Unasked questions in General Akar’s 15 July coup testimony

Everyone wants to know what precisely happened to Turkey’s top general on the night of 15 July. He doesn’t tell us much and sadly no-one will ask further.
General Hulusi Akar, the chief of the general staff

Everyone wants to know what precisely happened to Turkey’s top general on the night of 15 July. He doesn’t tell us much and, sadly, no-one will ask further.

It may have passed by all but the most ardent followers of the country, but for the past six months Turkey has been running a parliamentary inquiry into last summer’s botched coup attempt.

You could call it a breath of fresh air in a country where journalists and public employees alike are increasingly afraid of asking awkward questions for fear of losing their jobs or their liberty. Finally, a independent body that will ask deep, penetrating questions about what went wrong that fatal July night last and suggest ways of preventing it from happening again.

You could call it that, but you’d be wrong. The commission is on track to concluding last summer’s coup attempt was the sole product of Gülenist treachery and there was nothing the government, in all its innocence, could have done to prevent it.

The testimony provided by General Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s top military commander, is a case in point.

Swift action

In the eight-page document, which began to appear online on Tuesday afternoon, General Akar said he took swift action on Friday 15 July after receiving word from the intelligence agency MIT of an impending plot among the junior ranks.

He said he gave immediate orders – at 6.30pm, a couple of hours before troops closed the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul – to ground every military aircraft and helicopter in the country. He also banned tanks and armoured vehicles from leaving a military base in northern Ankara.

Actions like these were instrumental in forcing the plotters to bring their coup plans forward from 3am on Saturday morning to 9pm on Friday night, he claimed.

Gülen ‘achievements’

Hulusi Akar’s testimony to the commission also spoke of successes in purging Fethullah Gülen loyalists from the Turkish Armed Forces.

He described this work prior to the coup as “comprehensive, serious and meticulous” – a remarkable statement, considering he would be cuffed and gagged by his own men later that evening.

It’s worth remembering Turkey’s top military commander was taken hostage that fateful night and President Erdoğan said on live television that he did not know his whereabouts.

General Akar graphically describes how he was clumsily gagged and handcuffed to the extent that he nearly suffocated. He remained loyal and demanded the plotters surrendered, he wrote, “even when a gun was held to my forehead”.

Questions going unasked

The trouble with the testimony is that it raises furthers questions that won’t be asked, because the evidence was provided in writing and no-one will have the opportunity to cross-examine him.

Why, for example, did he leave it to intelligence agency chief Hakan Fidan to report developments that evening to President Erdoğan? He had just imposed a military flight ban across the entire country: ringing the commander-in-chief himself to tell him what was going would surely not have been seen as an imposition.

General Akar’s evidence is also remarkably light on the period of his detention. There is little detail of what he discussed with the hostage-takers: he wrote that he denounced them and their actions repeatedly, but what did they tell him?

What about the rumour that they offered to put him on a direct phone line to Fethullah Gülen himself – an offer he was widely reported to have spurned on the spot?

I did everything I could

Hulusi Akar essentially portrays himself as an innocent victim. He did everything right, he was loyal to the government throughout, but he fell victim to a group of cunning, treacherous traitors.

Thank goodness, he says, that we had President Erdoğan and Binali Yıldırım, the prime minister, to denounce them on live television and call on people to take to the streets.

Does anyone honestly believe this parliamentary inquiry will not produce precisely the same conclusion?

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