A total of 3,243 military members were dismissed from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in the first nine months of 2021 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Maj. Pınar Kara, a spokesperson for Turkey’s Defense Ministry, said at a press conference on Sunday.
Kara said 27,596 members of the military have been dismissed from the TSK since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 due to their alleged links to the movement. But she failed to clarify if the number included personnel dismissed in 2021.
The pro-government Sabah daily had reported in May that 29,444 military members had been dismissed since the coup attempt, including those from the gendarmerie and coast guard. The figure does not take into account 16,409 military cadets who were expelled after the coup attempt.
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.
On 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. After the failed coup, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. In addition to military personnel, more than 130,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.
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.