Fresh trials on the July 15 coup attempt that is being blamed largely on the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) have commenced Monday in Istanbul and the capital Ankara.
In the first coup trial in the capital, defendants claimed, in a common blame game among defendants facing life in prison, they were “following orders” given by their superiors when they helped the capture of a military base.
Though they were dressed in sharp suits, the defendants were staunchly “military” when they appeared before judges as coup trials over the July 15 coup attempt started in Turkey’s two largest cities.
Two of the defendants first to testify in the hearing in Ankara, claimed they simply “followed orders” of higher ranking officers when they assisted a pro-coup general’s attempt to capture a military base by blocking the entrance and exits.
Turkish authorities are blaming FETÖ, which instructed officers loyal to the terrorist group to execute a coup and kill the country’s leaders, for planning and trying to carry out the July 15 coup attempt.
In the first trial in Ankara on Monday, 27 defendants appeared before a court for incidents at an air base of the military’s elite Special Forces in the district of Etimesgut. Amid tight security measures, the defendants, which include six suspects who were released earlier pending trial, were brought into a make-shift courtroom set up in the Sincan prison complex where hundreds of officers and civilians involved in the coup attempt are being held.
Col. Ahmet Balaban, the deputy commander of the base, and Lt. Col. Halit Kabil, who led a brigade of helicopter pilots deployed at the base, claimed they were only following orders although they sensed something “extraordinary” on the night of July 15 when pro-coup troops tried to take over the presidential palace, the army headquarters, the Parliament and other strategically vital locations.
Balaban said he was summoned to the base on the night of the coup over “an emergency” and believed it was a terror alert. He said he was relayed “orders of the army chief” by a colonel heading the operations unit of the Special Forces, to “detain” the base commander and take him to another military base. He said he carried out the order and took the commander to another military base where he was held, without questioning the motive for the detention.
Balaban said he also welcomed the pro-coup Brigadier Gen. Semih Terzi, who flew into the base from another city to take it over. Terzi was shot dead by Ömer Halisdemir, a heroic officer who prevented the putschists from an entire takeover of the base, thereby keeping a critical base out of the hands of pro-coup officers.
Balaban said he coordinated flights from the base and complied with Terzi’s orders, again, without questioning them. He said he learned that a coup was underway when he watched the news on TV but decided to go along and comply with the orders of the putschist officers.
“TVs can report it but you have to do what you are supposed to do in the military,” he said, showing no sign of remorse over the bloody coup attempt that left 248 people dead.
Like Balaban, army pilot Halit Kabil told the court he acted in line with the chain of command and complied with the orders. Kabil said he was following orders when he forcibly took a military helicopter on the coup night. Kabil also said that although he sensed “something’s wrong” when Semih Terzi was shot dead, he continued following orders.
At the Silivri prison complex on Istanbul’s European side, 74 soldiers accused of attempting to capture offices of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Istanbul appeared before the court for their first trial. The defendants, like those in Ankara, face multiple aggravated life sentences for “attempting to overthrow constitutional order.”
The Istanbul office of the AK Party was the target of the junta which also tried to seize the governorate, city hall and other strategic sites to quash any opposition to their coup attempt. The occupation attempt came shortly after the public noticed the presence of soldiers on the streets and on a major bridge in the city was the start of a coup attempt rather than an anti-terror drill as many were first led to believe.
On short notice, hundreds of citizens surrounded the building to fend off the coup soldiers who were confronted by an AK Party chairman for the city and a few other party members inside the building AK Party lawmaker Metin Külünk later joined the crowd and managed to convince the pro-coup troops to turn themselves in.
The indictment, whose contents were revealed by media outlets, states a colonel and a major stationed at a military school in the city were the masterminds of a plan to capture the AK Party building.