Public outrage over perceived U.S. involvement in the July 15 coup attempt by the Gülen Movement has apparently not waned as new protests began outside of İncirlik Air Base.
A small group of activists from the opposition Homeland Party (VP) gathered near the tightly protected base where U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford was scheduled to visit early Monday. Speaking on behalf of activists gathered outside the base in the southern city of Adana, Utku Reyhan, deputy chairman of the party, said İncirlik has been "a den of evil" and should only be controlled by Turkey, claiming the base was used both in the Gülenist coup attempt and in supporting the PKK and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), two groups Turkey views as terrorist organizations. The latter is endorsed by the U.S. in the anti-DAESH fight in Syria.
"We wonder how an American army general can visit Turkey after this heinous coup attempt which left nearly 300 of our citizens martyred. They should be ashamed of [playing a role] in the coup attempt. This military base here played an active part in the coup attempt. This was the base where coup plotters who turned their guns on the Turkish nation were garrisoned," he said. Demonstrators were barred from marching on the road in front of the base by the police and dispersed peacefully.
The demonstration comes three days after another group of activists from a nongovernmental organization staged a similar protest outside the air base.
İncirlik Air Base is crucial to NATO operations in the Middle East and is used by the U.S. to carry out military action in the fight against DAESH. The base has been in the spotlight after the recent coup attempt as a senior Turkish commander at the base was arrested for participating in the coup attempt and local authorities cut off power to the base after it was learned that coup plotters used a tanker aircraft based there to refuel fighter jets involved in the coup attempt.
Several surveys following the coup indicate that a fair share of the Turkish public believe the U.S. was behind it or at least played a facilitating role for the coup plotters. According to a survey by pollster Andy-Ar, 64.4 percent of respondents believe Fethullah Gülen was behind the coup attempt, while 3.8 percent directly blamed the United States. The survey showed 72.6 percent of respondents thought other states supported the attempted military junta.
The public's sentiment is largely attributed to Gülen's murky presence in the U.S., where he was granted a green card and has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999. He is the prime suspect in the coup plot, and Turkey seeks Gülen's extradition on charges of terrorism.
Elements in the Turkish media have claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a senior U.S. commander had a hand in the coup plot and many Turks resent the perceived stance taken by the American media that implicates President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, fueling public outrage against the U.S.
Although the U.S is an ally of Turkey, many in the country remain suspicious of American involvement in past coups. The 1980 coup propelled such anti-U.S. sentiment as the U.S. was viewed as a staunch supporter of coup generals.
Dunford is scheduled to meet with Turkish officials in Ankara after a visit with U.S. troops at the base. Remarks by a fellow U.S. general will most likely dominate his talks. Joseph Votel, who heads United States Central Command that plays a vital role in fight against DAESH in Syria, caused outrage in Turkey when he said Turkish interlocutors in the fight against terrorism were jailed after the coup, implying that Turkish-American military cooperation could be harmed by their imprisonment. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out in response to Votel's remarks and told him to "know his place." Votel later retracted his remarks, claiming he was "misunderstood" and that Turkey "has been a vital partner in the region for many years and that the U.S. appreciates its continuing cooperation in the fight against ISIL [DAESH]."