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Published On: Fri, Jul 14th, 2017

Turkey may take over Zaman schools in Cambodia after terrorism allegations

nsnbc : The government of Turkey is currently in talks with the Cambodian government over the possibility of taking control of the Zaman-operated schools in Phnom Penh. Ankara claims links to the “terrorist organization” led my self-exiled Turkish cleric Fetullah Gülen, who, according to Ankara, was behind last year’s attempted coup. Ankara’s critics say the AKP government, circles around President Erdogan, and Turkey’s intelligence service MIT “staged” the failed coup.

Zaman University_Cambodia_TurkeyFollowing the failed “mystery coup” on July 15 2016, which claimed the lives of more than 250 people in Ankara and elsewhere, the Turkish government started a global crackdown of institutions it claimed had links to Fethullah Gülen, a controversial cleric it accused of masterminding the uprising. Phnom Penh’s Zaman International School and its affiliated university came under fire when Ambassador Ilhan Kemal Tug was calling upon the Cambodian government to shut down the institutions in which more than 900 students are enrolled.

During a news conference at the Turkish Embassy to mark the “attempted coup’s anniversary”, Ambassador Tug reiterated his desire to have the Zaman schools shuttered. However, the ambassador said he was open to alternative options, including the Turkish government taking control of the institutions. “Our priority aim is to shut down the schools here,” Mr. Tug said. “But at the same time, we are also aware of the sensitivity of this matter in Cambodia, especially given the number of schools present in the country, so we are trying to find some alternative options, for example, taking over the management of the schools.”

Last year, Zaman denied the schools had any formal connection with Mr. Gülen, threatened legal action against the ambassador and launched a social media campaign to reassure parents that its schools would continue operating as usual. In a statement on Friday, Zaman said the latest comments by the ambassador were defamatory and maintained that the school was not under threat.

“We regret that the Ambassador raised this case again while never presenting any evidence even being asked for many times already. We take this as a baseless accusation and as the last accusation; or else, we will consider it as a defamation case,” the statement said. “We would like to reassure the students, parents, staffs and the public that the school will remain as an institution to provide education to students as always and look forward to further expansion to meet the current demand,” it added.

Earlier this month a group of self-exiled Turkish journalists published a comprehensive investigative report, concluding the Turkey’s AKP government, President Erdogan, and persons within the intelligence service MIT “staged the coup”, and prepped it to fail.

Stockholm Center for Freedom_SCF_Stockholm_Sweden_Turkey_2016 coup in TurkeyThe Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) was started by a group of self-exiled Turkish journalists in Sweden. The center was started against the background of the purges and the crackdown on press freedom in Turkey following the “failed” military coup in 2016. The SCF was also started in response to the fact that 191 journalists have been jailed, and close to 200 media outlets have been shuttered by a series of arbitrary decisions taken by the Turkish authorities. In July 2017 the center published an in-depth report that deconstructs the Turkish government’s “narrative” about the events.

The SCF concluded that based on publicly available data, the coup indictments, testimonials in court trials, private interviews, reviews of military expert opinions and other evidence collected by researchers, the SCF is fairly confident that this attempt did not even qualify a coup bid in any sense of military mobilization which was unusually limited in numbers, confined in few cities, poorly managed, defied the established practices, tradition, rules of engagement and standard operating procedures in Turkish military.

SCF President Abdullah Bozkurt stated in a comment on the report that “This was a continuation of a series of false flags that were uncovered in the last couple of years under the authoritarian rule of the Erdogan regime and it was certainly the bloodiest one”. Bozkurt also notes that Erdogan appears to have “tapped into widely circulated coup rumors in the Turkish capital” and staged his own coup “to steal the wind and set up his opposition for a persecution”.

Bozkurt also concludes that Erdogan and those behind the bid to change Turkey’s Constitution to introduce an executive presidential system were the beneficiaries of the allegedly failed coup. Moreover, Bozkurt concludes, that these developments enabled Erdogan and networks around him to consolidate their gains, to stifle the opposition, and even to launching cross-border military incursions into Syria for which he had been itching for too long. “No wonder why he immediately called the attempt as a gift from God,” said Bozkurt.

The SCF’s report concludes, among others, that a huge gap has emerged between facts and the government’s narrative on coup bid despite intense efforts by Erdogan regime’s in the form of censorship, propaganda, pressure, threats and even torture and ill-treatment. The testimonials from defendants and the evidence that was uncovered so far has further bolstered the view that the coup attempt was nothing but a set-up, concludes the report.

The SCF report also points at the conflicting public accounts by Erdogan regarding the chain of events on the day of the coup, his recollection that even differ from the indictments issued by judiciary that is tightly controlled by his regime, the anti-democratic measures taken in the aftermath of the July 15, the shuttering of thousands of institutions and the arrests of tens of thousands of civilians cast a long shadow on July 15 events.

Moreover, it points at the fact that the head of Turkish intelligence service (MİT), Hakan Fidan, was tipped off about the coup in advance according to his own written statements sent to Parliament, but he neither informed the Prime Minister nor the President strengthened the claim that the coup bid was totally staged. There is no explanation for why the officials who are, first and foremost, responsible for discovering, thwarting, and halting the coup attempt against the elected government remained unreachable on the day of the coup and why they followed the daily routine even after they learned about the attempt.

Having an additional look at the role of MIT chief the report notes: Against the background of intel chief Hakan Fidan’s lack of testimony either as a suspect or witness in any judicial investigation into the coup attempt, his no-show at the Parliamentary Coup Investigation Commission for a testimony, and the very fact that he kept his job, Erdoan actually expects everybody to believe in his constructed narrative about the coup attempt without even questioning and investigating anything significant.

The SCF also stressed that the fact that intel head Hakan Fidan met with the top military officials for hours a day before the coup as well as on the coup day, his trip to the General Staff’s headquarters despite alleged tip-off that he was going to be whisked away and detained by military, his leaving the military headquarters without a hassle, and the launch of the coup attempt right after his departure has not been explained and justified as of today.

The report concludes that it is also important to note the Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar made conflicting statements. Testimonials by witnesses and defendants do not confirm the account provided by Akar. The military experts that SCF has consulted in preparing this report clearly underlined that the coup bid, tipped-off in advance, could have stopped easily in its tracks and prevented by simple and quick measures. Yet, Akar’s not resorting to such preventive measures fuels deep suspicions about July 15 events.

The report also notes that it was highly unusual and odd for the top commanders of the military had gone on with their usual routine, even attending wedding ceremonies at hours when there was credible and alarming intelligence of a coup attempt was received. This is against the established traditions, practices and rules of the operating procedures in Turkish military.

The SCF points out that according to official account, 8,651 officers took part in the coup, corresponding to 1.5 percent of the total military personnel in the Turkish Army. Of those 1,761 were private conscripts, 1,214 were military students, and 5,761 were officers and non-commissioned officers.

However, the SCF notes that even these numbers do not reflect the actual mobilization that was seen on the ground during the coup attempt. Given the fact that 168 generals and thousands of officers are now being tried on coup charges, the military experts find it odd that such an insignificant number of troops took part in the coup attempt. It is estimated that there are 200,00 troops under the command of these generals who are charged with the attempt.

The SCF, in its report, also points at other inconsistencies such as the shutting down the Bosphorus bridge to the traffic one way, hitting targets that have not served to the goals of putschists at all, the sparing of politicians who should have been the primary target, killing civilians, trying to seize institutions by only a handful of troops. None of these inconsistencies were explained by the “official narrative”.

Moreover, the limited mobilization of military assets was confined to few cities and the teams that are supposed to detain Erdogan came to his hotel hours after his departure. All these makes-no-sense; events appear to be suggesting that they were staged to give an impression and supply footages and photos for the coup, concludes the SCF in its report.

The report underpins that even after one full year, the Turkish government has failed to present any convincing and solid evidence that proves the Hizmet movement (popularly known as Gülen movement) was behind the coup attempt either as a mastermind or a participant. The SCF notes that the fabricated and forced testimonials apparently taken under heavy torture in custody were later refuted by defendants when they appeared in court for trial hearings.

The SCF also notes that research published or reported by international institutions revealed that officers who are charged of attempting the coup come from various ideologies and backgrounds. In most cases, the troops were mobilized over threats of impending terror threats or as part of the military drill, defendants’ statements in the court has shown.

Moreover, Fethullah Gülen who has inspired the Hizmet movement that was accused of coup bid by Erdoğan, stated in an exclusive interview with SCF that the coup bid was “outrageous heinous scenario constructed by Erdogan and his accomplices.” He said it was launched to pursue unprecedented witch hunt against the Hizmet movement. He made it clear if anyone who was sympathetic to the Hizmet movement took part in this heinous act, they betrayed the very ideals of the movement. Gülen reiterated his call for an international commission to thoroughly investigate the coup, an offer that Edogan has failed to respond.

The SCF also points at the uncertainty behind the ballistic investigations on the weapons used in the murder of civilian and troops still lingers on. The paramilitary groups that took part in clashes, and that later appeared in various videos taken on coup night were not identified and how they were organized and mobilized remains a mystery. There were also reports that Turkish police distributed high-caliber weapons to civilians on the night of the coup.

The SCF stresses that Turkey is no longer a country governed by the rule of law and democratic principles. It is now a state ruled by the government decrees under constant state of emergency. The judiciary is under full control of the government, freedom of press and expression are under hold, the parliamentary is no longer functioning and opposition politicians are behind bars. More than 150,000 government employees were dismissed from their positions on the basis of their critical views without an effective judicial and administrative probes. The purges in the military, judiciary, foreign service and security apparatus have reached to alarming levels. 51,889 people were put behind bars, without an evidence, a trial and conviction, mostly housewives, teachers, students, doctors, merchants, journalists who were affiliated with the Hizmet movement.

CH/L – nsnbc 14.07.2017

Access the full PDF version of the report in Turkish language HERE

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