmental posts kept their indoctrination up-to-date and passed on the instructions of FETO. As civil servants or military personnel, FETO members’ loyalty was not to the nation or to the state they served. They did not care about upholding the constitution or the legal system of the country.
Thus, the organization that disguised itself as an education movement gradually turned into a secretive operational structure aiming to transform the society by taking control of the Turkish state from within.
As its strength grew, the organization began to claim a global messianic mission, depicting Fetullah Gülen as the “Imam of the Universe”.
The crime syndicate behind all this devised and ran an integrated system that took care of recruitment through schools; financing was taken care of by holding companies and donations from business people. The organization also established media houses to shape the public opinion for and against any person, group or idea. Many people in Turkey who saw the organization for what it really is got lynched through these media houses. These media houses became the focal point of actions taken against journalists, academicians, bureaucrats and military officers who opposed them, or tried to expose them. They were lynched and purged.
As the organization became more affluent, it started meddling in business transactions and government tender processes. Laundering enormous sums of money, arranging illegal transfers of cash and other financial crimes became business as usual.
The FETO members infiltrating critical state posts abused their power to eliminate who opposed the organization, by illegal wiretapping, fabricating evidence, unlawful arrests, thereby intimidating and blackmailing a large segment of the society including politicians, businessmen, journalists, even athletes and artists among many.
Turkish judicial authorities rendered numerous conviction decisions against members of this crime syndicate due to its various criminal acts, some of which have been elaborated above. Thousands of investigations and prosecutions concerning the illegal activities of FETO members are still pending. The ongoing and finalised investigations, prosecutions and trials yielded that Fetullah Gülen is the administrator and ringleader of the FETO armed terrorist organisation and that he gave the order to stage the coup.
Q: And as the last question. Afghanistan is at a critical juncture given its political and security situation. What role can the Turkish government can play to help the country achieve peace and overcome the ongoing crisis?
A: Since the beginning of the Afghan Peace Process, Turkey has been expressing its readiness to support the process in any way it can. In this regard, we were ready to host the Istanbul Conference, which was postponed. Nevertheless, Turkey continues to be ready to help the process, including hosting the Istanbul Conference, but only when both sides are sincerely ready and willing to agree on solid deliverables.
The optimism around the idea of the Istanbul Conference has demonstrated the trust Afghan people put in Turkey, not only in terms of capacity, but also intentions. As a brotherly country with impressive historical and cultural ties, it is clear to Afghans that Turkey has no hidden agenda in Afghanistan and only wants her to be stable, united and prosperous.