COMMENTARY — Case of airbase commander tells the tale of Erdoğan’s Turkey

By Abdullah Bozkurt

The unlawful arrest and wrongful prosecution of an important airbase commander in Turkey’s northwestern city of Bandırma is one of many pieces of evidence which confirm that a 2016 coup bid in Turkey was nothing but a false flag for transforming NATO’s second largest military with its robust air force into a personal militia operating at the whim of the country’s Islamists and neo-nationalist rulers.

His name is Brig. Gen. Mustafa Rüştü Çelenk, who was commander of the 6th Air Wing Main Jet Base Group Command, which is located in the seaside city of Bandırma, my hometown. I remember growing up with the roar of F-16 and F-104 fighter jets dominating the city and looking up to identify them as they took off and landed. This beautiful city, situated on the eastern side of a tombolo attaching the Kapıdağ Peninsula to the mainland in the northwest of Turkey, is rich with history, from the Romans to Ottomans who ruled the city and its environs. It was the place where the last shot of World War I was fired, in 1918.

I always wondered what happened to this base and its command during and after the failed coup attempt, and my research reinforced my conviction that the attempt was nothing but a trap by Erdoğan and his thugs to create a pretext for a mass purge of NATO officers from the Turkish military. On the night of the coup, Çelenk was at the wedding of Maj. Gen. Mehmet Şanver’s daughter at the İstanbul Moda Marine Club along with other top commanders including Air Forces Commander Gen. Abidin Ünal. Şanver, who retired a month after the coup attempt, was commander of the Eskişehir Combatant Air Unit and Air Missile Defense under the Air Forces Command and was responsible for the control of airspace over Turkey at the time.

Çelenk was instructed to return to his base by 23:00 pm on July 15 when Air Forces Commander Ünal asked all air force generals attending the wedding to control the bases and prevent any unauthorized takeoffs or landings. On his way back to Bandırma from İstanbul, as news of the mobilization was already on the air on Friday night, Çelenk called in to check with the governor of Balıkesir province, Ersin Yazıcı, who has jurisdiction over the city of Bandırma. He assured him that his base had nothing to do with the coup and said all 27 F-16 fighter jets had been dispatched on June 15, a month earlier, to air bases in Balıkesir, Malatya, and Dalaman because of extensive construction and repair work on the runway at the Bandırma base. He told the governor that none of his 27 F-16s were involved in the attempt from the bases where they were temporarily stationed. These planes returned to Bandırma in November 2016 after the repair work was finished. He also asked him if there was anything he could do. The governor thanked him and simply asked the commander to keep an eye on the base.

On the night of the coup, Selami Altınok — the undersecretary of the Interior Ministry and former Istanbul police chief who helped the Turkish president whitewash 2013 corruption investigations that incriminated Erdoğan and his family members — was in Balıkesir. Under Erdoğan’s orders, Altınok and the governor cooked up a plot to round up all six high-ranking army, air force, navy and gendarmerie generals in the province including Çelenk on the pretext of countering the coup attempt when none of these generals had anything to do with the putschists. There was no mobilization from any military post in the province. The next day Çelenk was summoned to the city of Balıkesir by the governor to attend an emergency meeting for assessing security. When Çelenk arrived at the governor’s office after a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the base in Bandırma, he was detained by the police on the spot.

Çelenk, who was the first commander in the province to be arrested, was later transferred to a high-security prison in Bandırma. In August 2016 the government stripped him of his rank with an executive order and declared him a terrorist and coup plotter without any investigation or trial, civil or martial. His pension and pilot’s license were revoked as well. Soon after he was moved to the Bandırma maximum security prison, authorities in November 2016 put him in solitary confinement, a punishment in and of itself that constitutes torture if it exceeds a reasonable period of time, usually two weeks. Yet, he has been in a cell all by himself since then. What he endured in this cell under torture and ill-treatment would not even have been done by an enemy if his plane had been shot down and he was captured behind enemy lines. He would have been treated decently. Yet his country has done to him what the enemy would not.

After spending 312 days in pretrial detention, the first hearing was held at the Balikesir 2nd High Criminal Court on May 24, 2017. The trial has stretched into this year as well with the court refusing to release Çelenk at a hearing in May. Along with Çelenk, the following commanders who were stationed in Balıkesir province are also being tried on fabricated coup and terrorism charges: Maj. Gen. Mehmet Akyürek, commander of the Balıkesir military headquarters; Brig. Gen. İshak Dayıoğlu, commander of the 9th Main Air Base in Balıkesir; Brig. Gen. Şenol Alkış, commander of the Balıkesir Military Academy for Noncommissioned Officers; Brig. Gen. Nihayet Ünlü, commander of the Edremit 19thMotorized Infantry Regiment; Read Adm. Gökhan Polat, commander of the Erdek Mine Warfare Fleet; and Staff Col. Ömer Arık, commander of the gendarmerie in Balikesir province.

I never knew this man and don’t recall hearing his name before. But I wanted to create a record for his memory and distinguished career that Erdoğan’s thugs have tried to tarnish. The motive behind the defaming of this highly decorated officer who commanded Turkey’s important airbase in Bandırma lies within the sinister plot by the neo-nationalist ally of the Erdoğan government to control the critical command post that oversees the protection of the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean.

Considering how these extremists in the Turkish military managed to bring Turkey to the brink of war with Greece in the 1990s and plotted further false flags against Greece in 2003 and 2004, this is quite a troubling development. Now Erdoğan and his neo-nationalist allies led by the Doğu Perinçek group have a free hand to do as they please with the Bandırma Airbase, which is now under the control of their henchmen. (

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