Documentary details persecution of hundreds of military cadets over failed 2016 coup

A documentary telling the stories of military cadets in Turkey, hundreds of whom were unjustly convicted due to their alleged involvement in a failed coup in 2016, has premiered on YouTube, drawing widespread attention, Turkish Minute reported on Thursday.

Titled “Mavi Otobüs” (Blue Bus), the 44-minute documentary, subtitled in 14 languages and which gives voice to six air force cadets who talk about the key events that unfolded before, during and after the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, was released on the “Askeri Öğrenci Komitesi” (Committee of Military Cadets) YouTube channel two days before the sixth anniversary of the abortive putsch.

Cadets Halit Tunç, Adnan Yıldız, Lokman Hekim Avcı, Rıdvan Aydın, İhsan Kurt and Samet Yazgaç, who had left Turkey fearing for their lives and are currently living abroad, said they had shot the documentary in four countries “for the freedom of our friends and the understanding of the truth.”

The military cadets have denied taking part in the coup attempt and said they were only acting on orders from their superiors, who told them there was a terrorist attack on the night of the attempted coup. Dozens of military cadets who were given life sentences on coup charges have been released from prison in recent months to be retried after the country’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned their sentences.  The cadets had been in jail for about six years.

The title of the documentary refers to the buses hundreds of cadets boarded on the night of the coup attempt on orders by their commanders, thinking they were going to confront a terrorist attack. However, they suddenly found themselves in the middle of an angry crowd, according to the documentary, which led to the lynching of two cadets, Murat Tekin and Ragıp Enes Katran.

Following the coup attempt, 16,409 military cadets were expelled from their academies by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny, and 355 of them were given life sentences, with some of them overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals, according to figures revealed at the end of the video. As of July 2022, 209 cadets are still behind bars.

The documentary, which reached over 250,000 viewers on the first day of its release, received positive reviews from many, including journalists.

“On July 15, they found themselves in a lynching. They talked about it many times in court. They spent months and years in prison. Their voices were barely heard. Now they … are telling of the great injustice [they faced] on #MaviOtobus. Take 45 minutes of your time [to watch it],” journalist Banu Güven said in a tweet.

Lawyer and author Hürrem Sönmez also said that as a “gun-phobic person with no military sympathies,” she found what was told in the documentary “horrific” from an objective point of view.

“Justice must come for the students who are still in detention, too, even if it’s been 6 years. I think everyone should watch [and see] how these people’s lives were stolen. I hope those who used these children as bait and threw them in front of the crowd [on July 15] don’t get away with it,” she added.

The coup attempt claimed the lives of 251 people and was put down overnight.

Immediately after the abortive putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the faith-based Gülen movement. The movement strongly denies any involvement.

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