Turkish President’s|Role in Coup Laid Out

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Details revealed about Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan’s likely participation in a coup that has rocked its country since July proved to be in direct conflict with some of the leader’s claims that the United States is responsible for the upheaval.
     The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats heard testimony Wednesday from a panel of human rights and regional political experts who confirmed that plans for massive arrests of journalists, military officers, prosecutors and judges were underway for more than a year before the July 15 overthrow.
     “Looking at the aftermath of the coup, after three hours Erdogan had 1,653 military officers deemed as perpetrators of the coup,” Ahmet Yayla, a senior fellow for the Center for American Progress, said. “In three hours, they found ways to investigate the coup attempt, analyze that information, make the list, get the warrants and distribute those warrants to 81 provinces all over Turkey.”
     He added, “And police were able to arrest them at their homes or vacation places. From a technical perspective, that would take months, not weeks. It is very clear this was prearranged.”
     Beyond the military officers, witnesses confirmed that 2,000 prosecutors had been fired at Erdogan’s instruction.
     Yayla’s findings proved to be damning discrepancies in the firing lists Erdogan and his associates compiled. One prosecutor on the firing or seizure list had been dead for 57 days when authorities came for him.
     “So they fired someone who died two months ago? The list for judges and prosecutors were prepared two years ago because the cities they were listed as working in, in some cases, were two years out of date,” Yayla testified.
     Delving into the timeline of events leading up to the insurrection, committee chairman Dana Rohrbacher, R-California, asked Dr. Nina Ognianova, coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, to describe other red flags she witnessed as the political atmosphere worsened.
     “Due to magnitude of the media crackdown which started months and months before the coup attempt, we were compelled to create a daily chronicle of those events [in March 2016], which we thought was the peak of the repression,” Ognianova said. “We were wrong.”
     Feza Publication, a Turkish media group, had its offices raided by the Turkish state in March. Ognianova testified that the raid spurred her to engage with correspondents on the ground for real-time feedback. Correspondents immediately began reporting on the increasing number of charges brought against journalists.
     “Detention, terrorism charges, criminal charges, insult charges, the de facto imprisonment of detained journalists, the shuttering of media outlets and confiscation by the government,” Ognianova said. “All so they can be used as mouthpiece.”
     Erdogan’s apparent distaste for a free press may have begun after the president had a falling out with former ally and moderate Muslim figure Fetullah Gulen in December 2013. Tensions appeared to have boiled over after Gulenists began to openly criticize Erdogan’s governance.
     Erdogan called for Gulen’s extradition by the U.S. government Tuesday. Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, currently faces multiple life sentences in Turkey on charges that he led an armed group of terrorists before, and more recently, that he was the one who started the coup.
     Obama administration officials have responded by saying that any efforts to extradite Gulen would be based on legal proof and not political motive.
     Witnesses also agreed that Gulen’s history mostly involves the construction of charter schools for impoverished Turks. He is also renowned for teaching extensively about the need for peaceful relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the region and around the world.
     Gulen is thought to have said, “In true Islam, terror does not exist.”
     Committee members agreed that the path forward remains tentative as more information comes to light, but all unanimously agreed that the U.S. relationship with Turkey is a crucial one and that the steps moving forward should be made with caution.
     Yayla’s own son is caught in the political crosshairs: he was arrested while trying to leave Turkey shortly after his father published a scathing critique of the coup.
     Officials informed Yayla that since his own passport had been invalidated by the Turkish government, so was his son’s. Yayla’s son was released but was arrested again as soon as he stepped outside the prison.
     Col. Paul Cook, who also sits on the House Armed Services committee, voiced his concern that proof of Erdogan’s scheming has opened a door to an increasingly dangerous political atmosphere.
     “Turkey is a key ally and a member of NATO right now. And right now everyone is nervous about Erdogan’s government and their relationship with some of the Kurds, the Christians. I don’t have optimism about Erdogan and I felt this way long before the coup,” Cook said.
     Dozens of U.S. military bases in Turkey remain in a precarious position as the dust settles in the largely Muslim nation. Rohrbacher reminded witnesses to consider all factors at play.
     “We’re having a crazy political year here, and if Turkey goes with more radical Muslim anti-Western forces, like those at play in Europe, the healthy relationship we’ve had with Turkey is going right out the window and it’s going to change the history of the world,” he warned.

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