Six Years After Coup Attempt, Henri Barkey Speaks on Turkish Government’s Accusations Against Him
As the sixth anniversary of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey nears, it is heartbreaking to acknowledge that many of the country’s citizens do not know the truth about what happened that fateful day. And those who do know the truth are too afraid to speak, particularly in public. The risk of being arrested is too high, and the consequences of being thrown in jail, perhaps indefinitely, is too great. So far, the coup attempt has essentially served the government’s intended purpose: silence and repress the opposition, consolidate power into the hands of an authoritarian leader, and destroy a century’s worth of democratic gains. Since that night in July when democracy died in Turkey, the government has continued spreading a false narrative about what happened as it plays the blame game, pointing the finger of responsibility at everyone. The government’s ongoing narrative, as one might expect, includes a variety of plotters. In addition to accusing Fethullah Gulen and his sympathizers, some ministers blame the United States, while others point to Henri Barkey, adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bernard L. and Bertha F. Cohen Chair in International Relations at Lehigh University. The author so far has published several articles to shed light on the government’s theory about who was responsible for the coup attempt, and his new study interviews Henri Barkey to ask about Turkey’s accusations against him. A summary of the interview between the author and Henri Barkey is presented below.
CENGIZ: I cannot find any decent term to identify what happened on the night of July 15. It has been different than any ordinary coup or coup attempt, and this type of coup has rarely been seen in history. However, it has dire consequences, and many people pay a considerable price. Your name has always been one of the most pronounced in relation to the coup attempt. It is constantly mentioned in Turkish media. Why did you accept my invitation to discuss such a challenging topic as the July 15 coup attempt?
BARKEY: “I speak with everyone who wants to talk to me. I am an academician and have spent my life speaking on various topics. Therefore, I never deny an interview request with me.”
C: Why were you at the Splendid Hotel Istanbul in Buyukada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara, near Istanbul, on July 15, 2016? Was it related to an international meeting?
B: “I was then the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. We had received a grant to prepare a report on how Middle Eastern countries saw the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal, on its first anniversary. I decided to invite the participants and hold a meeting in Istanbul instead of bringing them to the United States. I thought participants, including myself, originally from Buyukada, love to visit Istanbul. Another reason why I decided on Istanbul was that Buyukada is an hour from Istanbul, and in effect it meant that the meeting would not be subject to interruptions from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. The Splendid Hotel is an iconoclastic early 20th century hotel and one of the best on the island.”
C: It has been alleged that you made phone calls in the hotel until the early morning to provide international connections for the coup plotters. Did you make these calls? With whom did you talk?
B: “When news of the coup attempt began to spread globally, many journalists and media outlets, including CNN International, asked me to comment on what was happening in Turkey. When they reached out to me, they did not know that I was in Istanbul. There was a time difference, and it was early Saturday morning in Istanbul, but it was Friday evening in the United States when they called me. So, I had to respond to their calls. Of course, with a significant event happening in Turkey, I naturally was awake to watch events unfolding and was not up just to receive and respond to the calls. It was only natural that many journalists who have known me as an expert on Turkey in general would want to reach out to me. However, you can make up stories about this case based on whatever you want. And they [AKP-affiliated media] let their imagination run wild with fantastic stories.”
C: Before the attempted coup, Turkish media sometimes referred to you as the government’s harshest critic. Why do you think you were targeted and accused of plotting the coup? Is it because you are an American and were present in Buyukada on the night the coup was staged? Other Americans could have been in Turkey the night of July 15. Why were you singled out?
B: “I am a rather well-known person in Turkey. I am an academic with a long record of publications on Turkish politics and economics. Early in his tenure, I was supportive of some of [President] Erdogan’s policies that were democratic in orientation and criticized some others. This is part of my job as an academic. Right after I returned to the United States, Turkiye Gazetesi (Turkiye Daily) published the first of many articles that accused me of being part of the coup. The article had some accurate information about me that only a government would have access to, such as the exact time I passed through passport control coming in and going out of Turkey. It was therefore very clear that government sources had deliberately provided them with this information. Why me? They wanted to accuse the United States and point their finger at an American. They made up a story but did not think this theory would be such a big one. However, the allegations by the AKP [Justice and Development Party] and Erdogan’s government were based on one coincidence and that was ‘Henri Barkey was in Turkey that day.’ I used to visit Istanbul frequently. One of my focus areas as an academic is Turkey. I have a significant number of articles and books about Turkey. The government also exploited my name to keep Osman Kavala in jail; I turned out to be a useful tool for them. They have fabricated such overblown and hard-to-believe stories about me that social media users and ‘journalists’ constantly rely on them and accuse of all kinds of deeds. The government wants the Turkish people to believe in these stories, and unfortunately many do. By the way, there was another indictment of Osman Kavala that implicated me. When you read it, you want to pull your hair out. It is disgraceful to see such an outlandish indictment written by Turkish officials because all the so-called evidence is concocted.”
C: Strong evidence shows that some government officials knew about plans for a coup a few months before it happened, did nothing to keep it from happening, and had concocted in advance a narrative about how it happened and who was to blame. And just two weeks after the coup attempt failed, three books were published that defended the government’s narrative and its handling of the event. Therefore, the July 15 night recorded many weird constructs and speculations. Do you think that the government knew before your meeting in Buyukada that it would try to blame you for the coup? Or was the decision after the coup attempt was staged?
B: “I do not know. I have not investigated the matter. I returned to the United States on Tuesday [July 19], and the first article was published on Thursday [July 21] in Turkiye Gazetesi. Everything happened very quickly. I did not contemplate whether the story about me had been prepared earlier until I heard your question today. I was stunned how a government could accuse someone else so fast. I am questioning how they could have known about the meeting at the Splendid Hotel. I did not hold this meeting by myself. A Turkish think tank partnered with us to organize the meeting. In Turkey, not much has been said about the meeting, and I prefer to keep quiet on this issue because I do not want others to get into trouble. I needed a partnering institution to make all arrangements for the meeting. I could not do these by myself from Washington, D.C. You may be right on your point. The media and government accusations against me happened very quickly and were detailed. They may have already made plans to involve and implicate me. Actually, we still do not know how the details of coup attempt and it remains a big mystery for me.”
C: In one of my latest articles, “Can the Relationship Between Turkey and the United States Ever Be Repaired?,” I mentioned how President Erdogan’s politics are based on seeking leverage to protect his interests rather than the interests of the country. Given that historically the United States has been involved in coups and coup attempts in the Middle East, do you think that is why the Turkish government has tried to implicate the United States in its weak theories about how the coup happened? Do you think Turkey is using the July 15 coup attempt as leverage against the United States?
B: “Yes, Turkey was using it in the early years but not anymore simply because it had little impact and since 2016 has lost even more currency. Turkey is now using it in domestic politics. As you know, Suleyman Soylu, the Minister of Interior, constantly repeats these same allegations and repeats ad nauseum that the U.S. is behind the July 15 coup attempt. What this means exactly, I am not sure. I do not think they are alleging that Americans were in cahoots with actual coup plotters but that rather Washington welcomed it. We should not also underestimate the capacity of individuals of believing the impossible; we have many such examples, including in the U.S.
The Obama administration, for example, had no immediate response to the coup attempt. I do not know why. It was a huge mistake by the administration not to provide an immediate response. Significant differences exist between the coups staged during the Cold War and those committed today. The Obama administration firmly took the side of promoting democracies compared with previous administrations. I do not think the Obama administration would have undertaken any coup attempt against a democracy anywhere around the world.”
C: Everyone in Turkey knows that the ministers cannot make any statements on critical issues unless they get approval from President Erdogan. Suleyman Soylu has continued his accusatory statements during other U.S. administrations, and his last statement was on February 2, 2021, when he said, “There is something I said very clearly there [at the T.V. program], I told this many times. Right after the July 15 [coup attempt], even before 24 hours had elapsed . . . I had said that there was America behind this coup. We learned from the British documents that America was behind the 1960 coup many years later. We understood that America was behind the 1980 coup when they said, ‘Our guys succeeded.’ Who was behind the February 28 is obvious [that the United States is to blame]. I just wanted to leave a note to the history lest we wait 20-30 years to learn.” Despite these constant accusations, why is the United States not making a clear, concise, and firm statement for Turkey to stop making such accusations, if the United States was not involved in the coup attempt?
B: “This is a good question. Many people are also questioning this strategy. The U.S. as a superpower wants to start above the fray and not engage this issue in part because the American-Turkish agenda is generally very full. I think the U.S. administrations are making a mistake by not to providing a firm response to these unfounded accusations by Erdogan and Soylu. However, I believe they do not fully appreciate how the lack of criticism and strong response is perceived in Turkey. For example, Metin Topuz, an American Consulate employee in Istanbul who was jailed almost four years ago, is still in prison. The U.S. initiatives to get him released have failed so far. I know many academics and experts on Turkey here in Washington, D.C., who would like to see the U.S. speak louder on these issues. In the early days of the Biden administration, the Department of State made a strong statement about me and Osman Kavala (and included me in it as well to my satisfaction), but nothing since then.”
C: While President Erdoğan and his government called the July 15 incident a military coup, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the country’s the chief opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – CHP), referred to the incident as a “controlled military coup.” Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said shortly after the coup attempt had been crushed that he had the feeling of watching a video game as the coup unfolded. When a journalist asked then-Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım if there was a suspicious project he did not like, Yıldırım replied, “July 15.” Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed elected official and former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in a speech immediately after the July 15 coup said that President Erdoğan was well-prepared for the coup attempt and positioned himself to benefit from its results. How do you see and label the July 15 coup attempt? Was it a coup or a controlled military coup?
B: “To be honest, I do not know what happened on July 15. I usually travel to Turkey for research; unfortunately, I have not been to Turkey since the coup attempt. So, I have no means of investigating the matter. To me, it seems to be a bizarre coup. The Turkish military knows how to execute a coup. No one in their right mind would send tanks down to the Bosporus bridge at 9 p.m. on Friday while it is jammed with cars, and the streets are full of people. I was not in Turkey during the 1980 coup, but I still remember the coup in 1960 when I was a kid and the coup in 1971. We all know how soldiers plot a coup in Turkey. The July 15 coup attempt was strange. According to one speculation, the plotters were going to start the coup in the late hours but were forced to execute earlier because their plot has been denounced or discovered. However, we do not know even if this speculation is true. Turkey so far has not conducted any fair investigation of the coup attempt. The government accused and purged large numbers of people. As Erdogan said, it was a gift from God. He exploited the coup to purge the civilian and military bureaucracy. I do not know if the government got prior information on the coup; my colleagues who also study Turkey admit they have no reliable information about the coup attempt. I hope one day we will learn more when various archives are opened to the public.”
C: You mentioned the experts you spoke with in Washington, D.C., about the coup attempt in Turkey. Do they have a common belief about the coup attempt?
B: “No one knows the details of the coup attempt. Some believe that several groups, including the Gulenist sympathizers, may have been involved in the coup attempt. However, it is impossible to know about what really happened because Turkey lacks an independent judiciary. Anyone targeted by the government can readily find himself or herself in jail on fabricated evidence. Let me illustrate with my indictment after the Gezi protests. According to the indictment, Osman Kavala and I are suspects. The indictment states that I traveled to Turkey at some early date and then flew to Diyarbakir. On the same day, apparently Osman Kavala flew to Paris. This fact, that is, two persons traveling to two different destinations on the same day, is absurdly included by the prosecutor in the indictment as a piece of concrete evidence that Kavala and I were working together on the coup. Another accusation is that he and I conversed on the phone for more than 93 hours because they “discovered” that our phones were in the same general vicinity in Istanbul (along with millions of others). Since the indictment could not provide any direct evidence that Kavala and I actually talked to each other, the prosecutor admitting to this shortcoming interestingly suggested that the lack of evidence could be attributed to the fact that I, as a CIA agent, surely knew how to cover up my tracks, cogito ergo sum. It is sad to see that the chief prosecutor in Istanbul and his deputy affixing their signatures to this strange indictment. In the past, Turkish officials took their jobs seriously and would not have authored such nonsense. What these two officials do not understand is that they have eschewed all credibility abroad where it counts; no one will take them seriously in the future. After seeing and reading the indictment against me (and Osman Kavala), any foreign official must question the credibility of any indictments authored by the Turkish government. It is very difficult for any rule-of-law government to act on Turkish requests for extradition, to take one example. This is why the Swedish government, for instance, will be unable to act on Turkish requests for individuals to be repatriated as requested by Erdogan for giving his assent to Stockholm’s admission into NATO.”
C: President Erdogan made contradictory statements about when he learned about the coup attempt –citing four different times when that happened. Then he said he learned about the coup from his sister’s husband. Would you believe this latest statement from the president, given that all of the country’s intelligence units and other government agencies report to him?
B: “Not at all. Something fishy is going on with the government’s explanation for the coup attempt. Erdogan may have learned about the coup before it happened. There are some allegations that the current Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar, might have played a role [in warning him in advance]. I cannot say anything with certainty, as I do not know for sure what happened. It is unclear whether some people knew about the coup attempt and responded to it with a counter-coup. European or U.S. intelligence officials may know more about what happened, but it is impossible for us to know. Before this coup attempt, I had been planning to write a comparative article on coups or coup attempts in Turkey and had accumulated quite a lot of material. However, I have had to abandon this effort since I can no longer travel for research to Turkey.”
C: In one of my articles, “Who Was Behind the July 15, 2016, Military Uprising in Turkey?,” I classified the active participants in the July 15 coup attempt as (a) so-called plotters who were trapped and staged a poorly orchestrated coup attempt and whose activities deserved to be called a hara-kiri mission, and (b) counter-coup plotters who knew about the coup attempt before it happened and acted like they were trying to stop the coup but were well-prepared to benefit the results of the coup attempt. The counter-coup plotters alleged that 170 generals, half of all generals in the army, took part in the coup attempt. With simple mathematics, there were more than 200,000 soldiers under the command of these generals; however, the number of so-called plotters involved in the coup attempt was only several thousand. Do you think the people in the group of so-called plotters committed suicide?
B: “I do not know. We can only speculate about it. You can either say that these generals were coup plotters but then they gave up or that the government trapped many soldiers, including young ones. One can however make as many speculations as one would care to want.”
C: The government’s theory about the coup attempt is based on accusing Fethullah Gulen and his alleged sympathizers in the Turkish army as having plotted the coup attempt. However, Gulen rejected all the allegations about his involvement in the July 15 coup attempt and openly called for an independent international commission to investigate all the allegations against him. In the meantime, Adil Oksuz, one of the alleged Gulenists, was arrested near Akıncılar Military Base on the night of the coup attempt. He allegedly was coordinating the Gulenist soldiers in the army. According to the Gulenists, Oksuz collaborated with Turkish intelligence officials and had been assigned to implicate the Gulenists in the coup. The prosecutor insisted on following Oksuz and, after taking his statement, the prosecutor referred Oksuz to the judge, asking for his arrest. Although thousands of people were held in custody for many days, Oksuz was released after two days, with the justification being that he had a precise address and was not a flight risk. Nonetheless, the prosecutor appealed to the Higher Court and asked that Oksuz be arrested, but the court declined to do so. Oksuz then flew from Ankara to Istanbul, and a mysterious person met him at the airport. The government seemed to be reluctant to track and arrest Oksuz. However, Oksuz’s arrest would be a piece of solid evidence that could substantiate the government’s allegations and shed light on the dark points of the coup attempt. Why did the Turkish government not arrest Oksuz? Why has the Turkish government neglected to track Oksuz’s whereabouts?
B: “I had not heard the name of Adil Oksuz until the coup attempt. From media reports on Oksuz, I could not discern Oksuz’s exact role in the coup attempt nor his role in the Gulen group. It is difficult to understand why the government has accused Oksuz because I hardly believe anything the Turkish media has written about the coup attempt. This one may be correct, but they have been making up so many stories. I can no longer cite Turkish media sources in my research with any confidence. I have zero trust in them. Therefore, I am uninformed about Adil Oksuz. He has disappeared since the coup attempt. We do not know where he is, or whether he is even alive.”
C: What can you say about the credibility of the July 15 coup attempt investigations and trials? The government accused various people, groups, and states as the plotters. In addition to Gulenists, the government’s theory accuses you and even Turkey’s secular political party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi-CHP) of being involved in the coup attempt along with the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The investigations and trials are full of gaps. During the trials, the arrested soldiers asked to face the commanders, who directed them during the coup attempt, and wanted the trials to be streamed live on T.V., but the judges rejected their requests. In many cases, the judges abstained from delving into the investigation and shedding light on the allegations of the soldiers. Most soldiers were threatened with harm to their families and were tortured and forced to sign statements prepared in advance by intelligence officials. How much can we trust the government’s July 15 coup attempt investigations and trials?
B: “I have no confidence in any investigation conducted in Turkey. For example, Canan Kaftancioglu [a Turkish physician and politician] was charged because of a Twitter message she posted seven years ago. They [prosecutors] are including whatever they want to in these indictments. Kurds are another group of people facing constant accusations by the government. A group of Kurdish researchers, including students, who researched domestic migration, were recently arrested based on the charges that they insulted the government. Everyone can be part of an act that may be in the category of insulting a government. In this case, these folks will have to wait out the writing of their indictment in prison, something that can last seven months. I do not find any trial credible in Turkey. It is very dangerous not to trust in the fairness of the judiciary in a country. You are only destroying one of the most critical branches of a state. There is no independent media and judiciary in Turkey. So, we cannot rely on coup attempt indictments. Even if some general is correctly charged for participating in the coup attempt, you still cannot believe his indictment given how all other indictments are based on lies. I do not know what is made up and what is true in these indictments.”
C: The government arrested hundreds of Turkish Air Force Academy cadets and sentenced many of them to life imprisonment because of their alleged involvement in the coup attempt. A small group of these cadets was released last week after seven years in prison because there was no substantial evidence against them. They seemed to be victims of the most suspicious acts on the night of July 15. Several cadets were beheaded by the government’s paramilitary groups, actions to which the government turned a blind eye and never investigated. What do you think about the government’s allegations against the cadets?
B: “Poor kids. All I know is 18-year-old cadets are going to obey the orders of their superiors, no matter what. This is how the military operates. It is disgusting and heartbreaking to see that young cadets were sentenced to life imprisonment just because they obeyed the directives of their commanders. They probably knew nothing about the coup attempt; the last thing plotters do is to inform the lower ranks of their intentions. What an unwieldly judicial system that cannot accommodate such cases, but I suspect the judges were acting on government orders.”
C: During an interview with a Turkish journalist on YouTube in 2016, you were asked a question about the plotters of the coup attempt. The journalist said that the Turkish government – and he himself –believed that the Gulenists plotted the coup but that Washington, D.C., did not support the Turkish government’s accusations. Then you were asked to comment on the coup plotters. You responded by saying there could have been a variety of generals from different groups involved. For example, some generals might have been concerned about being forced into retirement, and some might have feared getting fired at the upcoming yearly military council. Do you still have the same stance?
B: “It is logical to think that a coalition of generals from various groups might have been involved in such an amateurish and badly orchestrated coup attempt. Some generals might have ordered the soldiers to move to the Bosporus Bridge. This is simple speculation. However, I still insist that I do not know, and it is impossible to learn from such a far distance. I cannot talk to anyone in Turkey, and I do not have any chance to research it.”
C: Despite many suspicions and questions about the coup attempt, the opposition parties in Turkey have been silent and do not strongly criticize the government’s story. How do you see their attitude toward the July 15 coup attempt? By the way, I heard that one of the opposition political parties recently visited Washington, D.C., and did not want to attend a Council on Foreign Relations meeting after they saw your name as a participant.
B: “The opposition parties are no longer questioning it. There is no point in questioning the coup attempt. They do not think that their questioning will bring them more votes. They see it as a waste of time. These parties could have reacted when the government decided not to publicize the Parliament’s report on the coup attempt. However, it is too late, and they can do nothing. The representatives of one of the opposition parties wanted a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations, CFR, where I am an adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies. After they saw my name on the list of participants, the penny dropped, and they asked CFR not to include me in the meeting. CFR rejected their request and canceled the meeting. Like academicians and journalists who do not want to talk to me, any political party member cannot afford to be seen conversing with me as they would immediately be attacked [by the government and affiliated media].”
C: Turkey also accused the United Arab Emirates of being behind the coup attempt, and the government-controlled media used a very accusatory and humiliating tone against the UAE. However, President Erdogan invited the UAE leader to visit Turkey in November 2021 and President Erdogan visited the UAE in February 2022.
B: “We need to see all these things as being instrumental. Recall what the Turkish government said about Saudi Arabia right after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and they were right in their accusations. It then served government’s interests; they were swift to make a case of Saudi Arabia’s involvement. The rhetoric about Saudi Arabia then was that it was one of the world’s worst countries. Then seeking investments when Turkey desperately needs to redress its ailing economy, the Turkish president visited Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Crown Prince Salman was in Turkey last month. Similarly, the Turkish government has switched its stand vis a vis the UAE because it needs money. Turkey’s accusations against the UAE were nonsense, which caused Turkey to cut its economic ties with the country. Today the government must swallow its words for money.”
C: A U.S. Department of Justice delegation visited Turkey in January 19 to obtain information about the July 15 coup attempt. Concerning Turkey’s accusations against you, have U.S. government agencies asked you to make an official statement about the coup attempt?
C: How are U.S. government agencies approaching the July 15 coup attempt?
B: “I do not know what intelligence officials know about the coup attempt. Whatever they do know, they may have shared it with only a limited group of people. When I ask U.S. government officials, they tell me that they know nothing about the coup attempt. I think only high-level people may know about it. The July 15 coup attempt has turned out to be a reality for Turkey. The U.S. government needs to learn how to live with this reality because the Turkish government will always be exploiting it. It is used in a variety of ways, including promoting Erdogan’s interests and as a shield against opponents. I really wonder whether Turkey invites foreign representatives to events commemorating the coup attempt and whether these choose to attend.”
C: The Turkish government purged more than 40,000 soldiers after the coup attempt and labeled them “terrorists.” Do they deserve to be labeled as terrorists?
B: “Turkey is labeling many people as terrorists. Service in the military requires obeying the direct orders of your commanders.”
C: The July 15 coup attempt was a turning point for the country. What are the impacts of the coup attempt on Turkey?
B: “The July 15 coup attempt resulted in more authoritarianism in Turkey, and Erdogan has solidified his power. Without question, the government has exploited the coup attempt tremendously. It is normal that some groups of people may sympathize with the victims of the coup attempt. However, the coup attempt resulted in the purge of many people whom the government did not want in the bureaucracy. Authoritarianism has grown considerably in Turkey since the coup attempt. For example, when academics sign a petition the government does not like, they can simply be fired from their universities. There is probably no example like this anywhere else among the leading countries in the world. Your question has only one answer: Turkey, which already was on a path of authoritarianism, has become even a more authoritarian state after the July 15 coup attempt. The coup, whether genuine or one that had been discovered late in the game, furthered the descent into authoritarianism. Even if Erdogan had no part in the coup attempt, he is the one who most benefited from it.”
C: The government’s theory about who is responsible for the coup attempt lies on fragile ground and includes many suspicious statements, accusations, and questions. Do you think that the cloud of doubt hovering over the coup attempt will vanish, and we will ever learn – based on solid evidence – what really happened on July 15?
B: “One day, the details of this event will come to light However, it is difficult to know when. Sometimes, documents get leaked before their time. Still, we do not know when.”
C: Why are relations between President Erdogan and President Biden tense?
B: “The Biden administration aimed to distance itself from former President Trump’s politics. Trump was a good friend of Erdogan’s and did what Erdogan wanted in all matters except for when Turkey purchased Russian S-400 missile system. It is true that severe issues exist between the two countries. Opposition to Turkey has increased tremendously in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The two countries disagree fundamentally on many issues, including the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria, and the S-400s. Some issues will never get resolved. We can also add here the human rights violations. President Biden’s approach, as it should be, is institutional. Unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, Biden does not reduce relations with countries and their leaders to the personal level. Trump’s relations with Erdogan were driven by his own personal preferences.”
C: President Erdogan and his son-in-law are mentioned in the U.S. prosecutor’s indictments about the Halk Bank investigation. Why is President Erdogan scared of the investigation?
B: “Halk Bank is an embarrassment for Turkey and Erdogan. Not only is he and his son-in-law are mentioned. An actual fine, some say it may be as large as $40 billion, would represent a hard blow for the Turkish economy that is suffering one of its worst periods. Its foreign reserves have been depleted, trust in the Turkish economic leadership is at an all-time low and such a fine would further undermine confidence. Erdogan had hoped that U.S. presidents could interfere in such cases. Unlike Turkey, the executive branch has no say on what the judicial system does. Halk Bank is on its own trajectory and the Turkish leadership will have to buckle up its seatbelts.”
C: Turkey is on the verge of elections. But, according to some commentators, President Erdogan will not hold the election if he knows he will lose it.
B: “There may be a last-minute decision about holding the elections. Erdogan (along with his coterie of friends, allies, and associates) probably thinks that he cannot afford to lose as the repercussions for him personally would be quite significant. If the surveys and polls are not good for the government, it is not beyond the possibilities that he will either manufacture an international crisis or find a reason to delay them.”
C: How has your life been impacted by all that you have been through since the coup attempt?
B: “They attacked my academic career. My friends in Turkey are scared to talk to me. What a weird government this is. Some may think that they may end up in jail if they engage with me. Turkey is living in a state of fear. For example, Canan Kaftancioglu was sentenced to four years in prison because of a tweet she posted seven years ago. I am lucky that I live in the United States. I sleep and wake up in my bed at my home. I am not in prison. Poor Osman Kavala. He did nothing wrong but is still in prison.”
C: Did the coup-attempt allegations turn your life upside down?
B: “Yes, they did. The government was very successful in orchestrating a campaign based on nothing and thus isolating me. Even some of my friends who live in Europe (and not in Turkey), whom I have known for many years, are fearful of sending emails or talking to me. It has negatively affected my career; this impedes my research possibilities and even think tanks do not want to invite me for fear of falling afoul of Turkish authorities or their accomplices. I found out the hard way that Turks will lobby conference organizers to disinvite me. I am not going to do anything about it, but it is a black mark on those who go along with it. Beyond that, I very much regret that I cannot go back to the city of my birth, Istanbul, roam its streets, visit locations that were important to me and my family; places we lived, my father and others worked, my grandparents’ graves or where my parents’ ashes. I used to travel at least three to four times a year to Turkey, but it has been six years since my last visit.”
C: Would you visit the Turkish Embassy if there are any consular formalities/affairs?
B: “No. In any case, there is no chance that they would not invite me in the first place so this is not something I will spend too much time thinking about.”
To conclude, Turkey continues to spread a false narrative about who was responsible for plotting the failed coup attempt six years ago this month. It has pointed the finger at various states (most often, the United States and the UAE), groups (mainly the Gulenists), and individuals (Henri Barkey, exclusively). As President Erdogan and his henchmen would want the world to believe, these irrelevant suspects somehow came together and conspired to plot a coup to overthrow the government in Turkey. The scenario is ludicrous. No rational person would give it any credence. The Turkish government, however, will use the anniversary of the coup attempt to stage a dazzling ceremony at which it can paint President Erdogan as a hero for protecting the country from being overtaken by “outsiders” and political opponents. This heroism is built upon a sham investigation, fabricated evidence, and statements taken from individuals by means of torture. As Barkey emphasized, Turkey has no fair and independent judiciary system. However, all accused people pay an enormously bitter price, and no one knows when, or if, the truth will ever come to light for all the world to see.
By Mahmut Cengiz