8 Months On, Turkey Fails To Sell Coup Narrative To Allies

For every visiting foreign official, making a pilgrimage to a bombed part of the Turkish Parliament has been made compulsory. The Turkish government officials force the visiting officials to watch hours-long footage and deluge them with files.

As part of their crusade, Ankara also keeps mailing boxes of what it calls “evidence” to European countries and the U.S. In Turkish. Most of these boxes include information about how a U.S.-based Turkish cleric organized his followers to fill up positions in the bureaucracy.

Last week, Turkey invited a group of American journalists to Turkey to show new evidence for the military coup attempt, but it turned into an embarrassing fiasco. Country after country, world’s leading intelligence agencies say they’ve seen no evidence supporting Ankara’s narrative.

8 months into the military insurrection that rattled Turkey, unsettling its political system and social fabric with still ensuing ramifications, swirling questions and doubts over the failed attempt have not dissipated to this day.

Who was behind the coup remains an elusive matter with no clear answers yet. For the Turkish government, it was simple and sound; a cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S. was the chief architect of the putsch that killed 241 people and wounded more than 2,000.

“The Gulenist coup” has been the cornerstone of the government’s master narrative from the beginning. To friends and foes, the government has pushed for recognition of its one-sided story linking an ailing cleric to a coup attempt that nobody owns, but with little clarity on its findings and corroboration of its claims.

The truth is further occluded by Turkey’s Stalinist purges, over-reaching political witch-hunt in bureaucracy and society, a clinical crackdown on media and alternative sources of public information, and creeping authoritarianism. The decimation of the judiciary through mass purges and imprisonment of judges and prosecutors inflicted a fatal blow to whatever left of an independent judiciary, the rule of law and killed any hope for fair trials.

The Turkish-style handling of the coup trials, which sometimes bordered on surrealism and Stalin’s Moscow trials rather than properly conducted due processes, only undercuts its ability to effectively sell Gulen-did-it narrative.

Heads or members of intelligence services of two countries, both allies of Turkey, came out and said Ankara has yet to convince them about its narrative that links Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen to July 15 coup attempt.

“Turkey has tried to convince us of that every level, but so far it has not succeeded,” BND President Bruno Kahl told Der Spiegel in an exclusive interview last week.

Not surprisingly, his remarks sparked a sharp backlash from Ankara which interpreted the German comments as proof for its support for the Gulen movement.

Unlike Ankara, which describes the Gulen movement as a terrorist group, Mr. Kahl said he sees the movement as a “civil association that aims to provide further religious and secular education.”

What he saw was that a purge was already underway well before the coup, and the failed attempt provided a pretext for an unstinting purge campaign in the army. But he also rejected false-flag operation theory that portrayed the government as the main culprit for what happened on July 15.

“What we saw following the coup would have happened anyway, maybe not on the same scale and with such ferocity,” Mr. Kahl said.

“It’s an effort to invalidate all the information we have given them on FETO [Fethullahist Terror Organization],” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a televised interview aired on CNN Turk on Sunday.

His fury was sharpened by a perception that has taken deep root across the tight-knit community of AKP policy-makers that Germany was using the Gulen movement as an instrument against Turkey.

President Erdogan also went ballistic and accused BND Chief Kahl of delivering remarks on behalf of German leaders. The Turkish president suggested that Germany backs the movement.

However strong the Turkish propaganda machine might be abroad, its months-long campaign in the international arena still did not mold Western officials into its line of argument, and many senior officials in the Western capitals emerged unconvinced of President Erdogan’s assertion over Gulen link.

Like German officials, a similar dose of skepticism has reigned in the U.S. intelligence community against Turkey’s portrayal of Mr. Gulen as the chief organizer of the putsch.

“I find that hard to believe,” Devin Nunes, Chairman of U.S. House Intelligence Committee, told Chris Wallace from Fox News when asked if Mr. Gulen was the architect of the coup attempt.

In clear-cut remarks, Mr. Nunes said he has not seen the evidence that Mr. Gulen was involved in the coup attempt and he does not know if the U.S. is going to extradite “somebody like that.”

But that would be “a different issue,” if there was evidence linking Mr. Gulen to the coup attempt, he weighed in on the matter which strained ties between Turkey and the U.S. almost to the point of breakdown.

Last year, top intelligence official in the U.S., former Director of U.S. National Intelligence Agency (NSA) James Clapper, was equally dismissive and skeptical of the Turkish claims.

He told the Washington Post that he did not believe that the Turkish authorities presented evidence to show the cleric was behind the coup. The Turkish authorities reportedly sent 85 boxes of dossiers to persuade their U.S. counterparts at Justice Department in a push for extradition of Mr. Gulen.

But so far, it seems, those efforts have ultimately failed to yield any substantial result.

“We have consistently said to our friends in Turkey and allies in Turkey that we need evidence,” then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in July, a few days after the coup attempt. “We have a very strict set of requirements that have to be met for an extradition to take place.”

The issue has taken a new turn after revelations of talks between Michael Flynn, former U.S. National Security Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, and the Turkish ministers over how to spirit Mr. Gulen out of the country by circumventing legal procedure.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey who involved in a meeting between Mr. Flynn and the Turkish ministers in September to discuss the matter told the Wall Street Journal on Friday about the talk to move Mr. Gulen back to Turkey.

It was the latest revelation that embroiled Mr. Flynn who resigned in February after his several contacts with the Russian ambassador was exposed by media, in another controversy.

On March 7, he filed documents to the Justice Department in a public acknowledgment that he worked as a foreign agent representing interests of Turkey through his lobbying company during last fall. While initially worked for a Turkish company, “the engagement could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey,” his lobbying firm said.

His company, TFlynn Intel Group, signed a contract on Aug. 9 with Inovo, a Dutch firm owned by a Mr. Erdogan associate, Ekim Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council. Mr. Flynn’s firm received $530,000 for 3 months work.

The role of Mr. Gulen and his sympathizers in the coup has remained an enigma, a riddling puzzle that has left foreign governments and the international community in a delicate spot given the need to maintain relations with a demanding Turkey. Navigating between Ankara’s persistent demands from allies to hand over alleged coup plotters and members of Gulen movement back to Turkey and preserving strained ties is no easy job.

But the Gulenist element in the story remains as unsettling as the coup itself, prompting intelligence bodies of the U.K. and the EU to unravel that puzzle to have a clear view of the dynamics of the coup. The EU report earlier this year said there was no evidence that showed Mr. Gulen was behind the coup. Echoing Germany’s position, the report said the coup was carried by a group of Turkish officers in a pre-emptive attempt to ward off an incoming purge in the army.

A report by the U.K. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has offered to the date the most definitive statement about the allegation over Gulenist link.

“Given the brutality of the events of July 15, the severity of the charges made against the Gulenists, and the scale of the purges of perceived Gulenists that has been justified on this basis, there is a relative lack of hard, publicly — available evidence to prove that the Gulenists as an organization were responsible the coup attempt in Turkey,” the report said.

“While there is evidence to indicate that some individual Gulenists were involved, it is mostly anecdotal or circumstantial, sometimes premised on information from confessions or informants, and is — so far — inconclusive in relation to the organization as a whole or its leadership.”

But the following part was the most striking that hit the approaches of either the U.K. or Turkish government.

“As we publish this report, nine months after the coup attempt, neither the U.K. nor Turkish governments can point us to one person who has been found guilty by a court of involvement in the coup attempt, let alone anyone being found guilty with evidence of involvement with Gulenist motives.”

The report has also emerged critical of the U.K. government’s willingness to embrace the Turkish government’s account of the coup without much questioning.

“The FCO seems willing to accept the Turkish government’s account of the coup attempt and the Gulenists broadly at face value. While some of the individuals in the coup may have been Gulenists, given the large number of Gulenist supporters and organizations in Turkey, it does not necessarily follow that the Gulenists were responsible for the coup or that their leadership directed the coup.”

“However, the FCO seems unable to cite much evidence to prove that it is true,” the report added in its critical review of the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Turkey policy in the aftermath of the putsch.

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