23,364 personnel expelled from military over Gülen links since coup attempt: minister

As Turkey marks the fifth anniversary of a coup attempt, the country’s defense minister announced that 23,364 personnel from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have been expelled over Gülen links since the failed coup, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

According to the pro-government Sabah daily, when members dismissed from the gendarmerie and the coast guard are included, the total increases to 29,444. The figure does not include 16,409 military cadets who were expelled after the coup attempt.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s statement came at the 5th International July 15 Symposium held by the July 15 Foundation at Marmara University on Tuesday. Akar was the country’s chief of general staff at the time of the coup.

Turkey experienced a controversial military coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016 which, according to many, was a false flag aimed at entrenching the authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by rooting out dissidents and eliminating powerful actors such as the military in his desire for absolute power.

The failed coup killed 251 people and wounded more than a thousand others. The next morning, after announcing the coup had been suppressed, the Turkish government immediately started a wide-ranging purge of military officers, judges, police officers, teachers and other government officials that ultimately led to the dismissal of more than 150,000 from their jobs.

At the night of the abortive putsch, President Erdoğan immediately blamed the Gülen movement for the attempt. He has been targeting followers of the movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

According to the latest data, investigations are ongoing into 10,678 individuals including 5,887 from the army, 3,644 from the navy and 1,147 from the air force.

Only a small number of the dismissed personnel actually participated in the coup attempt. In fact, according to the Sabah daily, the bulk of the dismissals were made based on what is called the “payphone investigations.”

The so-called payphone investigations are based on call records mostly dating back years before the Gülen movement was declared a terrorist organization. The prosecutors assume that a member of the Gülen movement used the same payphone to call all his contacts consecutively. Based on that assumption, when an alleged member of the movement is found in call records, it is assumed that other numbers called right before or after that call also belong to people with Gülen links. Receiving calls from a payphone periodically is also considered a red flag.

The authorities do not have the actual content of the phone calls in question. According to human rights lawyers, under normal circumstances such call records cannot be considered legal evidence.

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