Four Years On: Turkey’s 15 July Coup Attempt and its Consequences

15 July 2020 marked the four-year anniversary of the bloodiest coup attempt in Turkey’s political history; a night that actively changed the country’s political trajectory.

On this evening, Advocates For Dignity presented its webinar ‘Turkey’s 15th of July Coup Attempt and its Consequences’, starring guest keynote speaker Jorgen Lorentzen and facilitator, former ABC Radio National presenter, John Cleary.

The webinar was opened by Advocates for Dignity President, Mehmet Saral’s opening, where he mentioned, that the 15th of July marked the 4th anniversary of the tragic coup attempt in Turkey, whose masterminds are still not known. He went on to say that the Gulen inspired Hizmet civil society movement and Mr Gulen himself have been made the culprit as the instigators of the so-called coup attempt, however, when you look at who the coup attempt benefitted, you will clearly see that it has benefited Erdogan and his political allies the most. On the contrary, the Hizmet movement suffered as a consequence of the coup attempt, in that it had all its institutions in Turkey closed down as a consequence. Also, in some of the Muslim majority Erdogan aligned countries around the World, where the Hizmet movement had schools, Hizmet schools were taken over by the Turkish authorities. An example of that were the 29 PakTurk schools in Pakistan. On top of all that, tens of thousands of innocent people – men, women and children were jailed as a consequence, and for no other reason other than being associated in some shape or form with the Hizmet movement, either as a teacher, an employee of one of the institutions or as a supporter.

The webinar explored the making of Lorentzen’s 2019 documentary, ‘A Gift from God’, which investigates the truth behind Turkey’s failed coup attempt, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s immediate accusatory response that led to the unprecedented crackdown of his opponents.

Jorgen Lorentzen is a Norwegian film producer, writer, gender researcher and university professor who became interested in composing the documentary as he was present in Istanbul at the time the failed coup took place. He wuickly became aware of discrepancies in the Turkish government’s narrative used to point the finger of blame at exiled Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and Hizment/Gulen Movement.

“We all felt that it was fishy from the beginning. One of the older men in my company said that he had been through 2 coups in Turkey and this is not what a coup is like, and since then I have been working day and night, following different tracks,” he said.

In the narration of his documentary, Lorentzen states, “On the very night that the coup attempt unfolded, the mass attempts began. How was it possible to begin arresting people so soon... For three years, we worked intensively to try to understand what really happened.”

The hours, days and months following this historic night resulted in the dismissal and arrest of tens of thousands of teachers, journalists, judges, military personnel and health workers. Through interviews with people who witnessed it, the documentary reveals never-before-seen accounts, documents and film footage from the night.

Lorentzen explained that he critically examined the chronology of pre and post coup events: from innocent military cadets who were beaten to death on the Bosphorus Bridge by Turkish citizens, to the unusual actions of the Turkish Navy, and the strange document that was circulated, inaccurately detailing the events that did and did not take place on the night of the coup, yet was used to warrant thousands of arrests.

Lorentzen also talked about Turkish-Russian relationships, where he said Turkey is moving its allegiance from the West towards East, particularly towards Russia. Leading up to the coup, Erdogan-Putin relations were excellent and on 15th of July 2016, Russians were also in Turkey. Lorentzen said that Putin has a hand in the coup, however, he does not know exactly what.

He briefed the virtual audience on the once positive relationship between Erdogan and the Hizmet movement which ended in 2013, marking the beginning of Erdogan’s hostility towards the movement’s associates.

“People belonging to the Hizmet movement were very strong in the judiciary, they were popular and had influence, and when Erdogan came into power, he had control over the parliament and military but he could not control the judiciary. He felt it was absolutely necessary to find a way to get rid of the Hizmet movement,” he said.

“This was his chance to cleanse the country of the movement,” he continued. “For me it was important that I got information from security services such as NATO, Norwegian security, US security etc and they all stated very clearly that they don’t think Gulen was behind the coup.”

John Cleary’s thought-provoking questions, and Lorentzen’s detailed explanations, allowed for an extremely informative evening.

Lorentzen ended the webinar, inviting more people to instigate discourse surrounding the topic as ‘the puzzle is incomplete, I still need questions answered. We still do not know who was behind [the coup] and we are ready to continue working on this case.’