Four years ago, a terror group attempted not just an ordinary coup d’état, but a deadly putsch in Turkey. The attack was carried out under the guise of a military coup by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which had infiltrated the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).
July 15, 2016 started out as any normal Friday in Turkey. But the generally calm cities of our beloved country, particularly Istanbul, its biggest city, and Ankara, its capital, were plunged into chaos when the night full of terror arrived.
Turkish society long suspected that FETÖ, a clandestine terrorist group that had infiltrated the state apparatus years before, had nested inside the Turkish military and was preparing to stage a coup. The speculations were based only on hearsay, but earlier, FETÖ had already tried to overthrow the democratically elected government of Turkey in late 2013, with two attempted coups of the judiciary on Dec. 17 and Dec. 25. Their threatening public declarations revealed that something worse was on the horizon.
The world knew FETÖ's leader, Fetullah Gülen, as an enigmatic Turkish Muslim scholar who alleged in his books that he believed in interfaith dialogue and democracy. His network’s public profile was defined primarily by a global network of schools, universities, dialogue centers and charity organizations. Yet little was known about the inner workings of their educational structure, and it was a mystery exactly how a so-called movement could become so powerful.
FETÖ members were often clean-shaven and English-speaking individuals educated in the West, which catalyzed them to enter bureaucracy, judiciary and security units without attracting the attention of the then-antidemocratic secularist establishment of Turkey during the 1990s and 2000s. Despite their stereotype-breaking images of Muslims, it was revealed in 2013 that they had set up a huge network within the state, led by outsiders like “judiciary imams” or “police imams,” who were members of a big chain within a hierarchy of imams loyal only to their leader, Gülen. They systematically stole the questions of the exams by which state officials are selected and gave them to the members of the terrorist network who had been secretly trained in these positions for years.
Ankara had been fighting a continuous battle against FETÖ after the judiciary plot was foiled, and the government tried to cleanse terrorist elements from inside the state apparatus but its intelligence about the FETÖ threat inside the army was limited.
What FETÖ tried to do that night was turn the terror attacks carried out by the PKK and Daesh terrorist groups that targeted Turkey in 2015 and 2016 into an opportunity. A Gülenist junta group first spread a false terror alarm in order to create panic, blindside security units, especially the army, keep people at home and prevent resistance. They were going to take control of the government and the state by killing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and arresting hundreds of politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and high-ranking army and police officers. It was a thorough plan that would have quickly succeeded if the Turkish people had not been quick to intervene.
Although they aimed to make it look as if it was a military coup staged within the chain of command, the Turkish army's chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, was taken hostage as he refused to cooperate with putschists, and the army's official website was sabotaged. A pirate statement was announced on both the public boradcaster Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) and the army website introducing themselves as the “Turkish Armed Forces.” The terrorists said they had completely taken over the administration of the country. Unsurprisingly, the whole world was ready to accept the ruse, as the global community was not familiar with the true face of Gülen, a twisted Islamic preacher obsessed with the idea of controlling the Turkish state. He is now based in the United States.
The putschists were loyal to an imam, not to the state or the military of the Republic of Turkey. In this way, they can only be labeled as “Fetullah Gülen's soldiers” in the same way that Daesh terrorists saw themselves as “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's soldiers” and PKK terrorists claim to be “Abdullah Öcalan's soldiers.” This is why July 15, 2016, was not a military coup that threatened democracy. What happened in Turkey four years ago can only be defined by another phrase: a terrorist coup attempt.
The international community still ignores the facts about Gülen's terrorist network, but it is a threat that does not target Turkey alone as the network is active in other countries as well. Although world leaders overlook FETÖ, every Turkish citizen knows who they really are. After the pirate announcement was declared on the night of the coup, within seconds, people started to vow on social media: “you will not get away with this,” “you have to kill all of them before you succeed” and “we will not let you take control of our country.”
Within minutes, Turks were on the streets and in front of tanks. They did not number in the hundreds; they did not number in the thousands. When Erdoğan was finally able to address Turkey's citizens to call on them to resist the coup, the volume of people on the street clashing against the putschists had increased dramatically. They numbered in the millions.
The next morning, we started to see the whole picture, and the scene was tragic. What occurred in many cities across Turkey was a night of terror brought on by the wrath of tanks, helicopter gunships and fighter jets. The attack resulted in the death of 251 people and left nearly 2,200 maimed or wounded. The bombings of the Turkish Parliament, the Presidential Complex and the Police and Intelligence Service headquarters were firsts in history.
It was a historic moment from another angle too, as the success of the Turkish people’s resistance in the face of a military coup was a unique event in human history. The government, civil society groups and ordinary citizens gathered in solidarity and defended their country with the help of the police officers and the heroes in the Turkish military. On that night, Turks fought terror together and saved Turkey.
July 15, 2016, was the worst of days, but also it was the best of days for Turkey. It was a terrible and heinous attack, but we also had a glorious victory that night. On the fourth anniversary of the coup attempt, we honor the memories of our martyrs who lost their lives in the fight against terrorism for the sake of our democracy and national union. After four years, we still mourn their losses and praise our victory.
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