Jørgen Lorentzen is a a well-known director, author, and scholar from Norway. But what makes him so interesting especially for the Turkish audience as well as researchers about military coups is his documentary, ‘A Gift from God,’ a phrase that Erdogan used right after the coup attempt in July 16, giving him the chance to re-shape the country, and purge the country’s elite, critics and opponents.
In this interview, Lorentzen explains how the idea to make a documentary about a coup attempt in Turkey came to his mind. Since he is married to a Turkish lady, he is already an insider. He follows Turkish politics for years as a journalist and a scholar. But this simply is not enough to decide to make a documentary about coup attempt in Turkey. A journalist needs a driving force which triggers his enthusiasm to investigate a subject, to make an in-depth research and ask questions that others don’t. Since he was in Turkey for a vacation during the coup, he witnessed a lot of weird and strange things about the coup which did not match the coups that he already knew from the past.
‘It was all very chaotic. And the Turkish people I have been spoken to afterward, they also experienced it as very chaotic, and they really did not understand what was really happening here. And then late in the evening, from 12:30 on, only one person we saw on television, Erdogan. You know, Facetime, he was the one speaking and talking about he knew the coup plotters were. So, you know from that on, things started to calm down in a sense we started to understand that nothing more will really happen. Even though we followed the developments a couple of hours and one of the guys, because a lot of people were gathered, their families and friends, and one of the older members of the family said that “I experienced several coups in Turkey, this is not a coup.” he said. You know and then of course then my brain started working and seeing that there is something really strange happening here.’
As a foreign investigative journalist and scholar, Lorentzen starts to ask questions and try to find out the answers. ‘A Gift from God’ doesn’t claim a full answer or a conclusion to these questions but absolutely a very strong attempt to shed light on to it.
Here is my full interview with Jorgen Lorentzen.
I know you with your documentary “A Gift from God”. So first, I want to ask you, how the idea to make a documentary about a military coup attempt in Turkey came to your mind. Were you following the news in Turkey? Were you interested in Turkish politics? How did it come to your mind to make a documentary about a military coup in Turkey?
I think we have to start a little bit from the beginning because I am married to a Turkish woman and that means that Turkey is my second country. I have been to Turkey before and I have been to Turkey for 20 years, been living there partly with our kids and have a close relationship to the country, to the people, to the culture, to the wonderful food. So I know the place very well. This summer, we went, as many summers before, for holiday in Turkey.
So, were you in Turkey in that summer, in 2016?
We were there, yes.
So you saw the coup?
We were there but we really did not see it because we were not either in Ankara city downtown or Istanbul downtown, but we experienced it not far from outside of Istanbul in our summer house there. And it was immediately a call we got from one of our family members saying something strange is happening in Ankara. You know, jets are flying low, low flyovers in the city. We turned on the television and started following the development of this coup attempt from minute to minute from the evening.
So, you were familiar with the Turkish politics. You are definitely aware of the previous coups in Turkey. 1980, 1996 and the previous ones. So, I understand that you know about the Turkish culture and politics but how did you decide to make a documentary about a military coup attempt in Turkey? Why was it interesting for you? Why was it newsworthy for you to make a documentary about it?
I’ve been working as a journalist for many years. I have been, in the last part, I have been in the university as a professor and working there and as a researcher. I’ve been writing about Turkish politics for Norwegian papers, interviewing authors and activists from Turkey. So, I knew a lot about the Turkish politics and the Turkish situation. And the thing is that as many of the people in Turkey outside of Turkey, they have heard of the rumors of a coup attempt, you know because that has been in the papers for the last six months before July 2016. So, you know everybody perhaps expected something to happen and then suddenly something happened. So, we followed it closely, switched between the channels to understand what is really happening. Because we didn’t see any coup plotters, you know usually when you have a coup, then you take over the media, take over the leaders of the country and then you go out with a message.
Can we repeat that part, Jorgen, you said that you didn’t see the coup plotters?
What does it mean?
We didn’t see, when we switched between the televisions, different channels, we didn’t see on the channels anybody sort of taking responsibility for what was happening.
It was all very chaotic. And the Turkish people I have been spoken to afterward, they also experienced it as very chaotic, and they really did not understand what is really happening here. And then late in the evening, from 12:30 on, only one person we saw on television, Erdogan. You know, Facetime, he was the one speaking and talking about he knew the coup plotters were. So, you know from that on, things started to calm down in a sense we started to understand that nothing more will really happen. Even though we followed the developments a couple of hours and one of the guys, because a lot of people were gathered, their families and friends, and one of the older members of the family said that “I experienced several coups in Turkey, this is not a coup.” he said. You know and then of course then my brain started working and seeing that there is something really strange happening here.
Can you tell us what was that strange thing in that military coup attempt? Why was it different than the other established military coup attempts in Turkey or in different parts of the world that we have seen that we have read before. What was the strange thing with that coup attempt?
First of all, you could say, if you look at for example to very well-known coups like the coup in 1980 in Turkey, or the coup in Chile in 1973, which has been broadcasted, we can see a lot of films about them, documentaries about these two. Coups you can see that enormous amount of military out in streets. It’s immediately a lockdown. It’s immediately a takeover of the main the president, prime minister, the leaders of the country. And it is a total control immediately. Here, it was very few soldiers in the streets. And it seemed like when we saw from the bridge, we saw from the airport, it looked like they did not know what they were really doing. We could see it sometimes, we could see close up in the faces that they were disturbed, they were nervous. They didn’t really know what is happening here, you know. And then different type of messages was coming. So, everything was very confusing. And it didn’t look like a real coup from authoritarian regimes.
Right, so, Jorgen, if it is not a real coup, what was it? Are you suggesting that it might be a false flag coup attempt?
You know first of all because something was strange on this level, then you start, as a journalist, asking questions. That is the most important part for me to do that asking questions.
What kind of questions did you ask?
First, I started to find people and ask them what they thought about this. The thing is very also strange that no one really wanted to talk. Very few had any ideas. We saw thousands of thousands of people were fired from schools, universities, nurseries, hospitals, that for sure we knew it, had nothing with a coup to do. Of course, if you are s nurse working in a hospital mid Turkey, you don’t know anything about a that attempt in a military.
So then, of course you understand that there is something going on here which is not really… It is related to the coup attempt because it’s a cleansing of the Gulenist in the system. But not only the Gulenist, after a while they also took Marxists, Kurdish people, all the critical persons that was, like they closed down Cumhuriyet very early. Started a case against Cumhuriyet and they started new cases, so since 2016, you know they have taken, imprisoned anybody that is critical to the regime.
So, you started to ask critical questions about the coup attempt, and then did you go to Turkey to interview people. How long did you stay there, and how long did it take (to prepare the documentary)?
Then in the beginning it was very hard to find anybody that wanted to speak. Anybody that knew anything because the people I spoke, they knew very little, and they were also very confused.
And then of course Erdogan gave out these booklets of “proofs” sort of. And as a journalist, you can easily read that and I spoke to a lot of national journalists and you can see that this is full of, not very valuable truth of what really happened. So, of course you can understand that I’ve felt that there is something strange going on here but then I worked for the documentary for 3 years.
It took 3 years?
Yeah. Because the first year, I almost got no information, no material, no documents. And then people started leaving Turkey. Some high officers started leaving Turkey, coming to Norway, coming to other countries in Europe. And then I was able to speak with top officers in the military that experienced it.
What did they tell you?
And then they started to tell me, I mean some of them are in the film. That was a part of the army, a part of the navy, top officers in the navy and NATO officers. And they started telling me what they tell in the film that there is something strange here and they cannot understand it and they don’t believe that it was a coup attempt in a way that Erdogan talking about it. Something else is behind here. But the thing is that, and I have to say this honestly as a journalist and as a researcher, filmmaker, that still I really don’t know. I cannot say for 100% sure that these people are behind, these people are behind, or this happened because type of lost document is still missing.
I see, so you didn’t make your final conclusion yet.
That’s right. You can see that also in the documentary that I am not making a final conclusion. I am just putting forward material and saying there is another truth there than Erdogan is telling.
Okay. So, what is your impression in European countries, in western countries? Do you think that they bought that argument that it was Gulen Movement behind that coup attempt? Do you think that the Europeans or the western countries bought this argument or claim?
I’ve spoken with different intelligence services in Norway, Germany, EU, and all of them say that they don’t believe that Fethullah Gulen was behind the coup. But that doesn’t mean that I think that perhaps it can be a local or lower-level officers plotting it together and that can be Gulenists in that plot together with the Kemalist and others. So, they cannot sort of rule out all kinds of Gulen related people. Because we don’t yet know who is really behind the coup attempt.
So, what do you think about the responsibility of the Director of the Turkish Intelligence, and the Commander in Chief of the time, Hulusi Akar, because right after the coup attempt, they became the confidant of President Erdogan. They started to establish the country altogether. So, they took over the entire country altogether. So, what did you learn about their potential or alleged responsibility in that plot?
Of course, what I am saying in the documentary, and I am quite sure on that also is that both Erdogan, Hulusi Akar, and Hakan Fidan, they knew about any kind of coup attempt or coup plot ideas long before 15 of July 2016. At least one week before. And we can also see because I followed the movements of Hulusi Akar and Hakan Fidan minute by minute 14th and 15th of July. And you can see very clearly that their movements, they are aware of what’s happening and that something has happened. And then you can ask so what are their part in it? How do they move, why do they move like they do? What do they think? What do they plan? Why don’t they act? Why don’t they say that it is forbidden to fly over any place in Turkey, if they are afraid of coup attempt is coming, a coup plot is coming? So, they can do a lot of things before 15th of July, but they didn’t do it. And what is very spooky we can say is that when Erdogan ordered investigation in a month after the coup attempt, he closed the investigation in three months. You know, and in that investigation, neither Hulusi Akar or Hakan Fidan is being interviewed or asked to witness about their doings, their knowledge.
They refused to answer the questions of the the investigators, and they didn’t go to the courts, because lawyers were asking them to come to the courts to give their testimonies. Did you see that scene that General Hulusi Akar was not taken to the Akincilar Air Base forcibly? So, you see that he is going there with the other officers very confidently. So, they say that Hulusi Akar was actually the leader of the coup. But then, he just pretended that he was forced to go to Akincilar Air Base as a hostage. Did you see that part when he was going to Akincilar Air Base? What do you think about that?
Yes, I saw it, and it doesn’t fit with what he is saying afterwards he was forced to go there and witnesses saying that he was never forced to do anything, and he was by free will there to come and to go and do what he wanted to do, so no one pressured him to do anything. And of course, when he says that afterward that he was taken and forced to do it, it doesn’t fit with the videos we can see from the scenery. So, it would be interesting. I would very much love to interview Hulusi Akar about his doings those days.
So, are you following the most recent developments in Turkey? You know the corruption, so there is a, that Sedat Peker, the leader of organized crime group. So, he made a lot of of revelations about Erdogan and his close circles. He is right now in, located in United Arab Emirates. And there is another businessman, Baran, Sezgin Baran Korkmaz. He was arrested in Austria last week. And now he is requested by the United States government. So, what do you think about these allegations and how are these allegations perceived in Europe?
You know I follow the Turkish politics for a long time. I monitored a lot of court cases in Caglayan, you know. And I know how it works. It is not very truthful what’s happening in court, in the judiciary, in Turkey, and it’s been weakened year by year since 2016. And, when you think about Sedat Peker, it is very interesting because, of course he was very close to, we all know that he was very close to Erdogan in the past. And we are listening closely what he is saying. And a lot of the things he is saying, it fits very well into the knowledge we already have. Like for example, Cumhuriyet and Can Dündar, they already wrote about the MIT trucks bringing weapons to Syria and Al-Nusra. And now he is confirming this that this really happened. And he is also confirming other cases with a killing of one of the girls… And yes, a lot of the things he is saying fits very well into what we have already been thinking happening. So, I am looking forward to what he will reveal in the future also. And after the coup, I also went to the US and followed the Reza case in the US court.
Yes and it was also very interesting even though he didn’t say very much about Erdogan and his relationship to Erdogan but he confirmed the corruption, he confirmed the deals with Iran and the oil trade, and how it all happened, and he confirmed very much about Erdogan and his family’s taking out a lot of money from the Turkish state and the Turkish people. So, we know so much about what Erdogan is doing and all the European countries they know everything about. For example, CIA, they have a lot of materials on what’s happening in Turkey and what Erdogan is doing. But so far, they are keeping quiet.
You mean the CIA or European Union?
The European Union, CIA is keeping quiet. I tried to ask CIA to reveal some material. I haven’t got anything out of it yet.
Why are they keeping quiet?
I think this is an agreement now among the European countries, among the NATO members to keep quiet, to keep Turkey as a member of the NATO alliance.
I see, so they are tolerating Erdogan and his all crimes for their own interests.
Yes. I am sad to say it but I think so.
So, in that case, the Turkish people are paying the bill because European Union and United States are tolerating Erdogan and his crimes.
Yes, because you have to also know the strategic position of Turkey from a European and western point of view. They cannot, they are thinking they cannot lose Turkey to an eastern alliance, to Russia, so that’s a weakening, very strong weakening of the western situation. And it’s a very strong military build-up also in Turkey.
Did you notice that Sedat Peker stopped making videos? He stopped his videos a day before the NATO summit.
He is in United Arab Emirates and I think that United States is the only country which can tell United Arab Emirates to keep him quiet, to keep Sedat Peker quiet. Would you agree with that argument?
Yeah, I think he is a little bit on the run. He has to be careful of course. I think Erdogan’s long arms stretching a lot to different corners of the world, wants to get a hold of him. So, he has to be very careful about his movements. And perhaps he is also trying to make a deal with US. You know to escape to US. Because from Emirates, he can go safely to US if he wants that.
Right, so you believe that he may want to go to United States.
It can be a possibility you know, because that has happened with others.
Did you hear anything about that possibility?
I haven’t checked it out, but he has to search for a safe haven for himself. And he has a lot of knowledge. Of course, the US is interested in his knowledge.
If I would make that headline; “Western intelligence services know everything about Erdogan but keep quiet.” Would that be okay?
It is a strong headline, but I think it is the case.
It’s the case, right?
Yes. It is the case.