Wednesday 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 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.
The evening was opened by Advocates For Dignity President, Mehmet Saral, who said that the masterminds of the tragic coup attempt remain unknown, yet the civil society Hizmet movement, inspired by exiled Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, were quickly made the culprit.
He further added that when assessing as to who has benefitted most from the coup, it is apparent that it has mostly been President Erdogan and his political allies.
Jorgen Lorentzen is a Norwegian film producer, writer, gender researcher and university professor. He became interested in composing the documentary as he was present in Istanbul at the time the failed coup took place, and quickly became aware of discrepancies in the Turkish government’s narrative used to point the finger of blame at Gulen and the Hizmet 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 two 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.
During the narration of his documentary, Lorentzen states, “On the very night that the coup attempt unfolded, the mass arrests 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 for no other reason other than being associated with the Hizmet movement.
Through interviews with individuals 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.
He talked about Turkish-Russian relationships, explaining that 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 15 July 2016, Russians were also in Turkey leading to suspicion that Putin may have a hand in the coup.
Lorentzen also briefed the virtual audience at the webinar, 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 and supporters.
“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.
The movement suffered as a consequence of the coup attempt, in that all of its institutions in Turkey were shut down. This trend continued in many Muslim majority, Erdogan-aligned countries, where schools established by the movement were taken over by the Turkish authorities.
“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, stating “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.”