Ankara (GPA) – As Erdogan’s government sentenced 40 former military personnel for their role in last year’s coup attempt, they also arrested a US diplomatic employee for alleged links to exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen.
Coup Plotters Sentencing and Mass Trials
The first big news item from Turkey that came out yesterday was the sentencing of 40 ex-military personnel, including some senior officers, for charges related to last July’s coup attempt. Those sentenced to life yesterday also included soldiers from Turkish special forces as well as combat search-and-rescue units.
While the men sentenced were involved with the coup, it’s unclear how exactly they were concerned that made this trial noteworthy. Not only are the 40 men accused of being Gulenist plotters, but they are also charged with being part of a group that had set out to kill Erdogan the night of the coup.
The defendants were tried in the western city of Muğla, near the Mediterranean resort city of Marmaris, which is where Erdogan was on vacation at the time of the coup. Erdogan had been in a nearby hotel that night but managed to escape back to Istanbul (allegedly after learning of a coup plot). According to Erdogan, this happened just minutes before the assassins arrived, but that account of events is contested.
While this isn’t the first trial of coup plotters, it is, however, the first in which Erdogan is the plaintiff, and apparently he has a personal interest in the outcome. This was the most critical factor in the case, as reflected by the judge’s statement to the courtroom after the case decided that “Defendants have been found guilty of the charge of attempting to assassinate the president.”
As stated above, several high level officers were among those convicted. This includes the alleged assassination plotter Brig. Gen. Gokhan Sonmezates, and the leader of the operation Maj. Sukru Seymen. These men, along with a petty officer who was found hiding in a cave, days after the coup, were all sentenced to “aggravated” life sentences – the harshest penalty under Turkish law (unless Erdogan gets his wish of a restored death penalty).
Although some of these men admitted to participating in the coup, such as General Seymen, he later told the court that he was told that “The order was to capture the president alive.”
Also included in the case was a senior military aid to Erdogan who received two sentences of 18 and 15 years. Most importantly, there were three defendants tried in absentia, one of which was none other than Fetullah Gulen himself. No verdict was reached on the exiled critic of Erdogan, although the judge did tell the courtroom that this isn’t the end of this trial.
Several defendants complained that they don’t feel they received a fair trial, claiming they were treated as guilty from day one. This sentiment was voiced in the final statement of Gokhan Sonmezates, who said political forces were influencing the trial and that he and his codefendants were merely “the grass that elephants trampled on during their fight.”
This trial is occurring at a time that there are an estimated 50,000 coup and “terrorism” suspects currently locked in Turkish jails. This number continues to grow every day, much like yesterday where at least one new arrest was made of a Turkish national who worked for the US consulate.
The man in question, identified as Metin Topuz, was arrested yesterday is apparently being charged with activities that attempted to “destroy” the government and constitutional order. The Turkish news agency, Andalou says he was arrested due to connections to several prosecutors and police chiefs involved in a 2013 corruption probe of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
This is of course the same corruption probe that led to the rift between Erdogan and Gulen. Erdogan claimed Gulen fabricated the charges in a bid to topple the government. Topaz was also slapped with a general charge of “spying.”
The US embassy in Ankara released a statement earlier today, saying they were “deeply disturbed” by the arrest.
Statement from the U.S. Mission to Turkey (Re-posting with corrected date) pic.twitter.com/eL5X9P3a4S
— US Embassy Turkey (@USEmbassyTurkey) October 5, 2017
The statement went on to condemn “baseless, anonymous allegations against our employees,” and said this latest move would “undermine and devalue longstanding partnership.”
This is just the latest incident of either a US national or Turkish employee of the US to be arrested and will most likely continue to erode relations between Ankara and Washington. This pattern is likely to continue due to the fact that Erdogan and many other Turks believe the US aided Gulen in orchestrating the failed coup, and the purges in Turkey are showing no signs of stopping.