Putschists deployed at a tank brigade and accused of sending tanks into downtown Ankara during the July 15, 2016 coup attempt blamed on the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) were sentenced to life and aggravated lifetime imprisonment in a hearing yesterday in the Turkish capital.
The court ruled for the aggravated lifetime imprisonment for 11 people, including Lt. Col. Nuri Büyükyazıcı, who led a column of 15 tanks to the army headquarters in a bid to capture it. Twenty-seven others were sentenced to life while 11 defendants, all conscripts, were acquitted.
The defendants were deployed at the 28th Mechanized Infantry Brigade Command in Mamak, a district on the outskirts of Ankara at the time of the coup attempt that killed 250 people across the country. According to prosecutors, they left the command with tanks and armored vehicles full of soldiers for office of the Chief of General Staff in the district of Çankaya. Their purpose was to help the putschists capture the main headquarters of the army and fend off a growing crowd of anti-coup civilians gathered outside the headquarters.
The court handed down six instances of aggravated lifetime imprisonment, in addition to 658 years and two months in prison for Büyükyazıcı, on charges of a coup attempt as well as attempted murder. Büyükyazıcı denied the coup attempt and attempted murder charges in previous hearings, though he admitted commanding the tanks "for a counterterrorism mission." Most defendants in the coup trials claim they acted upon the orders of their superiors to thwart possible terror attacks. Büyükyazıcı said he ordered the tanks to crush civilian cars and "any other barricades" as part of his "task."
In January, four other putschist officers from the brigade were sentenced to life for their role in the killing of Mesut Yağan, an anti-coup civilian who was among the dozens trying to get into the office of the Chief of General Staff to confront the putschists. The office was among the strategic locations that the putschists sought to seize. Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and other military top brass opposing the coup were abducted and taken to Ankara's Akıncı Air Base where the putschists coordinated attacks.
FETÖ, led by U.S.-based Fetullah Gülen, is accused of activating its infiltrators in the military, from low-ranking officers to generals, to seize power in the summer of 2016, ahead of a planned crackdown on its infiltrators. They managed to seize several places throughout the night of July 15. However, calls by the country's leaders to the public thwarted their efforts as people all across the country openly confronted and intimidated them, at the cost of their lives. Upon the unprecedented reaction, the putschists had to lay down their arms while some managed to flee. Since then, thousands involved in the putsch bid have been arrested and are being tried. In more than 105 coup trials concluded so far, more than 800 defendants have been handed down prison sentences. More than 592 of those defendants, mostly high-ranking officers, were sentenced to life.