By Antoine Abou-Diwan
BEIRUT: The Turkish government has presented the United States with over 84 boxes of “hard evidence” that Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish preacher living in Pennsylvania, was behind last year’s failed coup, the country’s ambassador to Lebanon said Friday.
Speaking at an event in Beirut ahead of the first anniversary of the failed putsch, Cagatay Erciyes, the Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon, said that “the United States has asked for evidence [of Gulen’s involvement], and we sent to them 84 boxes of evidence, full of hard evidence.”
As he praised national unity in Turkey since the events as a victory for democracy he said the government’s push to have Gulen extradited for masterminding the coup was “still a pending issue.”
“Tomorrow we will celebrate this anniversary as Democracy and National Unity Day in Turkey,” Erciyes said during the media conference in Downtown Friday.
On July 15, 2016, members of the Turkish military launched a coordinated operation in several cities in Turkey in a bid to topple the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled the country as prime minister and then president since 2003.
Tanks rolled through the streets of Ankara and Istanbul. Soldiers blocked the Bosphorus Bridge and stormed media outlets.
“On that night we were confronted with murderers heading their tanks onto innocent civilians; killing unsuspecting military personnel who refused to join them; flying fighter jets to bomb their own national Parliament, the presidential compound, the headquarters of National Intelligence and Special Forces, and strategically vital infrastructure,” Erciyes said. “They attempted to assassinate our president.”
During Friday’s event at a Turkish cultural center in Beirut, Erciyes showed dramatic footage from that night. Pointing to images of unarmed Turks standing in front of tanks he said they were as iconic as the famous “tank man” photo at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
“These murderers killed 250 of our citizens and left almost 2,200 people injured,” Erciyes said.
With the attempt a failure, a year on the Turkish government maintains a harsh crackdown on those accused of being involved. The country remains under a state of emergency allowing the government to rule by decree without the initial approval of lawmakers.
More than 50,000 people were detained and 150,000 suspended from work after the attempt. Scores of journalists and activists have also been jailed.
Approximately 3 percent of Turkey’s 3.5 million state employees were fired or suspended, although 30,000 have since been reinstated through administrative boards of review, Erciyes said. Turkey has repeatedly accused U.S. based Gulen of masterminding the coup.
“Their goal was to take control of the Turkish state illegally and rule the country based on their perverted radical beliefs,” Erciyes said.
The government almost immediately launched a sweeping crackdown on alleged “Gulenists.”
Critics and opposition parties have accused Erdogan of exploiting the attempted coup in order to crack down on his opponents and consolidate his powers.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, concluded a 25-day “March for Justice” with a rally in Istanbul Sunday that was joined by hundreds of thousands to protest the massive crackdown and to call for an independent judiciary.
Suspects are currently being tried in over 70 court hearings in 23 cities Erciyes said Friday. Those who feel they were wrongly targeted in the crackdown can submit petitions starting July 17 through the end of September, he added.
This story first appeared in The Daily Star, July 15, 2017.