Turkey, the Coup, and ISIS
(Ahmet S. Yayla, October 13, 2016)
Transcript available below
Watch his speaker playlist here
About the speaker
Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. is co-author of the book, ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. He is former Deputy Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and is also Adjunct Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University. He formerly served as Professor and the Chair of the Sociology Department at Harran University in Turkey. He is the former Chief of Counterterrorism and Operations Division for the Turkish National Police with a 20-year career interviewing terrorists.
His work was primarily concerned with terrorist and related activities of ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, Hezbollah, the PKK, and other global terrorist organizations and he was responsible for several successful operations against the above-listed terrorist organizations. Dr. Yayla designed and administered counterterrorism and intelligence activities and operations for precautionary measures in the city of Şanlıurfa, located at the Turkish-Syrian border and at the borders of the current ongoing warzone in Syria.
Dr. Yayla’s research mainly focuses on terrorism, radicalization, countering violence extremism (CVE) and the Middle East. He has earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees on the subject of terrorism and radicalization at the University of North Texas. He has authored and co-authored several articles and books on the subject of terrorism and violence including First Responders’ Guide to Professionally Interacting with Muslim Communities: Law Enforcement, Emergency and Fire Fighters, Understanding and Responding to Terrorism: A Complete Model to Deal with Terrorism and Terrorism: A Global Perspective.
He also spoke at Westminster on the topic of: How Turkey Sees Its Role in the World and What it Means for the U.S.
Robert R. Reilly:
I am so happy to welcome our speaker, Ahmet Yayla, who is coauthor of the just released book, which you see here, ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate, which we have available for sale and Dr. Yayla will be happy to sign these books for you after his presentation. Now, he is Deputy Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE).
He is also Adjunct Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University. He formerly served as Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at Harran University in Turkey and most pertinent for our subject matter this evening, he is the former Chief of Counterterrorism and Operations Division for the Turkish National Police with a 20-year career interviewing terrorists and ISIS defectors.
His work was primarily concerned with terrorist and related activities of ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, Hezbollah, the PKK, and other terrorist organizations. He was responsible for several successful operations against the above-listed terrorist organizations. Tonight he is going to address us on the subject of Turkey, the Coup, and ISIS. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Yayla.
Ahmet S. Yayla:
I will start with the coup attempt and then I will jump into the ISIS as I think these are the most important things occurring right now in the Middle East and in Turkey, which are very much related and most of them which are very much misunderstood, so I think it is essential that we understand them well to better analyze what is going on over there. Before I speak about the coup, I would like to speak about the pre-coup atmosphere in Turkey.
So what was going on? Beginning [in] 2011, we have started the problems in our south basically in Syria with the opposition rising against Bashar Assad. What happened was Turkey adopted a policy which is [an] open border policy to let all of the Syrian refugees in without any questions but at the same time let anyone coming from Syria also in whether it be a Jabhat al-Nusra member, Al Qaeda member, or other different jihadi terrorist organization members and base themselves inside the country and carry out their operations through Turkey, especially the southern border towns, including Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Kilis, [and] Hatay where the border was like [the] American-Mexican border, wide, flat and which was not very well controlled also.
On top of that, by the end of 2013, ISIS rose and we had started to see a lot of ISIS fighters going through Turkey to join ISIS, especially the foreign fighters coming from the West and even from Northern Africa. To this day, the total number is calculated at 38,000 just went through Turkey to join ISIS and almost none of those ISIS fighters were stopped in or at the borders of Turkey and sent back. The numbers who were stopped were circumstantial. Basically, they by themselves went to the police and asked almost the police to stop them to go- like for example, three Westerners went to the police at the border and told to the police there they would like to join ISIS and pass the border.
But there is a story behind it. The ISIS members who had already passed and joined the ISIS, speaking so easily about passing the borders, so they thought that they were passing legally with passports to join ISIS. So what happened? They were not arrested, of course. They went back and then they met with their counterparts from ISIS. And then they passed again, but eventually, they passed without any problems.
So it was a scheme in almost the beginning of 2016. Even today there are still a lot of foreign fighters passing between Turkey and Syria, unfortunately. Most of the time when ISIS was controlling the southern border of Turkey, beginning from Akcele towards Kilis, which we can roughly say about three hundred miles.
The commanders, Turkish or Syrian does not matter, were working for ISIS. And the orders were ‘you let us know who is passing’. ISIS Intelligence was controlling the Syrian part of the border, but at the same time, the Turkish part of the border, telling the smugglers if you pass anyone, you let us know, otherwise we kill you. They were not paying the smugglers, but they were forcing the smugglers to let them know about the people who were passing in between the borders.
They were especially curious about the ISIS defectors, who were passing from Syria to Turkey. And there were several occasions when they caught ISIS defectors, passing from Syria to Turkey. They killed them on sight and, of course, they killed the smugglers as well.
Now, the smugglers are key here in this issue because in most places there are mines and people do not want to pass by themselves. They do not want to step on the mines on the border, so they need smugglers. So unless defectors who would like to run away from ISIS pay really well, large amounts of money, mostly around one thousand dollars per person, they do not have luck to pass from Syria to Turkey.
So this was the scheme and almost today it is the scheme, anyways. For regular people the price of smuggling a person is a little bit higher right now, but normally it was between $50 to $1,000, depending on who was passing the border. So anyway, these are the circumstances around that border.
After 2014, there were several suicide bombers who came from ISIS or who were blamed on ISIS, beginning in Suruç. Suruç is a town in Şanlıurfa. In the Suruç suicide bombing thirty-two people died. After the Suruç suicide bombing there was another suicide attack in Ankara during a crowded demonstration where over one hundred people died and hundreds were wounded.
So the security of Turkey not only coming from ISIS, but also from the PKK and other cult-like terrorist-related problems were going down very fast. This effected the tourism industry very badly. Several thousand tourists canceled their reservations, so the economy started to suffer.
That is in addition to the burden that Turkey had handling the Syrian refugees, helping them. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey right now is three million. They are scattered all around Turkey. Around two hundred or three hundred thousand of them are being taken care of in refugee camps, but the rest are around Turkey and most of the time they are being offered free healthcare and free education. So this is also, of course, a big burden on the economy.
But the biggest burden came after the shoot down of the Russian airplane because Putin was very upset about it. There was not any real explanation and logical approach to why Turkey shot down the Russian airplane. Even though it was claimed that the Russian airplane was in Turkish airspace, but that was a very short time.
So anyways, Putin started to put out sanctions against Turkey. Immediately after the sanctions, over 90% of the Russian tourists canceled their reservations. In 2015, during the summertime, and in 2016, Russian tourists did not come to Turkey. The tourists, if you look at the statistics, Russian tourists are the majority of the tourists who visit Turkey for their summer vacations, so this hit our economy very badly. In addition, Putin also banned trade between Turkey and Russia, which hit our agricultural economy because Turkish farmers were selling large amounts of fruits and vegetables to Russia. Also, this hit our inflation, so the economy was going down for these reasons.
Also, there was another, bigger problem. In 2013, 17 December, there was an [anti] corruption operation against Erdoğan’s close circles in Istanbul. In that [anti] corruption operation, four ministers’ sons were arrested, Erdoğan’s own son, Bilal Erdoğan, was a suspect, [but] they could not arrest him anyways. But that corruption operation pissed off Erdoğan very much. He got furious about it, and he said the police are carrying out a coup d’état against me.
This investigation started two years [before] December 2013, and the Turkish intelligence or other parts of the Turkish National Police were unaware of this operation, but almost anyone who was aware of these kinds of dealings in Turkey were aware of the fact that those people were corrupt. They were into deep corruption and dirty dealings. This 17 and 25 December [anti] corruption operations put a dot on Turkish democracy and on the Turkish economy.
Erdoğan immediately after the operation started to fire the police officers, police chiefs, and the prosecutors, and the judges who got involved in these operations. And that was not enough. Anyone who dared to make news pieces about these operations and about the facts of the operations, basically the dirty dealings of the ministers and Erdoğan’s sons, were arrested. The newspapers were closed down, confiscated, forced to shut down, and Erdoğan started to go after the free media. Basically, beginning in 2013-2014, we lost the free media, we lost the freedom of speech because anyone who dared to speak about, write about, or discuss these corruption issues was deemed an enemy, and were made sure to pay dearly.
And this also put an end to our justice system. I was a police chief in Şanlıurfa then. We were openly asked whether we were with the regime or not, which meant are you going to close your eyes to the ongoing corruption dealings or are you going to work with us or are you going to try to prosecute or investigate the crimes. And I did not even think about replying to that, and I resigned, and I became a professor at Harran University.
This was a turning point for me and several of my friends at the police because several of the chiefs then denied being a puppet at the hands of [the] Erdoğan government, and they were sidelined. They were not given positions. New people [were] brought in to lead and work for the critical departments in the police, mostly counterterrorism, intelligence, organized crime, and critical and major crimes. Basically, the skeleton of the police, investigative police, and criminal part of the police that would deal with any kind of corruption or misdoings of the government.
But that was not enough. All the prosecutors that were looking at those cases were changed, and the judges who they deemed they would not rule in the favor of the government were also changed. Several of them were sidelined, and new judges and prosecutors were assigned, so we started 2014 in this atmosphere, and that continued up until the coup time.
The economy went down very harshly. However, because the media was controlled by Erdoğan and his people, and almost all the media on the opposition side were shut down or confiscated, the people of Turkey were not aware of it. It is like – I think the best example I can give is Hitler’s propaganda minister’s tactics. People really did not understand what was going on. It was as if they were forced to go by the lies of Erdoğan’s media.
Meanwhile, Turkey distanced itself from the West, and there were several causes for that. We started to become a lot closer to Saudi Arabia [and] Qatar, and they started to invest a lot more in Turkey. But at the same time, we have also started to distance ourselves from NATO and the West, and that was a very critical turning point for us. For example, Turkey dragged its feet to get into the coalition force [against] ISIS.
We were not involved in the coalition force that was fighting against ISIS for a year. We dragged our feet. We tried to negotiate about the use of Incirlik Air Base. Basically, we did not do anything, and we almost stopped the coalition forces from fighting against ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
Of course, there are other reasons behind that. The biggest reason, when we look at the past three years now, we can understand was the Reza Zarrab case that is being tried in New York federal court right now. Reza Zarrab is a Turkish-Iranian businessman who was arrested five or six months ago in Miami by the FBI, then brought to New York, and right now he is under arrest in New York for money laundering and for circumventing the Iranian embargo, which was put upon by the international community as UN sanctions.
And basically, the scheme was an oil for gold scheme, and Reza Zarrab was the middleman of that scheme, that money laundering scheme. Reza Zarrab was in Turkey while he was doing it, and he was working with Erdoğan’s government very closely. He was offered Turkish citizenship under special circumstances with the signatures of the Prime Minister, then Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his ministers. And he bribed several Turkish ministers. And he pledged several million dollars to Erdoğan’s wife’s associations.
And right now, when you look at the indictment, the federal court case against him in the New York federal court system, the crimes are really serious, and they are asking for [him to spend] over 75 years [in prison]. Even though he was fighting very harshly to get released and he offered $15 million dollars in bond, he was not granted bail. And the judge decided to keep him [in jail], so this is a serious crime.
What he did was he sold Iranian oil through Turkey. And instead of sending U.S. dollars to Iran, Turkish banks sent gold to Iran, and Reza Zarrab acted as a middleman between Erdoğan and Iran. And as you remember, Erdoğan visited Iran at that time, and he said Iran was his second home. And there were reasons behind that, and the biggest reason was the share he and the government were getting from the Iranian oil-for-gold scheme.
So Turkish banks, which were involved in this scheme, and Turkish authorities and the members of the government who were involved in this scheme knew that they were going to pay for their crimes in the near future. And as soon as it was realized that a New York federal prosecutor was after the case, they had to do something about it. And [no matter what] they did about it, they could not save themselves.
Right now, the case is ongoing and most probably in January as the case starts, as far as I can read from the media, Reza Zarrab is going to talk about it, and this is going to become an international issue. And I think the people who got involved in this scheme basically are going to be [publicly recognized as] criminals. This also became a critical turning point for the Turkish government in distancing the West, especially with the United States and Turkey.
And of course, this was not enough. There are other problems. Beginning in 2011, Turkey has provided weapons to the opposition in Syria, but not only to the opposition, [they gave to] some terrorist organizations, as well. Namely, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. There are several [pieces of] evidence that leaked to the media about it.
The most famous one is the Adana highway truck stop incident where three trucks were stopped by the Adana prosecutor and the gendarmerie, holding weapons, explosives underneath medical cargo [heading] to Syria, where basically Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS fighters were fighting, which became a critical incident in Turkey.
And the journalist who [reported] about it in a newspaper, Can Dündar, and his editor were arrested [and held] for a long time. But that was not enough. Also, the police officers, the gendarmerie officers, the prosecutor, and the judge who signed the warrants for the search of that cargo were arrested. So basically, that case revealed to the whole world that Turkey as a government was providing arms to the terrorists. And this basically also forced Turkey to distance its relationships with NATO and the West a little bit further because the consequences of several similar cases are basically known and [foreseeable] in the future. I think a lot of authorities who got involved in these kinds of cases are scared of the International Criminal Court in The Hague or other problems that they are going to face in the future.
Another problem that we could foresee is the ISIS oil trade, and this is a very important factor that we are going to see in the near future, especially the recent RedHack release, which is a very new incident in Turkey. A leftist Marxist terrorist organization, a hacker group, hacked Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law’s emails. [That son-in-law] happens to be the Minister of Energy in Turkey, Berat Albayrak. And in those emails, we can read several emails that lead to concrete evidence that Erdoğan’s family, especially his son-in-law, who was the owner of the Powertrans company, and his son. Bilal Erdoğan, who is the owner of the BMZ shipping company, are basically the companies and people who were behind the ISIS oil trade.
When we studied their emails and what is going on behind the scenes in terms of how ISIS oil was sold, we realized that at [its height], ISIS was controlling 60 percent of Syrian oil and almost 20 percent of northern Iraqi oil, which accounts for around 80,000 barrels of oil a day. From the lowest price, roughly $40 dollars a barrel, ISIS made $3.2 million dollars a day with its oil dealings.
And after a shootdown of a Russian airplane, the Russians released several satellite images [showing] Turkish tankers carrying ISIS oil to Turkey and to northern Iraq. In fact, the Deputy Defense Minister of Russia released those pictures and gave numbers. He said in a day, over 8,500 trucks carried [up to 200,000 tons] oil to the ports and refineries of Turkey.
And there were three main routes, which [we can identify thanks to] the satellite images. We realize now with this email leak also Erdoğan’s family, in fact, was in charge of these ISIS oil dealings and they were making a lot of money. But at the same time, they were paying a lot of money to ISIS, and ISIS is famous with its generosity that they provide to their fighters.
They used to pay $500 a month to the regular, street fighters, so the lowest level of ISIS soldiers, fighters, were making $500 a month. If you would like to understand that amount, it is a lot more than a higher judge could make in Syria, maybe twice that. And on top of that, ISIS was paying for their food, for their lodging, and any other expenses, so that $500 a month was money that they could spare without any expenditures just for being an ISIS member. And several ISIS members, local members, became ISIS fighters because of that $500 dollars.
And also, ISIS purchased a lot of weapons and explosives with that money. So basically, we, the Turks, unfortunately were behind this scheme, and we were like the middleman of ISIS oil where ISIS was making a lot of money to support its terror all over the region, not only the region, but also in the United States, and in Europe, and other parts of the world. So this is another important problem. And especially now, after the email leaks, we can better understand that this is going to be a huge headache for Erdoğan in the near future.
Another headache Erdoğan had was his diploma. There were several discussions about his diploma, and he was never able to provide a copy of his college/university diploma, which is a constitutional requirement to become the president in Turkey. Especially just before the coup, on social media people were bragging about it. And they were constantly asking Erdoğan to provide a copy of his diploma.
And his people provided different copies of his diploma or his graduation documentation in which the numbers and dates did not match, or the signatures, like the deans and rectors, the president of his university, did not have the titles that the provided diplomas had. Basically, they were not, for example, full professor at the time of the signature. However, they signed as full professors whereas they were associate or assistant professors at the time of the signature, so it was very first realized that the diplomas were fake. In fact, they start to open cases about it. They applied to the courts to investigate it.
And lastly, Erdoğan really wanted to change the constitution. He really wanted to go after the presidency, that he would be the President of Turkey like the United States. So he wanted to change the system, the constitutional system, the parliament system in Turkey, but his support among the Turkish people was diminishing and the polls showed that if he went after the constitutional change, he would not get the full support that was required by the constitution to change the constitution, so it was an important problem for him.
So up until now, I talked about the circumstances before the coup, for the last maybe four years before the coup. Now, when we look at coup attempt, there are also a lot of things that we need to consider and think about critically as we look at it because they do not add up. There are several questions that need to be answered, which we cannot [answer] or they cannot answer. For example, the first issue is timing.
The coup attempt started at 10:00 PM, and everybody in Turkey, as a nation very experienced with coups, knows that a regular coup starts around 3:00 AM. In Turkey, at 10:00 PM everybody is up. The news agencies, TV stations are also up, so nobody can be successful unless they are very bloody or harsh on people in a coup, so a coup must be carried out while people are sleeping.
Several argued that the coup had to start too early because it was uncovered. Yes, it was unrecovered at 4:00 PM by the Turkish National Intelligence [agency]. In fact, the director of the Turkish National Intelligence [agency] went to visit the chief of staff at 4:00 PM. And now we realize that he did not leave the compound of the headquarters of the Turkish military of the chief of staff up until the coup was over. And yet, they did not inform anyone, including Erdoğan or the prime minister, of the coup attempt even though they knew. And more strangely, what they did was they just sat in their offices and did not do anything.
In fact, the commanders of the gendarmerie, the chief commander of the gendarmerie and the Air Force commander, were not aware of the intelligence that the Turkish National Intelligence brought into the headquarters to the chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, and they learned about the coup attempt at a wedding from a TV station. If you think about it, the chief of the Air Force in Istanbul, attending a wedding, not knowing about the coup attempt, and he learns about it at 10:00 PM at a wedding from a TV station. And all the while, the chief of staff learns about the coup attempt at 4:00 pm, so there are big problems here.
And they did not talk about it with the prime minister [or] with the president. In fact, the Prime Minister just after the coup attempt came out and said that when he learned about the coup from the TV stations, he tried to reach the chief of staff, but he could not reach him. And the chief of staff never bothered to call the prime minister or the president. So up until today, it has been over three months now, nobody is explaining or providing an explanation for this. And the chief of staff is not fired. He is still there, and he never talks about it, but as soon as I saw it or I read about it, and the more time passes, the more information leaks to the media.
You can understand that there were some kinds of dealings with those people, and we can better understand it as I go. Anyways, that coup attempt started at 10:00 PM, and as soon as I saw it on the TV station, on social media, I started questioning it without knowing anything about it because the way it was being carried us out was really strange. It never looked like a real coup.
Another important point for me was the communications. The coup makers did not really attempt to shut down the communications, the internet, the social media, especially the satellite systems, so all the TV stations were up. They were broadcasting live. There were only two attempts to go after two TV stations. One was the Turkish Radio TV, and another was CNN Turk, but they were like a joke.
For example, to CNN Turk they sent I guess eight or ten soldiers without the real command structure, so of course, the police and the people over there overpowered the soldiers, and it was an unsuccessful attempt to shut down the TV station, so there was a not a real plan to go after the communications. And in this century, if you are carrying out a coup, you need to shut down the communications, especially the social media, at least while you are carrying out the coup. With people communicating without any problems, without any interruption freely, it was very obvious that they would come around very fast through the social media to counter your attempt.
Another important clue was they did not attempt to arrest anyone from the government. The prime minister [and] the ministers were talking to the media freely and openly, and they were basically asking the people to [come to] the streets. In the past, all the government members were arrested at a certain time so that they could not communicate with each other, and also with the people, so this is another important critical question.
The F-16s were up in the air, and strangely, they were disturbing people. They bombed the parliament, which even till today nobody can understand why they bombed the parliament. In the past, the parliament was never an issue. And several people were arrested. It was bombed because they wanted to gather all of the people around Erdoğan to oppose the coup, so they needed the opposition to support Erdoğan, and it was one of the key elements that the coup makers planned, so that regular people would support their opposition, basically Erdoğan.
And to this day, we still do not know who were behind the parliament bombings and the reasons they bombed the Turkish Parliament. And when you look at [the situation] from [a] regular mentality, the coup makers really did not need to bomb the parliament. If they really needed to bomb somewhere, maybe the new Palace of Erdoğan [would have been a more attractive target for them] because everybody was talking about it, but they never bothered. They just dropped a few bombs to the gates. And the F-16s, and especially Turkish pilots, were really proud of their sharp targeting with their F-16s. And they used to say they could like hit a dime from the air with an F-16, so I do not know. There are like a lot of questions over there.
And another important factor, which came out very recently is there was a junta behind the coup, and we heard about this junta on the 16th. The coup was carried out on the 15th at 10:00 PM, and on the 16th around 12:16, on the Turkish Radio television, the statement of the junta was read by a spokesman. And the name of the junta was first revealed during that statement. However, we see a YouTube video uploaded to YouTube on the 15th. most probably maybe around 10:30 PM at night, but before the statement of the junta.
And in that statement, we see the leader of Workers Party, Doğu Perinçek, who was an ex-Maoist terrorist leader in Turkey and who has a lot of supporters inside the military. And I personally know about it because I was involved with a lot of operations against leftist territory organizations in Ankara and I once arrested this person and found a lot of top-secret documents in his office.
So he openly talks about the name of the junta, and blames the Americans, [accusing them of being] behind this junta, and asks the Turkish people not to obey the orders of the junta, so regular people learned the name of the junta on the 16th, but we see this guy talking about the junta on the 15th very openly. And in fact, they uploaded the video to YouTube, so right now we can see that video. So these are all the questions that I have in my mind about the coup attempt.
And whatever Erdoğan media or his supporters provided to counter these questions, none of them make any sense. And I made a presentation at the Congress about this, and I also addressed these issues and wrote about them, but apparently nobody countered or wrote anything about what I mentioned here.[During] the coup attempt, Erdoğan landed at Atatürk Airport that night. And while he was landing at Atatürk Airport, there were three F-16s over Istanbul and Atatürk Airport that supported, supposedly, the coup. Somehow, Erdoğan’s airplane landed, and he safely made it to the airport, but his supporters claim that Erdoğan’s pilots somehow deceived the tower, saying that it was just a regular passenger plane.
However, on the twitter accounts on the social media several people provided the coordinates of Erdoğan’s airplane, and it was very well known that his airplane was landing at Atatürk Airport. And it would be very naïve to think that the coup makers, like professional pilots and Air Force generals or officers, would not be able to trace his airplane. And even before that, if they really wanted to [forcibly] land Erdoğan’s small private jet, an F-16 would do that very easily while it was flying, so I do not buy that.
And somehow those three F-16s let his airplane land at Atatürk Airport, and everybody knew that at that point if he landed successfully, the coup was going to be over. And as we expected, the coup was over as he landed. And immediately after he landed, things started to change. What happened? We saw a list of 1,563 military officers immediately, like two or three hours after that morning. They were explained as the officers, military officers, who were behind the coup, who were the officers involved with coup.
And somehow in three hours after the coup, the police, while they were dealing with the coup attempt on the streets, countering the soldiers who were basically carrying out the coup attempt, the intelligence and counter-terrorism police on the street, dealing with those coup makers, had the time to investigate the coup attempt to figure out who got involved all over Turkey with this coup, made a list of 1,563 military officers, found out their addresses and where they were at that moment, made lists, got warrants about them, and distributed that list all over Turkey to 81 provinces.
And after two or three hours, they started to arrest those offices, including generals, high-level military officers. Incidentally, almost 90 percent of those officers, [those] 1,563 officers, were not involved with the coup. They were at their homes, or they were on vacation, so they were arrested at their homes or at the vacation places, mostly the military camps where they were taking their summer vacation.
And from my background, I carried out several counterterrorism operations. The most comfortable number a police chief would be carrying out a critical operation against a group of terrorists under normal circumstances is 25 because you need several support forces to support your people on the ground who are carrying out operations against the targets. It is not like it is one man’s job to arrest a critically important person.
At the same time, you need months to investigate about these people and their whereabouts, so if the circumstances are really critical, you can make it like 50. At worst you can go after 100 people at once, but it is impossible in three hours to figure out who was involved in that coup, make a list of even 1,563 offices with their addresses. In three hours, you cannot do that. It would require at least 2-3 months to make that list, to find out the whereabouts of those people, and to figure out who was really involved in the coup.
So, we can understand that that list was pre-arranged at least six months before the coup attempt, and the coup attempt gave an excuse to Erdoğan to go after those high-level military officers and arrest them, basically sideline them, because he knew that they would not allow him to carry out his illegal activities in the future, or they would oppose anything coming from him, illegally changing the constitution or the system of the Turkish Republic.
So when we look at the numbers, there are around 360 generals in the Turkish military. With this purge, initially, Erdoğan arrested over 150 of them. And now I think the numbers are around 200. And one of the most important generals of the United States military came out and said that all of the American counter parts of the Turkish military, generals, were arrested. Basically, there is no one left to communicate and to work with in the Turkish military that we used to work with together in the past, so this also gives us a clue.
The pro-NATO and pro-West part of the Turkish military was cleaned. Basically, the main opposition to wrong things [Erdoğan had planned for] the future was cleaned by this coup attempt. Over 10,000 military officers were arrested. Several thousand were purged and fired even if they were not arrested, and the only reason behind that [was that] on paper, they were the coup makers and coup supporters, but in reality, they would be opposition or Erdoğan would not be trusting them for his future.
And incidentally, Turkey became a very close buddy of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, all of a sudden. In fact, 10 days before the coup attempt, out of the blue the Prime Minister came out and said that Turkey must fix its relationships with Russia. But just before that, they were screaming in the media [that] if the Russian guests violate Turkish airspace again, they will shoot down their airplane again.
And the prime minister came out and said that he ordered to shootdown of the Russian airplane with a lot of pride, and they made that a national issue to get more nationalistic support. And after the coup attempt, the same prime minister came out and said that the coup makers were behind the shootdown of the Russian airplane, and they were really sorry about that. They arrested the pilots of the F-16s who shot down the Russian airplane.
It was a game to make the Turkish people suffer.
Basically, the coup makers were traitors and they caused problems between Russia and Turkey, so they were sorry about it, and they wanted peace with Russia. And of course, Russia accepted that, so we have a new buddy, and that was not enough. Three days ago, they signed a new pipeline deal, and that was not enough. Yesterday, they announced that Turkey is seeking ways to adapt Russian missile systems, defense missile systems that would protect Turkey.
The United States and NATO very harshly warned Turkey that any missile system to defend Turkish airspace would have to be workable with the NATO systems, and so it would have to be a NATO system that would work with the current NATO air missile defense systems. But first Turkey started to deal with China to get that system, and with the opposition coming from NATO, they halted that plan. But now the Russians intervene, and we are talking with the Russians to adapt theirs S-400s air defense missile system.
So we will see, but as far as I can see, the more time passes, the more we are distancing ourselves from the West and from NATO. And this was also very [visible] during the coup attempt because the Incirlik Air Base was immediately shut down. For two days, no flights were allowed from the Incirlik Air Base, and during those two days, the coalition air forces could not support the fight on the ground against ISIS. And ISIS proudly came out and said that they killed 500 SDF forces, basically the coalition forces against ISIS, because they lacked the air force. And they said that we pledge to Allah we will slaughter them all in a month if they lack the air support. And as far as I know from my dealings with the ISIS terrorists and ISIS fighters, they would do that because they are really well-trained, and they have experience coming from Afghanistan [and] other jihadi places. So I know how they fight, and it is not [meant to] discourage [anyone], but this is basically the war, and they are very good at face-to-face work, so if the coalition forces do not start to get out and fly against them there will be a lot more killings coming from ISIS.
And that was not enough. For 10 days, the power in Incirlik Air Base was cut, and the Erdoğan media, his supporters in the media, immediately came out and said that the Americans were behind the coup. In fact, they named generals, like ‘That general was behind this coup. The CIA provided $2 billion dollars. Obama directly ordered the coup,’ etc. And that was not enough. They said 10,000 ISIS members are being kept at the Incirlik Air Base, and there is going to be another coup attempt, so they must seal the Incirlik Air Base to prevent a second coup attempt.
So what happened? They sent municipal trucks to seal the gates of Incirlik Air Base and did not allow any movement in and out of Incirlik Air Base and [the] NATO Air Base. Of course, they were all lies, but who cares as long as you are writing about it, as long as the Turkish people cannot hear about the facts because the media is controlled, people start to believe in these things.
And last week a pro-AKP attorney filed a case against three generals and some other Americans who were deemed to be behind the coup attempt as the brains [behind the plot] in Turkish courts, saying that they are responsible for the coup, they are responsible for the people who were killed during the coup etc., so there is a pending case in the Turkish court system against those American generals.
Apart from this, immediately after the coup, the same day on the 16th, they started to fire prosecutors and judges. The first list consisted of 2,057 judges and prosecutors. And then we look at the list. [We know that] the list was prepared like almost two years ago because when you look at the places they are working, it coincided with the appointments of two years ago. In fact, in that list there was a judge who died 57 days before this was made public on the 16th or 17th, so we can understand that that list was also pre-arranged.
And another important factor that we need to consider is the fact that the junta behind the coup [is still unidentified]. We still do not know anything about it. To this day, it is almost four months now, we are not informed who were the members of the junta. We do not know one single name of the junta members, and nobody cares about it. If there is a junta behind the coup, the first thing you do is name the members of the junta, but we do not know the members of the junta.
Then they would get the physical evidence of this coup. What do we have as physical evidence? We have one-dollar bills as physical evidence. They claim that the military members and the civilian supporters of coup communicated through one-dollar bills’ serial numbers. Do not laugh! Several people are in prison because they had one-dollar bills in their possession, in their pockets [or] in their backpacks.
In fact, the lieutenant general of the southern command post in Diyarbakır was arrested in Diyarbakır because he had two one-dollar bills in his wallet, but at the same time he had a $100 dollar bill and two five-dollar bills, so he had $107 in his pocket. And he had just came back from the West. And he basically said I was not involved in the coup, I was against it, I did not let my personnel get involved in the coup, and I just recently came from an international post. And of course, I need dollars to spend, but they did not listen. Most probably they thought that he was going to be in opposition, so he needed to be arrested. They had the cause in his wallet, and they arrested him.
And another [piece of] evidence that they are trying to bring in is WhatsApp communications. They claim that the coup makers at that night, basically the soldiers, communicated through WhatsApp. And then they claim that people who supported the coup communicated through a special app named ByLock, and now they are arresting people who downloaded ByLock, basically a private communication application. But of course, these are not real [pieces of] evidence [for the existence of a] coup [or for the culpability of the accused coup plotters].
Another important and very funny story about Erdoğan’s departure from Marmaris that night [is that] he claimed that the coup makers missed him by 10 minutes. The south commandos arrived at the scene 15 minutes late. And in fact, according to the news and the papers, the south commandos came after Erdoğan to arrest him, [but they] did not know where he was and the address [he was staying at, so] they asked people on the streets where his hotel was. So can you think of a special force, arriving late and not knowing his target’s address? That would never happen in the world.
Like I carried our several operations, and I know those special forces. They are a lot more professional than us in terms of operational capacities. [If] a special force is deployed to an operation, they will be successful in that operation, I have no doubt, especially if that operation is against a civilian target.
Also, another important factor. There is this [Major] General named Mehmet Dişli. Immediately after the coup attempt, he was thought to be one of the perpetrators of the coup attempt. Why this general is important is because he is the brother of Şaban Dişli, deputy general director of the AKP, Erdoğan’s party, so the AKP’s deputy general’s brother is being charged as one of the generals who perpetrated the coup. And in fact, the chief of staff came out and said that General Mehmet Dişli pointed a gun at him that night to force him to sign a statement.
Now, if I am a coup maker and if I believe [I am going to be] successful if I carry out a coup, there are no other chances. If I am not successful, I know that I am going to be in prison for my life, so I have to be successful, right? According to this story, the coup makers forced the chief of staff to sign a statement. If I am carrying out a coup, who cares about the statement and who cares about the signature. Any signature after the coup attempt would not save me.
But based on this story, Mehmet Dişli forced General [Hulusi] Akar to sign a statement by pointing his gun, and he was the one who arrested, supposedly, General Akar, but on the 15th night, during the coup attempt, we see General Akar, coming out to a military helicopter with General Dişli from Akinci base where General Akar was being kept as a captive after his arrest after 10:00 PM that night. And then on the 16th, the morning after the coup attempt, we see again General Dişli arriving with General Akar to the prime ministry.
So basically, as a person of wisdom, regular wisdom, I asked myself and to those generals if this general, Mehmet Dişli, was the person who pointed the gun at your head to sign the statement, why in the hell did you come out of the Akinci air base where you were arrested with this person in the same helicopter? And then the other morning, why did you go to the prime ministry, again with this general, after the coup was [foiled] several hours [earlier]. If indeed he was the person who forced you to sign the statement, why are you with him? So this is my biggest question.
And the biggest problem is this person is the brother of the AKP’s deputy general director. Nobody explained it. First, they said that Mehmet Dişli was arrested afterward, but we do not know if he was really arrested or not, and nobody knows where he is, so this is still an important question. I think I need to stop here and then take your questions.
You did touch on this a little bit, but if you would explain a little bit more, it was during the time that you were with the national police that the policy of the Turkish government was to allow jihadis and weapons to use Turkish territory as a transit to Syrian battlefields. Why did they have that policy and what made them change it more recently?
Let me reply to the second question. I do not think it is that policy has been changed to this day. This has not been made public, but a friend of mine from Şanlıurfa when I was speaking to him after the coup attempt, he told me he saw over maybe two hundred trucks being sent to Syria through the borders on the coup night.
And I do not think that ISIS logistical support has been halted in Turkey. They are still active in Turkey, ISIS especially, [but also] Jabhat al-Nusra, running large operations inside Turkey still today to support their activities in Syria, so it is an ongoing operation. Anything from the food supplies to their uniforms, to weapons, to explosives, to chemicals they need for their IEDs, the cables, the igniters, the rocket heads are being provided from Turkey.
If you look at the factories in Gaziantep, in Kayseri, in Konya, there are factories producing rock heads for ISIS. And they are all being arranged by ISIS members inside Turkey, so it has not halted. It is an ongoing operation, and still you can see those logistical support materials and other military equipment being sent to Syria, to the borders.[As for] first question, it was a policy that I was against, but we could not do anything because the governments and the central government very harshly pressured about it, and it was not only the jihadi terrorists. If you can remember, there was also a peace process with the PKK, so the government also pressured the police and the judiciary not to carry out operations against the PKK.
Well, our logic was this; yes, we are doing the peace process, we are open to communication with everybody, but we still cannot allow the armed wings of the terrorist organizations to operate even during the peace process. It does not matter. If they are still running their operations on the ground, we would not allow them. However, this was not the understanding, and several police chiefs and prosecutors were fired because they attempted to carry out operations, so this was the central government’s policy, especially when it comes to the jihadi terrorists.
They were untouchable and still they are untouchable today. Halis Bayancuk is the leader of ISIS terrorist network in Turkey. He was several times arrested and he was several times freed. In fact, he was provided 24/7 security by the Erdoğan government, and he openly preaches about ISIS. Yesterday, I wrote an article to the Huffington Post [about Halis Bayancuk].
His YouTube videos are still available today. If you search his name on Google, you can see he openly preaches about ISIS, and he says if you are a Muslim, you must support ISIS. Otherwise, you are not a Muslim. He has several YouTube accounts, Twitter accounts, Instagram accounts on social media, supporting ISIS, but beyond that he is also supporting ISIS movements and ISIS logistical support. The last time he was arrested was because he was helping or facilitating a French family’s passage to Syria that was going to join to ISIS. But [he along] with another 96 ISIS suspects were abruptly released in March, I guess, of this year.
In 1918, Britain took Mosul from Turkey. Now we have Turkish troops controlling northern Iraq with the explicit disapproval of the Iraqi government. Ostensibly, they are fighting ISIS. What are Turkey’s intentions in Iraq?
To this day, I really could not understand what our intentions are over there. In the past, we always thought that we were there against the PKK, but it does not make any sense because the PKK is very close to the Turkish borders, and we know where they live. And if they really want to go after the PKK, they can carry out operations against PKK, but they are not carrying out operations against the PKK. They are just there in that base, Bashiqa, and the United States and the Iraqi government made it very clear that they do not want them over there. And I do not see any reason why Turkey is resisting this. But even today it was on the news that they are not going to pull out, so we will see, but I cannot explain it because I do not know, and I cannot understand.
Listening to this talk, I hear two rival explanations of what is going on. Maybe they are complementary. One is that it is a corrupt personal dictatorship, which is shutting down the opposition, but will probably continue winning elections, but it is basically corruption in personal interest. That is one possible explanation that much of what you said would support, but another explanation is that it is an ideological dictatorship. It has an affinity for ISIS even if it has some competition with it. It is an Islamist regime with an AKP party that is not just an election party but a movement, ideological party, and this would be more like a totalitarian system, which gets legitimation through elections. And I wondered which or both of those are you leading to?
This is a really nice question, actually, maybe the conclusion of this talk. I think both of the [descriptions] are true. I think it is a mixture. And the reason I list a lot of those corruption schemes is because Erdoğan knows that if he does not have protection through a constitutional system and maybe through Russia, his future is not bright. It is very dark because of all the corruption and problems with supporting other terrorist organizations I listed.
And I truly believe that Erdoğan is carrying out his own agenda to save himself and his family, but at the same time while doing it, he is using this Islamist approach towards the public as a front to gather public support. If you look at his close circles and their lifestyles, it is not Islamist. It is not Islamic other than the headscarf, mostly you do not see anything related with Islam. Their lifestyles, what they are doing behind the scenes, do not have anything to do with the religion of Islam. They are doing just the opposite of what the Prophet Muhammad taught to Muslims. Prophet Muhammad himself lived in a one room by his masjid, by his prayer ground.[Meanwhile, Erdoğan] is living in a palace, which has over maybe 1500 rooms, and nobody knows what he is going to do with those rooms, so what he is doing is he is using the religion of Islam and the Islamist ideas as a political tool to gather support from the Turkish public very wisely to support his future reign, to change the constitution. And right now, they are talking about the constitutional change in Turkey today again, so they are going to change the constitution very soon. And he will be most probably our indefinite president with immunity till death, and maybe his family as well, but his biggest concern is saving himself.
On the day of 17 December 2013, there was over $1 billion dollars in cash in his home in Istanbul, and his son, Bilal Erdoğan, and his daughter, Sümeyye Erdoğan, struggled to hide that cash, but they could not find places. Basically, they were out of places because they needed like trucks to carry out that cash. It was that much hard cash, and eventually they could not hide €27 million euro apart from the billion dollars they had. With that €27 million euro, they purchased seven or eight villas from Istanbul. And of course, they all denied that, but eventually the receipts came out.
So where Turkey is going is a political Islamist republic just like Iranian Islamist republic, which happened in 1979. We will have a political Islamist Turkish republic with some taste from Wahhabism, coming from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and some tastes from Iran because when we look at [what happened in the aftermath of the coup attempt], the Saudi king came out and openly said that he pledges $500 billion dollars, even though he is suffering, in the next five years to Turkey to support the Turkish economy.
And immediately after the coup, when we look at what was happening, we saw rulings of Wahhabi Islam that did not exist in the past in Turkey, like the denying of burial and funeral services, religious funeral services, to the people who were involved in the coup. According to Sunni Islam, anyone who claims that he is a Muslim cannot be denied any funeral or religious services. Just like ISIS, they said if you are against us, if you are involved with the coup, your life is ours, your family, your woman is ours, and your possessions are ours.
So what happened? There were around 3,500 judges and prosecutors who were fired after the coup. They confiscated all their belongings, their houses, their cars, whatever they had they took away, all the belongings of those judges and prosecutors in one village. If the judges and prosecutors were husbands and wives, they also confiscated their children. They said your children cannot go to your families, like grandfathers, uncles cannot take them. They are sent to social services.
These [tactics] are very new to the Turkish public, and these are coming from Salafist Islamist ideology, but at the same time we are getting some stuff from Iranian Shia understanding, so what I see is we are going to have a political Islamist, new Turkish republic after this constitutional change. Basically, [we will have] a new Turkish republic which is politically Islamist.
I wonder if I can ask you to comment a little bit on the United States. So obviously, Turkey has pivoted away from the United States. Do you think this would have happened regardless or do you think that there are things the United States could have done differently to prevent this?
I think this is happening because the Erdoğan regime is trying to save themselves and their future, and they know that the West is not a reliable partner because when it comes to justice, they are not going to honor and support their injustices and corruption, especially in the future, so they need someone like Putin who will support them in the future regardless of what they do, just like what is happening in Syria. Putin is supporting Bashar Assad even though both Putin and Bashar Assad killed thousands of people, and even though he knows that he is a criminal, so I think this is the biggest reason.
And I think the United States might have failed to see the level of corruption or the level of flip-flopping that the Turkish government would carry out to save themselves, so this might be the answer to your question.
This is fascinating. It is very confusing. What is the relationship between the PKK and Iran? What is the relationship between Turkey and Iran? So we have a situation where we established very clearly that Turkey has played a dual role with ISIS in Syria, and it is fascinating to hear about the warm, cooperative relationship that Erdoğan has with Iran, apparently. But I ask you, who is supporting the PKK because we also hear that there seems to be some support for PKK from Iran, and so can you speak to that? Is that true? And also tell us about this new mélange of Islamism that has characteristics of Shia Islam as well as Salafist Islam. Is that true?
Yes, I think our mistakes started with the peace process. With the beginning of the peace process, our leaders started to praise Abdullah Öcalan. Abdullah Öcalan is the leader of the PKK. And very abruptly, like at the highest level of the AKP administration, like the Deputy Prime Ministers and several other members like ministers, [competed] with each other to praise Abdullah Öcalan, which was very disturbing.
When we speak about the peace process, what we need to understand is, or what must be taken was, you know, extending the hand of the government to the regional people who did not get really involved with violence and to stop the violence. Instead, what we did through the peace process was let the PKK establish itself [so it has become] more powerful than ever. The Turkish intelligence [agency] let the PKK bring in a lot of explosives and weapons, so when the peace process was over in 2014, after Erdoğan lost elections, the PKK was more powerful than ever.
Meanwhile, the Iranians fought with the PKK. Their Iranian branch was named PEJAK, and they, [the Iranians], basically overpowered the PEJAK, and they almost killed all the PEJAK members or sent them away. In fact, it was thought that one of the senior members of the PKK, leadership of the PKK, Murat Karayılan, was caught by the Iranian military, and they had secret dealings with the PKK, and then he was released. I do not know about it, if it was true or not, but it was on the news. But what I know [is] after that point, the PEJAK died, the PKK did not fight against Iran, and we do not hear about the PEJAK.
But the PKK in Turkey became stronger, so much stronger that in 2015 when the riots began, the Turkish police and the Turkish military could not counter the PKK in the south. For example, in Diyarbakır there is a town called Lice. Lice is a historic place. The population of Lice is one hundred thousand. The police were not successful enough to counter PKK terrorism. They brought in the military. The military was not enough. They brought in Special Forces, and they could not deal with it because of the way the cities were set up, historic cities, [so] they demolished the whole city.
And it was the same all over Turkey in the south. Several cities were demolished completely. If you look at those cities, you will think that it was Syria, but it was in Turkey. And why? Because all the experienced counter-terrorism officers, military officers, police officers were fired by Erdoğan. There were not any officers left with ample experience in the background to deal with terrorism. But at the same time, the PKK during the peace process brought in a lot of explosives, so the military and police officers, the police, could not counter that, so I think it was a mistake of the Turkish government to let the PKK to empower itself during the peace process.
Robert R. Reilly:
Okay, we want to leave time for Dr. Yayla to sign books and not to keep you past midnight, so maybe he can answer some questions in the other room if you would like to stay. And I would like to thank him. And I hope that you will be back on November 2nd for the next talk. Thank you.