The journalists of the Turkish CNN experienced first hand the attempted coup, since their premises were occupied by the coup leaders. Interview with Ferhat Boratav, managing editor of CNN Turk
Ferhat Boratav is the managing editor of CNN Turk, one of Turkey's most important TV stations. We meet him in his office, beyond rows of desks alligned in the main room, now occupied by dozens of journalists and operators. On the night of July 15th, these rooms were occupied by the military (one of the glass windows is still there, shattered, as a reminder of the event) to force the interruption of transmissions. We also enter the room from which President Erdoğan's appeal was aired to the population via Facetime.
The place is full of memories and meanings connected to the attempted coup, so Boratav opens the interview by showing us a video, produced by the broadcaster itself, about the events of that night – it shows the soldiers, opposition attempts by some journalists, the crowd gathering around the building, police intervention and, finally, the resumption of broadcasts.
"It is the story of an hour and a half of frantic events. Rumours have depicted the failed coup as a fake. As I was able to experience it, it was instead a serious coup attempt, that just failed".
Why did it fail?
Two main reasons, I think. First, the reaction by the media – the coup leaders believed that they would step aside, that they would understand their reasons and let it happen, but they did not.
The second is that people literally took to the streets to fight the soldiers. This people came here to save us. If they had failed, today we would not be on air.
To date, who can be considered responsible for the attempted coup?
I still have Whatsapp messages from that night on my phone. At about 10.30 pm, about an hour after the first signs of the coup, a colleague of mine wrote: "This is the work of Gülen's people".
So, from the beginning we were sure of who was behind this operation and the reason is simple: there is no other faction within the army with the sufficient numbers and organisational skills to set up a coup. They were able to recruit soldiers from over 20 different units including elite ones, three different military bases, and three teams of special units to hunt down key government representatives.
When it was all over, we witnessed confessions and admissions by high-ranking officials, who said they were part of Gülen's network since the beginning of their career.
There are still two missing links in the picture: when they become of public domain, all will be clear. The first, very important one is the figure of Adil Öksüz, which is considered an emissary of Gülen in the Air Force. He had been arrested on the night the coup failed. Witnesses have confirmed his presence in one of the military bases used during the operations, where he instructed officers. He was arrested and reported to a court for confirmation of the arrest, but was released for lack of evidence. He is now missing and the object of a big manhunt. We do know that Öksüz travelled to the United States two days before the coup and then returned to Turkey. He is believed to have brought with him the latest indications and the go-ahead for the operation.
The second missing element is the "smoking gun", the ultimate proof that establishes responsibility beyond doubt.
Do you believe that the government is or has been responsible for facilitating the growth of Gülen's network, in light of the historical alliance between the latter and the AKP?
My interest in Gülen dates back to the mid eighties. I was part of the team that for the first time aired a video showing the preacher giving clear instructions to his followers on how to infiltrate the state. That video was disclosed in 1999. I know these men and their methods very well.
When the AKP came to power in 2002, it was a new party, founded only two years before, and therefore had little political know-how. They needed people, technicians, and bureaucrats to manage the daily life of government and administration. Gülen gave them these people. It was a marriage of convenience. Gülen provided the manpower and obviously got something in return. I'm sure they got some favourable deals in public contracts and calls. Above all, they gained further access to the state apparatus. The generals or officials we now see suspended from their positions, fired, or arrested – they all received their promotions under the AKP government.
This marriage of convenience collapsed when Gülen thought himself strong enough to ask for more from the government. This occurred on occasion of the constitutional reform, about two years ago. For the first time in the Republican history, a religious movement released a statement of explicit political nature. Gülen said: "I wish the dead could come out of their graves and vote in favour of the amendments to the Constitution". These amendments opened Erdoğan the way to the direct election of the president. It was a very strong support from Gülen to Erdoğan and his ambitions.
That was when Gülen openly took a stand in politics. Until then, his organisation had been able to disguise itself as a charity; after that, it was no longer possible to hide its political ambitions. The government obtained the amendments and Gülen's circle claimed the result. At the time, there were polls that tried to identify the size of Gülen's constituency – 10%, 15%, or 20%, no one knew for sure. It was under those circumstances that Gülen demanded a slice of political power.
What exactly were his demands for the government?
Surely positions in ministries and in the government, the opportunity to present their candidates in parliamentary elections. And they did! Think of Hakan Şükür, the famous ex-footballer: he was elected to parliament in the ranks of the AKP, and we knew he was part of the gülenist network.
Other situations followed, such as the 2013 corruption scandal or the attempt to impeach the head of the intelligence services (MIT) close to Erdoğan, but the crux of the matter was the political battle after this episode.
The National Security Council gave its approval to extend the state of emergency again, and the measure was officially adopted on October 3rd. Do you believe this is really needed or that it would be better to meet the demands of the opposition to return to the centrality of parliament?
I see July 15th as an earthquake. Geologists tell us that, after an earthquake, the faults that caused it do not disappear. The faults that threaten the Turkish state and society have not disappeared. The failed coup will cause people to change their behaviour in public life, it is something we already see. We also see that the dialogue between the government and the opposition parties has improved. The general opposition to the coup has changed the nature of popular support for the AKP and the pro-government media.
Obviously, the government and the opposition have different opinions and policy visions. I think that people understand the three-month extension of the state of emergency. No one expects everything to return to normal in just three months. Rather, I think a further extension of this measure, over six months, would be very harmful. We must return to a normal political life. A few days ago, international rating organisations lowered their assessments of the country, citing political instability. The state of emergency has certainly influenced this decision and it is therefore clear how this would eventually become a factor of instability.
I do not know if a parliamentary inquiry is the best tool to assess the facts of July 15th. There will surely be a huge trial. In our experience, a trial is the most effective tool to understand what really happened. A parliamentary committee could politicise the affair even further.
The point is that however the investigation is carried out – in the courts, in parliament, or by a government commission – what matters is transparency and effectiveness. We need to understand exactly what happened, who is responsible, and what can be done to avoid it happens again.
Involving oppositions is crucial – they established their commissions to monitor the measures taken after the failed coup and have a voice in the debate. I hope that they continue to be part of that.
However the HDP, which has expressed its contrariness to the state of emergency, was excluded from any official meeting on the issue, despite having 59 MPs.
The case of the HDP is complex. First of all, it was not just the government who wanted the HDP out of the debate. For example, the MHP (ultranationalist right-wing party) is very hostile to the HDP – they would want them all in jail. The CHP (centre-left Social Democratic Party) has a half-way position, they do not want the HDP to fall victim of a witch hunt, but neither they want a relationship with them.
My personal opinion is that a Kurdish voice in parliament is essential. The only remedy against terrorism is to grant everyone the exercise of political rights, excluding the use of weapons and force. Anyone has the right to be represented and to express their vision in parliament, as long as there is a concrete renunciation of violence. It is absolutely crucial to have a party, the HDP or another, to represent Kurds in parliament.
The actions carried out by the government after the failed coup turned upside down the personal and family lives of tens of thousands of people. Do you think that these actions have gone beyond the legitimate mandate of fighting the coup?
We must determine whether the government's actions have been properly targeted. That's why we are so convinced of the need for the opposition to monitor this process with the ability to communicate the results to the government. I also believe that the government itself is aware of the issue: they have established committees in each state agency across the country in order to review the cases and I am sure that many public employees will be reinstated in their positions. Trying to separate the guilty from the innocent is a risky process.
We will have to watch carefully how this review process will be managed. We need to guarantee those who have felt unfairly accused the legal means to appeal, which today we do not. Otherwise, in future years the Turkish state will have huge problems, with both the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
But there are dozens of cases of people, even well-known ones, targeted by generic accusations – we think of the Altan brothers. Often these people are incarcerated awaiting trial. Do you get the impression that what is happening already constitutes a violation of individual rights?
No one should wait for their trial in jail. This should be true for all, unless there is a clear and valid reason for not doing so.
The cases against journalists or academics are different – some are linked to the failed coup, while others involve, for example, the petition that academics for peace signed on the Kurdish question. As everything is happening at the same time, the general perception is that everything gets mixed into a single bundle, which does not benefit the interests of the country. The authorities must be careful not to shoot themselves in the foot.
For instance, Öksüz is an associate professor at a university – an academic. If he is really involved in this coup, being an academic should not guarantee him immunity. If you target all academics who have some sort of relationship with the Gülen movement, on the other hand, then there is a problem.
As regards the purge itself, the principle is that state authority should be indivisible. You cannot have, for example, police members who wear the uniform but obey an authority other than the state, because this destroys the very fabric of the state. Can you imagine having judges and prosecutors who receive orders from an opaque source? This cleaning process must be conducted without leaving any doubt in people's minds and the whole process must be clear, transparent, and trustworthy.
Are there cases of CNN employees involved in measures related to the coup?
You are a journalist. Do you believe it is possible to do this job safely at this time in the country? What are the concerns?
There are a couple of things that worry journalists. The first is that all my telephone conversations are very likely to be monitored, and I do not have the slightest idea who is doing it. The government? Someone linked to Gülen? Or a third party? We do not know. Many journalists have been brought to trial because of these illegal wiretapping.
The second concern involves the effects of the Gülen case and many other situations that create a palpable climate of intimidation in the country. People are afraid that whatever they do can get them in trouble. It is not just about journalists, we also think of our sources. This prevents the free expression of ideas and opinions, and damages journalism. This must change, it is not sustainable.
According to the international media, the RedHack group got hold of a few emails by Berat Albayrak, Energy Minister and Erdoğan's son in law, containing conversations about the management of the editorial line of some media groups, including the Doğan group, owner of CNN Türk.
This is new to me, I just heard of it myself. I know that the source of the emails stated that they are false. We will follow the developments, we have not heard comments from politicians yet. Personally, however, I do not use that type of material. In the case of Wikileaks, for example, I was much more concerned about the documents leaked – I then used some of them, because the state itself recognised their authenticity. But when it comes to other documents hacked from other sources, I cannot afford to use them without having the opportunity to confirm their authenticity.
This publication has been produced within the project European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, co-funded by the European Commission. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso and its partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union. The project's page
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