Whistleblower reveals foreign policy blunders in Turkey

A highly classified letter sent by an anonymous officer to the boss of Turkey’s spy agency in 2007 was leaked to the press from the Turkish Parliament this week. The letter, apparently written by a whistleblower in the Special Forces Command (ÖKK), which is a special operations unit answerable directly to the General Staff, reveals shocking plans cooked up by a junta in the military. The ÖKK often rendered services for the Tactical Mobilization Group (STK), formerly known as the Special Warfare Department (ÖHD), an equivalent to the Gladio style stay-behind operation in the Turkish military.

Therefore it is safe to assume that s/he had intimate knowledge of shady deals planned in this secretive branch of the Turkish military. The officer wrote six letters in total detailing how he was involved in dirty schemes devised by a clandestine gang in special ops. They were sent to the parliamentary Coup and Memorandum Investigation Commission for examination by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The officer was complaining that the special forces were being manipulated by a select group of coup-loving junta members who were determined to oust the democratically elected and popular government in Turkey despite the fact that the STK was designed to mobilize national assets in time of war against the external threat. The letter was addressed to then-Undersecretary of MİT Emre Taner.

It was certainly a hair-raising experience to read the letter leaked to reporters. According to the whistleblower’s account, the ÖKK was ordered to draw plans to blow up two bridges across the Bosporus in İstanbul, the Boğaziçi and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges, the Yalova ferry and the Bolu Tunnel on the highway connecting Ankara and Istanbul as well as key crossing points on the Black Sea Ring Highway. The command’s plans also included the bombing of Atatürk’s mausoleum, called Anıtkabir, in the country’s capital.

The plan also included a series of bombings during massive protests that were held against the government in 2007, dubbed “republican rallies” by their organizers, in several provinces of the country. The attack was supposed to be blamed on religious fundamentalist groups affiliated with the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party). We now learned from the ongoing court cases in Turkey that these protests were organized with the manipulation of the Ergenekon terrorist organization, a shadowy network nested within the state with the aim of overthrowing the government.

Since there is not enough space to detail all plans mentioned in the letter here, I will dwell on points that involve foreign policy and Turkey’s neighbors. The letter claims that the junta wanted to risk dragging the country into hot international conflicts just to expand the maneuvering room of the military in Turkey and to put embarrassing blemishes on the government’s record. Looking back to events in 2007 before and after the June snap elections held because of the presidential election crisis in Parliament, it is obvious that some of these plans were actually carried out.

For example, the reports on dogfights between Turkish and Greek jets over the disputed Aegean airspace sharply increased following the May 2006 incident in which Turkish and Greek F-16 jet fighters collided in mid-air as they were shadowing each other. The Turkish and Greek foreign ministries exchanged mutual accusations claiming a violation of national airspace in March 2007, almost a year after the aviation incident. According to General Staff, in the first half of 2007 (interestingly in the period leading up to the July elections) Turkish jets engaged Greek fighters 207 times to prevent incursion into Turkish airspace. In the same year, cockpit conversations among Turkish pilots and how they operate during these dogfights were posted on the YouTube website. These events cannot be coincidental.

This reminds me of Operation Thunderstorm (Oraj) which was a sub-plot of the Sledgehammer military coup operation that was discovered in 2010 court documents. The plan sees an escalation of the crisis with Greece by provoking conflict in the air, at sea and on land borders. However, the ultimate target of the plan was not Greece but the Turkish government itself. Bringing Turkey to the brink of war with Greece was a “means to an end” scenario to prepare the groundwork for an armed military intervention in Turkey. It perfectly fit the scenarios mentioned by the whistleblower’s letter in 2007.

The Oraj plan, dated February 2003, specifically asks for increased flights over the Aegean and orders commanding officers to instruct pilots to engage in harassment maneuvers with Greek fighter jets. It wants Turkish pilots to be more aggressive and even issues new rules of engagement allowing pilots to take shots at Greek fighters, albeit unofficially. The plan suggests reorganizing the Special Fleet within the Turkish Air Forces (THK) with the specific objective of tasking a Turkish pilot to shoot down a Turkish jet in his own squadron in case all efforts to provoke a Greek fighter jet to destroy a Turkish one fail. Fabricated stories would then be planted in the media, saying that Greece intentionally shot down a Turkish jet. The plotters hoped that this would create a huge embarrassment for the ruling AK Party government.

Going back to the letter again, another foreign policy issue the junta tried to exploit by mobilizing some assets among civil society groups in order to hammer the government was Cyprus. There was an intensive campaign in 2007 against the government based on false allegations that Turkish Cypriots on the divided Mediterranean island were sold out by the AK Party. Even advocacy groups that have nothing to do with foreign policy started issuing declarations against the government that the Turks in Cyprus were left alone in their fight against the Greek Cypriots. The fact that there are too many examples from 2007 of this campaign shows how the junta was effective in its planning through special ops.

2007 was also a year when Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead outside his newspaper’s office in Şişli in January. Since the issue of non-Muslims in general and the Armenian genocide in particular are sensitive topics in Turkey, it would not come as a surprise that the junta tried to exploit these sensitivities in Turkish society. Hopefully other documents MİT has referred to in the parliamentary commission can shed some light on finally resolving the Dink murder. The same goes for the Malatya massacre case involving the slaughter of three Christians in 2007, and the case of Father Andrea Santoro, who was murdered in 2006 in Trabzon. In that same year, Armenian genocide bill discussions in the US Congress further fueled nationalist fervor in Turkey, much to the benefit of the junta’s aims, putting more strain on the government.

The Kurdish issue to the extent it linked with the semiautonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq was another area in which the junta saw an opportunity to score against the government. Starting in January 2007, the government was subjected to an intense campaign of being too passive when it comes to dealing with northern Iraq. The then-chief of Turkey’s General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt was publicly accusing Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq of actively backing Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists, threatening a cross-border incursion. The military was overstepping into the policy decision-making process, creating a deep rift between the army and the government. The goal was to create the impression that the government was simply too weak to handle a critically important issue on the national agenda when it resisted the idea of a special military operation into northern Iraq. The government was able to fend off the pressure until June but was eventually forced to cave in and allowed the military to go into northern Iraq.

No doubt that all of these plans require the manipulation of public opinion through the media, and the ÖKK had plenty signed up for this job, some voluntarily and others without even knowing they were on the hook. The whistleblower’s letter also exposes this by saying that as a part of these plans, journalists would be urged to write false news stories. Therefore some of the journalists accused in the coup cases are actually co-conspirators in these hideous plans against the nation and are now responding to charges in a court of law. They have not performed their public duty by exposing dirty deals to the public but instead have behaved as pens-for-hire to serve the interests of coup mongers in Turkey. Those who are keen to advance the press freedom issue in Turkey need to separate these bad apples from legitimate infringement on freedom of the press cases in order to help contribute to the further democratization of Turkey.

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