Testifying at a hearing in the capital Ankara yesterday, an officer accused of involvement in last year's July 15 coup attempt said his commander ordered him to destroy camera footage showing their complicity in the putsch bid.
Vedat İpek, a specialist sergeant, was among 64 defendants involved in the coup attempt as members of military personnel deployed in the 28th Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Mamak, Ankara. He and others commanded the tanks seen on the capital's streets on that fateful night when 249 people were killed by a small junta linked to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). İpek was steering the tank that crushed hard drives storing the security camera footage from the Office of the Chief of General Staff. He claimed he was following orders when a lieutenant colonel that headed his unit issued an "immediate" order on July 15, 2016. He then accompanied Capt. Hüseyin Nişancı, another defendant in the trial, as they left the military base in Mamak for downtown Ankara. "[Nişancı] ordered us to crush the ‘barricades'," he said, referring to the cars parked on the streets by civilians in an effort to block the advance of the pro-coup troops. İpek claimed that Nişancı told them they were sent to thwart "a terror attack" on army headquarters, and they realized that it was a coup attempt once they arrived at the headquarters. Still, when other pro-coup officers approached him hours later, he followed their orders. "I was ordered to start the engine [of the tank] in the morning, and they told me to move the tank a few meters. Then, I saw an officer getting black bags from under the tank. He told the others that the things in the bags were not ‘destroyed properly,' and that they should ‘burn them'," İpek told the court. He said he wouldn't have destroyed the hard drives if he had known there was footage that would have "acquitted him" inside the drives.
İpek also claimed that tank commander Mahmut Onur Uçar, who was in the tank with him during the coup attempt, ordered him to fire on a civilian truck, and when he refused, Uçar himself fired shots on the truck.
On July 15, 2016, pro-coup troops from the Fourth Army Corps and the 28th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, a division of the Army Corps, commanded 16 tanks to head to the headquarters of the army in central Ankara. Their purpose was apparently to intimidate anti-coup soldiers, police and unarmed civilians. A crowd opposing the coup tried to block their way to army headquarters, but the tanks advanced anyway, crushing cars in their way and injuring civilians who narrowly escaped certain death. During the coup attempt, 249 people, mostly civilians, were killed by putschists who indiscriminately fired on anti-coup crowds and launched airstrikes in Ankara. Ali Kalyoncu, a fugitive general who would have commanded the infantry brigade if the coup had succeeded, and Osman Ünlü, the would-be commander for the putschists in the Army Corps, are accused of forcing their way into the headquarters of the brigade and corps to seize command. Lt. Col. Nuri Büyükyazıcı is accused of coordinating the tanks' advance. Büyükyazıcı is also accused of persuading soldiers unaware of a coup attempt to drive the tanks toward the Office of the Chief of General Staff, telling them that they would be "deployed against a terror attack targeting the headquarters." As strong public resistance emerged, their plans were thrown into disarray, and soon the soldiers in the tanks lost contact with each other. They were captured by anti-coup security forces, while some surrendered.
An indictment against the defendants says the group of putschists from the Fourth Army Corps, including generals and colonels, regularly met months before the coup to discuss details of the putsch attempt. Prosecutors say the group, exclusively composed of FETÖ-linked officers, disguised their meetings as "morning walks" and planned who would do what during the attempt to seize power and who in their military bases might oppose it. Pro-coup officers also held a dry run with tanks two months before the coup attempt, according to the indictment, which says they deceived their subordinates who were unaware of preparations for the putsch.
Tank personnel were told they were "in training for deployment on the Syrian border," during the secret exercises ahead of July 15, 2016. Pro-coup officers from other military bases also joined the coup attempt at the Fourth Army Corps, prosecutors say.
Coup trials in Turkey started last year, and hundreds of officers, from lieutenants to generals, are being tried for the coup attempt. So far, only a few defendants have acknowledged their links to FETÖ despite evidence showing their meetings with the group's members. Gülenists had been infiltrating the army, law enforcement, judiciary and bureaucracy for decades, prosecutors say, before they moved to seize power in two coup attempts in 2013 through their infiltrators in the judiciary and police and, finally, by infiltrators in the army.