African indigenous knowledge has it that: “Orwo obeiya nilwo bwangua kukya”. Literally translated, the day you tell a lie, that is when it dawns earlier. It is six years (less than a decade) down the July 15, 2016 coup attempt narrative built by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party around Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his perceived followers in the military and civil service and ordinary people.
What an anniversary? On top of what has already been unfolding in the opposite direction about the authenticity of the story, military cadets who, by providence, narrowly escaped an ambush scene of the incident, release a documentary, proving that the Erdogan coup narrative was faked. But the effects have been real in terms of more than 250 deaths, work purges, detentions, life jail sentences and repressions of all kinds.
Titled “The Blue Bus” and sub-titled “July 15th Facts: Cadets Speak Out”, the documentary is a 44-minute irresistible product, one would wish could find a way through the palace gates in Ankara, reach and touch First Lady Emine Erdogan’s heart because the president’s conscience in the prevailing circumstances is unreachable. One would also wish this cadets’ moving and eye-opening information reaches all the Turkish people, the electorate in particular, at this time when the country heads towards the presidential and parliamentary polls.
The Blue Bus, forget “Blue Bus” comedy regarding two old friends travelling from Los Angeles to New Orleans in a rickety 1968 Volkswagen bus discovering much more than just the American landscape, paints the true colours of President Erdogan and his AKP ruling party (unashamedly?) seeking re-election. To the Republic of Turkey, which also turns 100 years next year, and the rest of the world, the Erdogan’s June 15, 2016 coup story, now equally passes for Turkey’s fatal lie of the century.
In the background of the documentary are two innocent 20-year-old cadets, Ragip Enes Katran and Murat Tekin– Turkish son and daughter—who were lynched to death on the fateful day. A total of 355 military students who were sentenced to life imprisonment. The Supreme Court having overturned some of them but trials continue. Military students who were expelled from school by the Decree Law numbering 16,409. Six years on, this month (July 2022), a total of 209 cadets are still in prison.
This analysis, to be done in two installments, is not a review of the documentary. It isn’t. It is just like a close-up on what the cadets have prepared as witnesses and, as they say, “for the freedom of their friends and to understand the truth.” The first input restricts its activity to the truth component relating to how the cadets found themselves being ambushed? What happened? What was their mission? The second goes beyond, raising[p1] some behind-the-scene questions for a clear understanding of the stew of Erdogan’s planned to fail coup.
All of us know what truth is. When we tell a lie, the inner conscience reacts on the spot. There is also a big horde of literature about it. Reference to God’s Ten Commandments aside, talking about it, Said Nursi said: “Truth cannot be deceptive, and one who sees it cannot be deceived.” To all leaders, William Shakespeare said: “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”
According to Islamic teachings, “Seek the truth in all circumstances. Both in what you do and in what you say. Man must speak the truth even in the direct peril so that the truth may set him free from the very danger.”
Now, from the Said Nursi, William Shakespeare and Islam teachings perspectives, what is true about President Erdogan’s narrative that throws the blame of the coup on Fethullah Gulen and his supporters? What do military cadets who survived an ambush say? What role did they actually play to deserve the punishment, so to say? Were they party to or victims of the coup?
This close-up on The Blue Bus documentary about what the cadets say, carries several zooms. I have taken much care to retrain the cadets’ language as much as possible. These are six Turkish sons (children in fact) in their very early 20s. To one of them, for example, English is the already the third language after Kurdish and Turkish. And I don’t know the Turkish culture.
Zoom One: We finished our academic calendar at the Air Force Academy at that time of the year. We had a military calendar that follows. A Summer boot camp, which is a period of 5-6 weeks of military sports training only. We used to get up very early in the morning, do our sports, then have quick breakfast and start training. I was in the glider group. We had special flights.
Then interestingly we were informed that the Air Force Commander was coming to the camp. We had our lunch. Then there was the parade. All students pass in front of the commander. This is our norm. The only thing that is not normal is that the Air Force Commander has come to the camp. What caught my attention was there were too many high-ranking general commanders on that day. I was on the sidelines. We had a very short training session. Normally it takes such a long time, we almost sweat blood. And it is not a simple thing to go to the dining facility with such tiredness and you take a shower before that.
Later on it turned out that the Air Force Commander was wanted that our friends would not get tired. This is what our physical education officers were told. This confirms the statement of the Air Force Commander to our Regiment Commander. They don’t take us out to evening sports; we wouldn’t get tired. Until that time there was no cause for suspicion. But when I looked back later, I realized this man deliberately said this to channel us to whatever course of action they desired.
Everyone started preparing for sleeping. Some were brushing their teeth; others meeting their special needs. My friend and I also had a duty to schedule the stand watch. We went to the armory and started to schedule duties for other friends for the following days.
My tent mate arrived and was preparing to sleep. I was about to fall asleep. At around 22:30. Then we suddenly heard the call for formation. It was very common for us to get up in the middle of the night, get ready in full gear; in different clothes and go to training in the camps. It was something we did all the time. It was not an event that we would be surprised about.
Zoom Two: Buses arrived. The only thing our commanders told us was to get on the buses. They were not enough for us all. Some of our friends stayed behind. Friends in the front row got on the buses. If there had been more seats for 10-15 people, I would have got on too. The commander said more buses would be arriving soon and that no one would be left out for the training. After waiting for a while, 2-3 cadets were ordered to alight. Vehicles started to leave the campsite one by one.
We didn’t know where we were going and we couldn’t ask. Our only worry was how much sleep we could get until we reach the destination. We started to sleep. I suddenly opened my eyes to the turmoil outside, wondering what was going on in panic. All of a sudden, I saw people around starting to attack the vehicle with stones, sticks and fists.
The first thing that came to my mind was a terrorist attack. But when I looked around, people did not look like terrorists. We were so unaware of the events that I said to the commander if we could call the riot police, they would get us out of this turmoil. While the vehicle was moving through the crowd, windows were shattered by stones. The bus suddenly stopped after by hitting something.
They started shooting at us from the opposite direction. In that fire, first the driver of the vehicle and then I was shot. The bullet hit my back… I turned to my friend and asked. He also got shocked. He said your back is bleeding, So I realized I had been shot. Then I asked him to apply pressure by his hand as much as possible to reduce blood loss.
A voice echoed from the vehicle saying “Samet Yazgac was shot.” At that moment, I thought, I also would have been hit by a bullet. For a moment I thought of jumping into the aisle but remembered the next bullet would hit my friend. There were a few people who were telling us things like “They sent you here in deceit. Surrender to the police.”
When I saw one of them coming, I went to the commander and got permission and left the vehicle with them. The commander gave the order to get out of the vehicle. The two rear doors were opened. My friends started to get off. I was among the last to leave due to my position.
People were hysteric. There was a group crying, “our solder is the best soldier” and there was another trying to lynch me. I asked if they could take me to a safer place. A few people in civilian attire surrounded me and took me to the police. I didn’t have a gun so I couldn’t hurt anyone. I was injured, and I was in trouble for my life. I still didn’t understand the anger of these people. That was why I saw those people as malicious rather than good citizens. My friends were in front of me, so I was trying to catch up with them. I had the feeling that if we stayed there, we would die. We needed to get away from those people. If we managed to reach behind the barriers, we would be saved.
As I was running there, I saw someone running towards the group from the left-hand side. I thought he would offend us. He came closer and hugged me. All my friends passed and I was left in the crowd. I thought I was going to die. The guy whispered in my ear, “if you go there, you will die.”
Zoom Three: When we were stuck in the traffic jam, a police car approached us from the security lane. They talked to our commander, who responded: “We are transferring these kids from the Yalova camp to the school (Turkish Air Force Academy), can you help us?” The cops told us to follow them. Two kilometers to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge, the police abandoned us. We didn’t know why they did it. Maybe their car was smaller than ours or they just escaped and left us all alone in the middle of the traffic. We lost contact with the vehicle. We were stuck… We were in uniform and there was a group of people swearing at us while the other croup was crying “our soldier is the best soldier.” We wouldn’t make sense of it. We stayed there until morning.
During the night we received one and only clear order from our Regiment Commander, through our Captain… that ‘we would not interfere in any events, that we were to go to Etimesgut, our unit would be brought to Yalova, and we would not listen to anyone else’s orders’. The Captain said: “Friends pack your luggage. We’re leaving.” Some of us were in sweatpants, and some of us were in flight suits.
A quick summary of the three zoom cases raises some pertinent questions. Were the cadets on a mission unknown? If so, who planned the mission to death? Did their commander also not know the destination as well? Where was he taking them? Where were the drivers taking the vehicles? Why did the police escort abandon their vehicle in the traffic jam? Why was there an unusual presence of high-level generals at the training camp on the fateful day?
Who were those people shooting at the site? Where did they come from? Who brought them there? How about the big turnout of the angered general public? What were the ingredients of their anger?
All these are the subjects to be addressed in the second installment.