First a little background for those who are not familiar with journalism landscape in Turkey. Can Dundar and Erk Acarer recently coproduced a documentary about the 15 July 2016 coup attempt for the German TV ZDF. They are both prominent Turkish journalists. Especially Can Dundar is considered as a giant in his own in his field mostly gained through well researched documentaries. He was the target of President Erdogan for his coverage of illegal transportation of guns by the Turkish Intelligence Agency to Syria and this reporting was introduced as the second coup attempt against Erdogan, the first attempt being the never-before-seen corruption operations of 2013 against him and his inner circle. In other words, Dundar is also a coup plotter according to the Turkish government. He was declared an enemy of the state and sometimes a member of the so-called “FETO”, Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation, the term the Turkish government uses to call the Gulen movement. He is a journalist in exile since then and his wife Dilek Dundar could join him recently because she was banned from leaving Turkey. Finally, she had to cross the border illegally.
As you can understand from the introduction, I will talk about this documentary of Can Dundar and Erk Acarer on the failed coup plot of 15 July 2016. The documentary is called “The Bridge”, referring to the ‘Bosporus bridge’ connecting the European and the Asian sides of Istanbul and became famous relating to the coup event because of images of confronting a handful army troops with a throve of civilians and in later violent mobs beating, killing young cadets. Unfortunately, this documentary is fall of logical and factual errors and falls well short of the standards Dundar set for himself over the years as a good documentary maker. In my opinion, it doesn’t even meet many of the basic international journalistic norms.
There are only two interviewees who are directly involved or effected by the events: Fadime Yeltepe, sister of the Army Private Burak Dinler who was murdered on the bridge, and Eyup, an ordinary citizen to resist soldiers on the bridge responding to now famous face time call from Erdogan on national TV which asked the citizens to flood the streets and confront the putschists. Fadime seems to represent sorrow while Eyup the resistance of the people. As interesting as these individuals are, they can in no way help us understand the cause-and-effect relations of the event and this begs the obvious question: couldn’t Dundar find any other people to interview? Let’s not forget thousands of those people live now in Germany as refugees. Dundar also interviews actually two more individuals, this time Germans. German Ambassador to Turkey and Der Spiegel’s representative in Turkey. They offer valuable perspectives albeit limited. One must ask why Dundar wouldn’t do a more thorough job and interview a wider audience, beginning with the Norwegian journalist Jörgen Lorentzen. Lorentzen, who was in Turkey during the coup attempt, shot an objective documentary on the same subject. In his documentary, he also included Erdogan’s Maoist ally Dogu Perinçek leader of the Vatan (Motherland) Party as well as Ahmet Şık former journalist and independent MP who is a harsh critic of the current regime. But according to Dundar, all documentaries of 15 July are biased including the one made by Jörgen Lorentzen. If he says so then who are we to judge his judgement, right?
The ambassador can read event from a strategic perspective and shed light on events. But he does not do it in this documentary and honestly, we cannot expect it from him, because he represents the German state. He ends up sharing his own experiences and feelings about that night, like any ordinary citizen. The German journalist is expected to guide us to understand what was happened, by investigating the events and interpreting what witnesses said. But it is clear that he does not know more about the coup attempt than the producer of the documentary. Dundar claims that he included two German figures to help the German audience understand the coup attempt better. Understandable logic at its face but the result is nothing more than shallow and vague impressions about the events which fails to give the intended insight for the German audience. I think this is pathetic for such an experienced journalist which comes across as a cheap shot at perception management which he successfully achieves by this one-sided story.
Can Dündar says in the trailer of the documentary that they approached families of some civilians killed by soldiers that night for an interview but all of them refused. Does he really expect us to believe that no family of the victims would want to talk to him, while there are tens of people who have been enormously active on the social media trying to attract attention of the media? It is clear that they sought interviewees at choice. But they would not do an extra contribution to a documentary claiming to drop everything into place. He should and could have handed the microphone to witnesses, like:
– Soldiers in exile just like Can Dundar. There are different groups.
Some were serving abroad and called back to Turkey. They answered the call, returned home and despite their lifelong services to their country jailed even though they had nothing to do with the coup. Many of them crossed borders of their homeland illegally after their release, just like Can Dundar’s wife Dilek did and now live in Germany.
Some other soldiers in exile, who received text messages from the general staff about the coup attempt when they were abroad.
He could also find soldiers who resisted the coup attempt and remained loyal to the government.
Soldiers that got drawn in the incidents on the night of the coup attempt.
Soldiers that were discharged.
– More than 4,500 judges and prosecutors, who were expelled, even before soldiers. Again, thousands of them are now in Europe.
– Lawyers that were arrested for defending soldiers charged with the coup attempt. They have full knowledge of court files and processes.
– Military cadets that were in the streets that night, many of whom are abroad very easy to reach, very active on social media.
– Families of military cadets that were tried to be killed by setting their bus on fire that night. They are punished with life sentences which is the heaviest penalty in Turkey. Or families of young men that were slaughtered on the bridge. Again, many of them very active on social media, easy to reach.
– Journalist Ahmet Nesin, who examined the coup attempt and broadcasted thousands of hours of videos, who invited Can Dundar to his youtube channel to speak this very subject.
– And many more. He could reach them in Turkey or abroad. But he didn’t do this. For some reason, he chooses dead people or other individuals who cannot contribute to shedding light on events that are kept in dark.
Because of this and many other blunt shortcomings that I will later address, this documentary is met with a considerable backlash by a wide range of audience, including myself and my fellow officers, but not from the regime controlled Turkish media. Instead, Turkish media chose to attack those who criticize this documentary and unfortunately Can Dundar chose to align with them, retweeting posts like “FETO’ists at large targeted Can Dundar” which referred to soldiers like me as FETO’ists. But he should know that he would draw reaction by portraying all jailed or exiled soldiers as coup plotters or Gulenists. He proves to be no different than Erdogan who also tags anyone criticizing him as a traitor, coup plotter, or terrorist.
Now, let’s go on with factual errors.
Let me make one thing clear. I will not write about the fight between the Gulen Movement and Erdogan, which Dundar puts at the center of everything, because I want to address other issues. But here is what I think about the issue: Erdogan and Gulen were indeed allies before, they broke up and a power struggle started. This is an important dynamic but there is a third actor that the documentary failed to mention, who is at least as much important. Those who were involved in the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) cases which were filed against some commanders and civilians for attempting coup. They are an essential part of this story. Those accused of coup attempts against the Erdogan government in 2003 were first tried, given prison sentences but later released and they played the main role in the massive purge following the 15 July and in the July 15 events. The film is full of factual and logical errors that is obvious even to average readers. Of course, the documentary reflects some facts, but it is very poor work for such an experienced investigative journalist. He says that this documentary is prepared by an expert team who worked on the issue for one year and they read all the books, testimonies, reports, indictments, pleadings and watched all documentaries and videos about the coup attempt, which is very hard to recognize. So, what is the hidden agenda of this film?
I will write my answer to this question at the end of this article.
I know that who reads this peace is not as deeply knowledgeable about the coup as a Turkish reader. My purpose is to give a sense of the events and show what Dundar could have and should have mentioned in his documentary rather than jumping to baseless conclusions. A result of a yearlong investigation would give at least some of the basic details that I give here below.
Dundar claims that the bridge was a strategic target for the coup plotters to give a message to foreign powers. But he doesn’t explain what this message is all about. This simply makes no sense. I was the Naval Attache in Athens and the general staff had already sent all military attaches all over the world to share the message of coup d’etat to relevant authorities as you can see from the WhatsApp message I have shared on Twitter. I mean, this message was already shared via military attaches including me. These officers were the most senior soldiers within the Turkish Armed Forces just below the rank of admiral or general. According to Dundar, these officers were all Gulenists but none of them took part in the so-called life and death struggle between Gulen and Erdogan. By his logic, I and all my friends are also Gulenists which I categorically reject.
Gulen had allegedly placed his young followers in military schools and those men became commanders. Everybody knows that Gulen Movement is known for hundreds of private schools they operate around the country. The policy of the Turkish Military is very clear. No followers of religious groups are allowed. I personally eliminated followers of any religious movement including the Gulen Movement at interviews to enter military schools when I was in the Military. Very few students from schools of the Gulen Movement have ever made it into the military schools. Members of the Gulen Movement did not choose to go to preparation schools of the Movement on purpose. So, all students were investigated thoroughly by the National Intelligence Agency and the police force. However, Dundar claims that those who went to these schools joined the Military during the time. This is simply wrong and baseless.
Dundar claims that the last battle between Erdogan and Gulen took place on the bridge. Such a dramatic claim with no fact behind to support. There were 41 military cadets aged between 15 and 17 and Army privates from Kuleli Military High School who can obviously not be part of the last battle. If he wants to talk about a life and death struggle, then he should give figures about officers and soldiers charged with the coup attempt instead of these kids on the bridge.
Let’s try to follow his logic: Gulenists organized the coup. So, they must have ordered their followers to go into action. But all officers were called to their units and headquarters that night, as seen from the messages shared on the WhatsApp group of my class. Maybe you think that these WhatsApp group members are Gulenists. No, this group involves all my classmates, the class of 95 of the Naval Academy. Funny thing is, the one who shared this message rose in ranks and he is still on duty with his wife who is also an officer.
According to a statement by the General Staff, 8,651 soldiers took part in the coup attempt including military cadets and privates. Most officers in this list were released pending a trial and acquitted from the coup attempt. According to the latest figures, 4130 soldiers are convicted of the coup attempt including military cadets and privates. The number of officers convicted of the coup attempt should be between 500 and 1000.
Let’s read Dundar’s comment again: “The life and death fight between Erdogan and Gulen”. Only 500-1000 officers are allegedly involved but literally tens of thousands of more were purged, who for some reasons were Gulenists but did not join this life and deaths struggle. Let’s see the striking figures: 80% of 2100 general staff officers were discharged. For higher ranks, this percentage goes up to 95%. A total of 52 thousand soldiers, including 25 thousand officers/non-commissioned officers, 5,500 Gendarmerie and Coast Guard personnel, 5,000 contracted officers/non-commissioned officers, and 16,5 thousand military cadets have been discharged/arrested. According to journalist Nedim Sener, this figure will increase to 75 thousand. We already see that more than 100 high-ranking officers are arrested. Therefore, this estimation is realistic. In addition to this, 31 thousand police officers have been discharged/arrested. As of today, a total of 83 thousand members of security forces have been purged. You can decrease the number of soldiers and police forces that died of lack of health services while they were in prisons.
If his logic were true, these 25 thousand officers were expected to bring more than 300 thousand men in their command to the coup attempt. But let’s leave this 300k figure and assume only those purged 83 thousand are Gulenists. If the Gulen Movement had 83 thousand members and they are attempting a coup, why would they use only four thousand of them for the so-called life and death struggle? Putschist combat pilots were understandably accused of being Gulentists but other pilots who forced putschist jets to land were also prisoned to be Gulenists.
The documentary claims that the leader of the coup attempt was the Air Force General Akin Ozturk. According to Dundar, Akın Ozturk was the highest-ranking man of Gulenists in Turkish Military. That may be true, I don’t know and Dundar shows no evidence for his claim. What we know is this: The General Staff made a statement on its website right after the coup that then Commander of the Air Force sent Akin Ozturk to the Akinci Airbase to intervene in the incidents. This means that Akin Ozturk did not take part in the coup attempt but was sent there by the General Staff to do just the opposite and stop the events. This can mean two things:
–First scenario: Akın Ozturk is indeed a Gulenist 4-star general who is naturally expected to orchestrate the plot. But according to the General Staff, he did not take part in it. He is ordered to go to the main base of the coup. This means that he didn’t know about the coup plot and he is sent there only to portray this as a Gulenist coup.
– The second scenario: Akın Ozturk is not a Gulenist but Erdogan regime needs to give the impression that a general orchestrates the coup. So, he is sent to the Akinci Airbase and he is tagged as Gulenist. This scenario is the most probable because all high-ranked officers were called to their units.
Let’s move to another subject. When did MIT (Turkish National Intelligence Agency) Dundar says that a Major went to the MIT headquarters at 1:24 PM and informed about the coup attempt? This is hours before the troops showed up at the Bridge. In fact, this Major said that the Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan would be arrested. But the documentary fails to mention this target. Because this would confuse the audience.
The documentary claims that Hakan Fidan met with the Chief of General Staff immediately after receiving this intelligence about the coup. But it does not mention when this meeting takes Let me fill in these details: According to the report sent by the intelligence chief to the Parliamentary Investigation Commission, this Major was questioned 70 minutes at the MIT HQ. Fidan called the Deputy Chief of General Staff 50 minutes after this. So, 2 hours passed until the intelligence about the coup is shared with the Military, which comes to about 15.24h.
Now let’s look at the time of the -according to Dundar- immediate meeting between Fidan and General Akar at the Headquarters of the General Staff. It took place at 6:10 PM! 4 hours after receiving the intelligence. This is what Dundar calls immediate. But another interesting point is that Fidan went to the headquarters of the Military although he got the intelligence that he would be arrested by the very soldiers who runs the HQ.
Another critical error of the documentary: “Turkish Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan left the Headquarters of the General Staff at 8:20 PM. It is claimed that the officer who escorts him – Lieutenant Kubra Yavuz- was also a part of the plot and informed others that the plot was disclosed. They had to be quick. So, the timing of the coup was rescheduled from 3:00 AM to 5.5 hours earlier. Now, they had only one hour to be organized and all plans should change.”
According to Dundar, Lieutenant Kubra Yavuz informed other plotters. He conveniently fails to mention though, she was acquitted from all charges on 16 Nov 2019 a verdict finalized by the higher court on October 14, 2020. Even the regime courts, who tortured her for days, found that she had nothing to do with the coup but Dundar chose to ignore this because this critical error brings down the fiction of this documentary. What is even more unacceptable is that this lie puts Kubra Yavuz at risk. I cannot understand how ZDF allows to such a travesty of journalism to be aired on her screens.
Let’s continue to follow Hakan Fidan. He came to the Headquarters of the General Staff at 6:10 PM, to give the intelligence about the coup. But plotters did not think that everything was disclosed. He was the target of the plotters, and the coup was disclosed, he stayed there for 2 hours but they did nothing to him when he was there but instead, according to Can Dundar, just as soon as Fidan left the building at 8:22, the plotters decided to take control of the whole country in an hour.
Another important point Can Dundar does not mention is AK Party politicians and former generals that had been accused of the Balyoz coup, who unusually met with Hulusi Akar at Headquarters of the General Staff on July 15. Wouldn’t anyone ask Dundar, why he doesn’t mention these visits? Are they not interesting?
Another anomaly that is not mentioned in the documentary: A graduation ceremony at Special Forces Command was scheduled for 15 july but it was abruptly rescheduled to July 14. More interestingly, Hakan Fidan and Hulusi Akar also paid a surprise visit to that Command to attend the ceremony and immediately thereafter held a 6-hour-long meeting. Only the two of them. This documentary does not mention this either. Is this the documentary based on a detailed investigation?
Here is another nonsense: According to the documentary, “The putschists ordered Kuleli Military High School students to take control of the strategically important bridge.” This is the Bridge that gave its name to the documentary, the place for the final battle but the putschists chose to send 41 cadets and privates, without any planning, to control this strategic target. But he fails to mention some very interesting facts about the Bridge: There had been a police patrol on the bridge for 30 years and it was canceled on July 14. A special police team was founded in 2015 to serve on the bridge 24/7 to prevent suicide attempts. They were also called back on the night of 15 July. Apparently, not interesting to mention.
Can Dundar add that it was interesting that Erdogan learned about the coup attempt from his brother-in-law. But Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan called him when he was at the General Staff HQ and informed his personal security chief. Dundar does not question why he was not informed about this vital information.
Shouldn’t Dundar have asked why the coup attempt was not taken under control by Erdogan-Fidan-Akar trio during the following critical periods?
4 PM: After receiving the intelligence about the plot Fidan calls the Chief of General Staff.
8 PM: Fidan calls Erdogan’s personal security chief when meeting with Hulusi Akar.
9.30 PM: At Intelligence Agency Headquarters, Fidan meets the Religious Authority Chief (Diyanet) who would order the chanting of adhans at all mosques.
Some other interesting events that are expected to draw attention from a journalist: Erdogan was nowhere to be found for 7 days before the coup attempt but the documentary claims that he was on a regular, normal vacation. During this vacation, he ratified additional protocols to the European Convention of Extradition, which had been pending for 60 years, and would immediately after the coup be used to demand extradition of alleged coup plotters from European countries.
Here is how the putschists were able to listen to police radio according to Dundar: “They could listen to the police radio frequency thanks to the radio seized from the police on the bridge”. The Gulen Movement had 31 thousand members in the police force, but they could not find a single radio before the coup attempt, they are staging?
Dundar says, “Top commanders were at a wedding ceremony.” But normally, top commanders can’t attend the same wedding ceremony.
General of the 1st Army Umit Dundar was not invited to the wedding this night. He formed a crisis center with Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin, Provincial Security Chief Caliskan, and others. Dundar called Erdogan and promised to ensure his security. This is not mentioned in the documentary. Hulusi Akar was scheduled to attend the wedding but he canceled it one day before July 15.
Full General Umit Dundar and Lieutenant General Yavuz Turkgenci were on the bridge to intervene in the incidents but both avoided giving a testimony about military cadets in the court.
Hakan Fidan, Hulusi Akar, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan also refrained from giving testimonies at courts. But Can Dundar also does not mention this and he contents himself with sharing their statements.
Dundar says: “The situation was against the government. Erdogan was in chancery.” This is not true. The situation was always for the government. When you prepare an international documentary, you should ask expert journalists like Muyesser Yildiz to show the facts.
Dundar says: “Erdogan called the chief of the Religious Authority for opening the mosques and chanting adhans.” But the chief of the Religious Authority Mehmet Gormez said that it was his decision.
The documentary mentions President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar, and National Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan. But Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who had to be in charge of the government, is missing in the documentary. He might be unaware of what was going on, but the first statement came from him at 11.01 PM. President Erdogan also made a statement at 10.30 to the local media of Marmaris where he was on vacation, but this statement was not broadcasted anywhere. This is still a mystery but Can Dundar misses it.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim came under fire by coup plotters, but this is not something important according to Dundar! He declares three heroes: Erdogan, Hulusi, and Fidan. But they failed to face criminals at courts. They only sent letters and courts accepted these letters. And Can Dundar accepted misinformation broadcast at government-controlled media.
Eyup, the interviewee of the documentary says: “Bearded men opened fire on soldiers.” Many witnesses are talking about snipers firing on both soldiers and resisting civilians on the bridge to provoke both sides. Isn’t it suspicious that snipers were positioned there well before the coup attempt?
That night Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan had another visitor, one of the leaders of the Free Syrian Army. This is something suspicious. And activities of the security company called SADAT strengthens this suspicion.
The documentary does not mention Maoist party leader Dogu Perincek and the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup plot cases. Suspects of this case are showcased as heroes resisting to July 15 and they are the ones who prepared purge lists. The documentary does not touch them but puts the blame on Erdogan for the purge and clears these circles.
There are so many logical errors in the documentary. Dundar claims that this is the first chronological documentary of the coup attempt. But the same chronology can be found on the website of the Turkish presidency, state-run Anadolu Agency, and government-controlled Sabah Daily. They can even find this in German.
CCTV footage in the documentary includes only propaganda videos broadcasted by the government. Journalist Muyessser Yildiz could explain Can Dundar how courts were denied access to full evidence in terms of CCTV footage.
I think Can Dundar had three main motivations by making this film:
– He tried to give the message “Everyone may be Gulenist or coup plotter, but I am not among them.”
– He tried the normalize the purge from the Turkish Military Forces and government institutions.
– He tried the hide the responsibility of Ergenekon and Balyoz circles and blamed Erdogan and his inner circle.
Maybe Can Dundar expects some developments in Turkey.
Turkish version of this article written by Halis Tunc first appeared at 15Temmuzinfo.com
Halis Tunc, former Turkish Navy Captain, was a Naval Attaché to Greece in 2016 when he was purged on coup charge by the Turkish Regime after more than 20 years of service. Currently, he is in exile in the Netherlands, and acting as a human rights activist.