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Melek Çetinkaya: ‘Turkish state under Erdogan regime took me out on the street’

Melek Çetinkaya is known for her campaigns and peaceful protests to make her son’s victimization known to large masses and for the release of his son and hundreds of his imprisoned friends after his son’s unlawful arrest in Turkey and the ineffectiveness of the judicial system under Erdogan’s government. Çetinkaya’s son Taha Furkan Çetinkaya was a military student at the Turkish Air Force Academy.

But when they did not know that they would face severe tests that would change their lives completely, perhaps very difficult to compensate, they sent him off from their home to attend the summer camp, which is in the school calendar and where military training was given. Still, with the events that developed within the same week, his entire family’s life, especially Taha, would be turned upside down. The bloody coup attempt on July 15 had taken place, and just as everything was upside down in the country, Furkan and hundreds of his friends were going to enter a period where they would go through challenging times. Turkish National Intelligence Organization and the Turkish Armed Forces had trapped hundreds of cadets. Yes, they did it on purpose. They officially sent these children, who were unaware of anything and were only heading to their orders, to die to make the controlled, bloody coup attempt look real, and people would believe in the state. The children were taken to the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, left unaware of the events, with the lie that they had staged a coup in the midst of an angry crowd, completely strangely dressed, with sticks, knives and guns in their hands. The children’s common sense and not pointing a gun at the enraged public was perhaps the best decision they took in their lives, and this decision helped them get out of that hellfire alive.

The July 15 coup attempt, in which everyone was hurt, and their lives were ruined for nothing, had turned the lives of millions of people upside down and continues to do so. Furkan is one of those victims, but his story and those like him are the most heartbreaking. These 19-year-old students, unaware of anything and have no contact with the outside world as they were in military training, were tricked into the coup theater that Erdogan put on the stage to consolidate his power, and their lives were turned upside down. After July 15, these students, who were in the middle of all kinds of torture and bullying, were sentenced to life imprisonment after all the law was made dysfunctional and out of the system. They were demonized in front of the country with these baseless slanders and suspicions.

Melek Çetinkaya made a decision of taking an action so that her son and students like him could get rid of these accusations and regain their freedom, against the system that sentenced these children to life imprisonment for the state and the judiciary doing nothing after all these unlawfulness and grievances. We know her through her one-person demonstrations and tears in the streets. Everywhere she went, with every person she met, we got to know her with that hope in her eyes, wondering if there could be any salvation. We know her for her upright stance against all kinds of punishment and intimidation attempts and for never giving up on her rightful cause and defense.

When we, as Politurco, reached out to her and said that we wanted to interview her on behalf of her son’s grievances and the campaigns that she carried out, she did not reject us, and we did this interview with her in which she gave very detailed and candid answers. Melek Çetinkaya looks at the cadets’ case very differently, and when you talk about it, you realize that she is not just fighting for her son’s rights. Maybe her son’s victimization makes her very sad, but you feel more of that sadness when you talk about the students who were brutally murdered on that bridge on the night of July 15 and that three female cadets who were held in prison like her son and others. Çetinkaya, who has a powerful and strong personality, is not hopeless despite all the events and grievances. Even if it is not seen much today, it will definitely be appreciated in the future that not falling into helplessness, struggled with the system, and did not give up on the struggle she believed in despite being alone many times.

Here, I would like to end the introduction part and leave you, our esteemed readers, alone with this interview.

Ms. Melek, first of all, thank you for agreeing to speak to Politurco internet news portal.

We know you through the rallies and campaigns you held on behalf of your son, Taha Furkan, who was a military school (cadet) student and was arrested after the bloody coup attempt on July 15, when he was a military student on social media. Before discussing this subject, can you first tell us about yourself?

I was a mother of three, living a modest life with my three children in Turkey. I have a son, my oldest child, who is currently in prison, a daughter, and a younger son. We live in Ankara. Before the July 15 bloody coup attempt, we had a normal life. I was a mother who only took care of her children and home. But after the night of July 15, I became a mother seeking justice on the streets. This happened against my will because of the legally unfair practices of the current government. In other words, the state took me out on the street.

After the failed coup attempt on July 15, your son was arrested because he was a student at a military cadet school. How was this process? Can you tell us?

My son Taha Furkan Çetinkaya was on vacation at home that summer. He completed his first year at the Air Force Academy and was at home with us on summer vacation. On July 10, five days before the July 15 coup attempt, our children were called to the routine 3-week military camp held every year. These camps were one of the programs that were determined one year in advance and included in the annual program calendar of the children. We sent Taha Furkan to the Air Force Academy in Istanbul Bakırköy on Sunday, 10 July. On Wednesday, our children, who entered their schools on Sunday, were taken to the Yalova training camp. The children, who could only set up their tents on Wednesday, could not even place their bags properly, so on Friday, on the evening of July 15, a coup d’état took place.

On the morning of July 15, Air Force Commander General Abidin Ünal makes an unplanned visit to the children’s camp and gives a speech to the children. Typically, Air Force Commander Abidin Ünal visits the children’s camp every year, but not all of a sudden. Generally, at the end of the camps, he makes a planned visit and meets with camping cadet students after they made many preparations for the high-profile visit, such as the cleaning of the camp area and cooking etc. He came to visit them for the first time this year at the beginning of the camp. As far as our children said, he talked about the importance of military education in his speech to them. He explained the importance of obedience in the military and said, “You will die and kill if necessary.” Cadets are very surprised and cannot make sense of it. Of course, after the evening of July 15, we understood why he made this speech. Before leaving the camp, he says to the children’s commander, don’t tire the children too much today; they will be tired by the evening anyway. Children think this is because they are in the training camp, that the camp will be tough. They wonder what kind of training they will do in the evening so that they will get tired.

They usually go to bed at 10 p.m. You know everything is programmed in the military. Every activity, such as going to bed, getting up, eating, reading a book, has a time. As bedtime approaches and the children go to their dormitories to change and brush their teeth, the emergency alarm goes off, and our children are ordered to be in the tents area. Again, our children put on their uniforms and gathered ready in the tents area as announced in the alarm. When they gather, they are told that there is a terrorist attack, that Yalova, which is the campsite, is not safe, and they are told to be ready with their weapons, saying that we will return to the air force academy in Istanbul Bakırköy. Our children do not find this strange because of the frequent terrorist attacks in the country in the last year. There was even an explosion at an airport before 15 July. In fact, for the previous year, a police vehicle was waiting in front of the children’s school, the Air Force Academy, for security reasons.

Our children leave the campsite at 12:02 am. As I said, the police officers waiting in front of the door do not stop these children and ask anything about where they are going. They were there supposedly for the safety of the children. However, these policemen have phones and everything, and it is impossible not to know about the coup attempt. Beyond that, the Yalova Governorship can’t be unaware of the coup, and the Yalova Governorate is not taking any precautions. Moreover, while garbage trucks are lined up in front of military barracks in all provinces, no one is directed in front of our Yalova training camp. Cadets themselves are deliberately allowed to leave.

When the children were on their way, they passed many police points until my son came to Osmangazi Bridge, but none of the police asked them where they were going. At the same time, two luxury vehicles were following the bus they were on and were constantly talking on the phone. When they say this to the commander who is accompanying with these students, the commander says there is already a terrorist attack, be careful, take a good look around. When they come to the toll booth of Osmangazi Bridge since the commander has no money on them, the children pay the bridge fee with the money they collect among themselves and enter the bridge. After crossing the bridge, the bus with children in Sultanbeyli is stopped by the public. Our children are shocked when the people say that there is a coup. How so. They say, what a coup or something with that surprise. Afterward, they offer water and cigarettes to the children, and the people, together with the military students, sing the national anthem there and get them back on the bus with the best soldier, our soldier cheers. At that time, the two policemen who were there said to the people, “Okay, we have these kids, you can disperse.” At the same time, these children do what they say; they say they are not putschists. While this incident was happening around 2.5-3 am at the mid-morning, the police, who took the children, kept them waiting on the bridge until 8 in the morning instead of taking them to the police station or the air force school.

Many people come to the bridge in the morning, dressed in different clothes, with sticks, guns, knives, skewers, etc., and attack the children. These people first break the bus windows, then get on the bus and start kicking. Some shoot at the bus’s gas tank and shout, “kill them”. The children hide their weapons under their seats to not stir them up more because of the attackers’ terror and fury. My son says, ‘Mom, we realized that we can’t get out of here alive; we got up and hugged each other and said goodbye.’ Then the children are not killed there by the raging group.

Cadet Students who were trapped on Bosporus bridge

Cadet Students were attacked even they surrendered on Bosporus Bridge

Afterward, they take the children to the police station in Sultanbeyli. They are held there for four days. So do cadets in other regions. Along with the military students leaving the camp in 9 buses, 37 students are taken to the DigiTurk building by helicopter. There were 700 students in the camp. But 350 students were taken to the coup. Because the day before, the regimental commander Hüseyin Ergezen called a bus company and rented a bus from the bus company. He says that tomorrow at 10 pm, the buses will be ready at the camp, we will take the children on a trip. After the bus company understood the situation, after the news in the media and the President’s statements, it realized the situation and did not send the rest after the first buses. Thus, since there are not enough buses for 700 students, nine buses are enough for 350 students. And 350 students are taken to and from the bus. Others are waiting in the camp until 6 am, in case the bus will come, and we will go. They even think, ‘they’ve been saved, we’re here.


Cadet students are at Police Station

We stayed; we’re going to die now.’ The remaining children remained in the camp for 15 days. Finally, their statements were taken, and they went home. But these students could not avoid being expelled from the TAF (Turkish Armed Forces) as well.

Our children are still in prison for 5.5 years. If we look back, we see that they tortured our children for four days at the police station. They tie dogs with them and do not give them bread and water. When they want to go to the toilet, they take the children by banging their backs shoulders and banging their heads against the wall. When they are told not to do it, they shout, ‘you are a traitor.’ They fill 120 people in 40-person detention rooms. And at the end of the 4th day, they take the children to court.

What is Abidin Ünal and the other commanders who took the children to the bridge doing? Were they also arrested?

askeri 1
Turkish Cadets

Abidin Ünal

Abidin Ünal retired, no arrests were made. I heard he was abroad. The commanders who took the children to the bridge on the bus were imprisoned, and they received life sentences. However, all generals who were imprisoned and sentenced to life in the same ranks in the Land Forces were released at once. I don’t know if the same is true for the command level that traps our children, but it seems a little difficult for our children to have the same thing in this system. I will explain it in detail why I think so.

Then I would like to ask, can you explain in detail the legal dimension of your child’s case and how it has progressed?

Of course. After being held at the police station under torture and harsh conditions for four days, they were brought to court in Çağlayan courthouse. The first judge who led the proceeding; after hearing the children, he decides to release them because they are cadet students and they can’t have a role in making a coup. But whoever heard this decision dismissed the judge who made this decision with a sudden decision, and the same court is held again on the same day with the appointment of another judge, and their arrest is decided. Military cadets tell the judge everything described above and what they have experienced in court, and that we did what we were told. And we were told that there was a terrorist attack, and we just acted only to change our location to a safer place; we were not aware of the coup in any way. At the same time, although these cadet students said that we did not point guns at the people, did not shoot, sang the national anthem with them, the second appointed judge who is on a special mission to arrest the children ignored everything and decided on the detention of the children.

After the court, the children are taken to Silivri prison. They are tortured for a week in Silivri prison. In fact, I met a prison guard who was recently expelled with a statutory decree (KHK) issued under emergency law by Erdogan. This officer said to me, “Sister, I was on duty in Silivri when the events of July 15 took place, and when the military students came to Silivri, we were called by phone, and we were instructed to beat these students” and continued, “But sister, I did not beat anyone.” Of course, I don’t believe that. These children set out to implement only the orders. Those who do not realize that the children who get on and off the bus when they commended are beating our children. After a week of torture, some things are understood, but it was too late.

A month or two later, the state-appointed nine prosecutors to retake the children’s statements, and these prosecutors interviewed the military students, including my son. At the end of the interviews, the prosecutors say, “You are military students; you cannot have anything to do with the coup attempt. You will be free until the end of the week.” Children are pleased about it. It was Wednesday when this meeting took place. We went to the meeting on Thursday. When we learned about this meeting, we waited there until the end of the week, when our children would be released. Unfortunately, this did not happen. The prosecutors who met with the children were either exiled or dismissed. Like the judge who said that the children were not guilty and should be released, they were also exiled and dismissed.

About a year later, the children’s indictments were prepared. Three life sentences were sought for overthrowing the constitution. My son is in the Sultanbeyli court case. They separated the imprisoned military students into a total of 5 cases. They are tried in different cases. The names of these cases are Sultanbeyli case, TRT/Digiturk case, Orhanlı case, Bosporus bridge case, and Fatih Sultan Mehmet (FSM) bridge case. The Court of Cassation overturned the TRT/Digiturk case with 37 students, reopening the trial. But these cadet students were given a life sentence again after the second trail, too. This court, which tried the cadet children again, made the same decision of pervious court again, and it is usually a lower court of the Court of Cassation who overturned the lower court’s decision as the previous decision was wrong. This shows that lower courts even don’t heed the higher courts’ decision but do whatever the government says to them. The Sultanbeyli case, where my children name is in, is currently under review at the Court of Cassation and will probably be overturned in a month or two. Still, as in the TRT/Digiturk case, I think the courts will not abide by this decision, and the detention of the children will continue. I hope I am wrong, and all our children will be released, but it does not seem possible to say this in light of the current government’s practices.

Some military students applied to international jurisdictions and sought legal solutions to their cases. Have you made such an attempt at this point?

Yes, we did. We applied for my son to the United Nations Human Rights Council Arbitrary Detention Working Group for the reason that his case would be examined and decided. The file was reviewed, and the decision was made. In the decision, it was decided to release my son Taha Furkan Çetinkaya immediately. But as you know, the Turkish legal system currently does not recognize either the European Court of Human Rights or any organs of the United Nations. Therefore, this decision was of no use in my son’s case.

When did the United Nations take this decision regarding your child?

A picture taken on February 8, 2020 shows Melek Cetinkaya holding a photo of her son who has been in prison for over three years, during an interview with AFP at her home in the Turkish capital, Ankara. – Cetinkaya, whose son Furkan has been in prison for over three years, has been detained nearly 30 times and faces her first court case on March 12. After the interview with AFP, she was again detained but released shortly after. Her air force cadet son, Furkan Cetinkaya, was arrested when he was 19 years old following the July 2016 failed coup. Furkan and 115 others were jailed for life over involvement in the coup attempt but the families and cadets insist they are innocents and were told by their commanders there was a terrorist attack and they had to return to their school in Istanbul. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

UN WGAD document which asks Taha Furkan’s immediate release

It has been 1-1.5 years since this decision was made for my son.

Have you reached out to anyone from government officials? What is the attitude of state officials on this issue?

We reached about 550 of the 600 MPs. The deputies we could not meet were from Erdoğan’s party AKP. 550 MPs who we reached all said that our children are innocent, that this case is a political issue, and that our children will be released when the political atmosphere changes. All the MPs we talked said the same thing. But in the process, our children have been in prison for 5.5 years.

Have you met with party leaders?

I personally met with Temel Karamanlıoğlu, the president of the Welfare Party, and I also met with Devlet Bahçeli, the president of the Nationalist Movement Party.

Devlet Bahçeli is in Erdogan’s alliance. What did he say about this?

He said whatever necessitate will be done and let the cases be examined, but he was not sincere.

Were you able to meet with Meral Akşener and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu?

I also talked to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the president of Republican People’s Party, one-on-one. He said the same thing. He said the military students are innocent. He said these children should be released. I did not meet with Meral Akşener, president of Good Party, one-on-one, but I did talk to her representatives. Especially Erhan Usta from Akşener’s party supported us considerably in this regard. In the meantime, I also spoke to Muharrem İnce, the president of Homeland Party. He told me that he would release the military students after 15 days if he were elected. At the same time, those who helped us a lot were Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Cihangir İslam, and Gaye Usluer (later switched to Homeland Party) from Republican People’s Party (CHP), Abdulkadir Karaduman from the Welfare Party (SP), Bahri Şimşek from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Ömer Gergerlioğlu, Hüda Kaya, Ahmet Şık (later on passed to the Workers’ Party of Turkey) from People’s Democratic Party (HDP), I can tell you what comes to my mind, but all the deputies say that our children are innocent. In fact, they all say, ‘We also served in the military, a 19-year-old boy cannot be a putschist, this is a political case’.

I even met with the former Bar Association president Metin Feyzioğlu when he was holding the position. We met at the courthouse. When I said to Feyzioğlu, ‘It has been 4 years, our children are still in prison’, he said to me, ‘Ms. Melek, you are too loud, keep your voice down, talk to the President’. When he said that I said we could not get an appointment from the President, he said, “Okay, I’ll talk on your behalf”. But he didn’t give me any response. Even Metin Feyzioğlu, the president of the Bar Association of the time, says to meet with the President within this justice system. In one of the cases, I also met with the personal lawyer of the President sent to the children’s court. ‘Ms. Melek’, he tells me, ‘the judiciary is independent, the President does not interfere with the judiciary’, but he sends the President’s own lawyer to the decision hearing. Again, in the case of Sultanbeyli, where my son was included, the President’s lawyer submitted a petition to the judge in front of our eyes, whereupon the judge read the petition aloud and said that the President complained about the children and wanted them to be punished. I don’t understand how the judiciary can be independent.

With what reason does the President’s lawyer attend court cases?

Actually, any lawyer can come from us or from the other side can follow the case. And he attends to the court on behalf of president who is complainant against cadet students.

What are children judged against? Against the state? Against Erdogan? So, who’s there on the opposite?

Since they are on trial for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and the head of state is Erdogan, Erdogan’s lawyer attends the court as a complainant. In other words, he participates as a complainant against our children. At the same time, ridiculously, Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) also joins the case as a complainant, where we entrusted our 13-year-old children years back. This is so funny. It is the TAF that takes the children to the bridge and leaves them there, but it is also the same TAF that complains about the children.

The President’s lawyer, who participates in the hearings, actually brings orders to the judges and gives sentences to the judges, despite all the innocence of the children.

You make a lot of references to the Diyanet in your social media accounts, make their accounts mentioned in your twits and ask if you have anything to say about these unlawful acts? What is the reason of this? Have you ever met the president of the Diyanet?

No, I haven’t met him, but he goes to every opening with the President Erdogan, everywhere. Turkish Religious Authority (Diyanet) also gives fatwa for everything no matter what big the matter is. They make a statement (fatwa) about the issue that concerns the society, such as who a Muslim woman can marry or for alcohol. Then I say that if the politicians are stealing, corrupting, unjust everywhere and if justice system is state-controlled, you should make a candid fatwa or statement about it, too. Of course, they cannot do this because they are afraid of the President. That’s when I say. Who are you afraid of? God? I see that this is not the case.

It is stated that around 341 cadets are imprisoned, but we do not see that other families are campaigning like you or at least support you. I wonder if they are afraid, what do you think about this issue?

Financial and social means of families are factors in this. Every time I go out to the street a fine of 390 Turkish Lira (TL) is issued. And the one who makes his voice heard on streets could also be thrown in jail. People don’t take this risk. People are afraid of being imprisoned in Turkey. Some worry that if I talk, they will do more harm to my child. Some can’t get out again because someone from the family could be fathers or older brothers/sisters who are civil servants, and so, they fear of losing their jobs because under Erdogan, people are dismissed very easily, and so, they cannot speak up very easily.

Do police charge 390 TL every time you go out on the street? Are there police on every street? Where do they hear it right away?

Police detains Melek Cetinkaya for protesting on street

Of course, every time I go out, they fine me. Police, if not for the police, civilian polices are all over Ankara Kızılay square. Civilian police immediately call the police and come and take action. Not only am I fined, but they also take me to the police station and keep me there for a few hours. The durations are always different. I even stayed at counter-terrorism department known as TEM for 2 days in one of them.

Do they give this fine to anyone who goes out on the street without permission?

Yes, they do. They give this punishment due to the law of unauthorized demonstration but in the Constitution, every citizen has the right to take peaceful action without permission, without stones, sticks and weapons. I show this article of the constitution when I need to. I showed a few penalties written for me and objected with this article, and some penalties were cancelled. But there are also penalties for which I have to follow through. That’s why I’m in debt.

By the way, you said 341 in the question, but I would like to add that 3 of our children are underground and 3 of these 341 students are female military students. I would like to point these out here as well.

Sure, please go ahead,

Murat Tekin who was brutally murdered on Bosporus Bridge

Murat Tekin and Ragıp Enes Katran were brutally murdered by being lynched on the Bosphorus Bridge during the July 15 bloody coup attempt. And these children were found in the morgue after 12 days together with the efforts of their families. The children were unrecognizable. Their parents recognized the children by their fingernails. Children were not given a funeral vehicle, coffins were not provided, prayers were not allowed at mosques, so, funeral prayers were not performed, no funeral ceremonies were held, and they were told to bury the children in silence. For the corpse of these students, they were not even given land for burial but thank God the families bought a family cemetery in advance, so the money was paid in advance and these children could be buried there. Third student, Yusuf Kurt, died later. Because he was in prison for 9 months. He got cancer from extreme stress and pressure. And he succumbed to cancer. One year ago, Yusuf passed away with the burden of the pain he experienced.

Three Female Imprisoned Cadet Students

Also, 3 female students are in jail for the same reasons. They are also in Bakırköy Women’s closed prison. Their names are Nimet Ecem Gönüllü, Nagihan Yavuz and Sena Ogut Alan. These girls were 20 when they were arrested. Nagihan lost her father last week, but she could not attend her father’s funeral. Nimet Ecem, on the other hand, is a martyr’s daughter whose father was martyred when she was 3 years old while he was serving as a senior lieutenant in the TAF. Although she was the daughter of a martyr, this girl received a life sentence ridiculously with a baseless allegation of being a member of a terrorist organization. The father of the other is an officer who retired from the TAF. Despite this, they sentenced the officer’s daughter to life imprisonment, calling her a traitor and a terrorist!

You were arrested after many rallies and campaigns you held. You faced a lot of trouble. Even though you were alone, you didn’t give up. What would you like to talk about this?

Melek Çetinkaya 1

Melek Cetinkaya protests for the cadet student

I am always with my children. At first, I didn’t go out. Again, I thought that the state’s job is not easy, they would provide justice. I stayed at home for 3.5 years, waited and went out to the street because I saw that justice would not come. I didn’t necessarily wait for someone to be with me in this struggle. I’m still not waiting. Whoever wants it comes out, whoever doesn’t want it, that’s something everyone will know. You know, some fight in this way, some fight by praying because of their faith. Like that.

While you are protesting on the street, normal people seem to be unresponsive to you. What do you think about why people don’t support you?

People are afraid. When the police intervened several times, there were those who protected us from the shield of the police. Once a young man wanted to help us, the police pulled him aside and asked if you knew who they were, and he said, ‘they are terrorists!’. When this is the case and there are police everywhere, I think the people are afraid.

Have international media organizations ever contacted you?

Yes, they have even come to my house and interviewed me. But none of them have published their interviews yet. I ask, but they do not give a clear answer.

Which media organizations are these?

BBC Turkish, Washington Post and media from Japan. We did the interview with BBC Turkish two years ago, and they even came to my house, they set up a very serious set at home with their lights and all their equipment, but then they did not broadcast this interview.

Are they hesitating, do you think? Why do you think this is so?

BBC Turkish said there was an editorial problem and did not broadcast it, despite all the shootings. No response from the others yet. It’s been 6 months since I interviewed the Washington Post, but they didn’t publish it either.

How do you think the case of imprisoned military students will develop in the near future, both legally and as a process?

I no longer have any expectations from this government and its justice. I hope there will be an election soon. Government changes. I hope that with a new government, people who prioritize rights and laws and who will deliver justice for real will make the right decision. So, I don’t expect any justice from the current government.

Thank you again, Ms. Melek, for answering all questions honestly. I hope all the military students will be released as soon as possible and you will be reunited with your son.

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Engin Yigit is a Politurco columnist, activist, and author. Follow him at @enginyigtt.

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