The Turkish Embassy in Sofia posted several social media messages in August accusing the US and its consulate staff of conducting clandestine operations to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.
Via its official postings on Twitter, the embassy claimed that Metin Topuz, a local staff member at the US Consulate General in İstanbul, had been in frequent contact with police officers who led a 2013 corruption investigation in Turkey and that the investigation was a “coup attempt” planned and staged by the US and the Gülen movement, a civic group that has been active in education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and charity work in many countries.
The tweets from the Turkish Embassy in Sofia, reviewed by Nordic Monitor, confirm that embassies, consulates and offices of government agencies function as propaganda machines for spreading Erdoğan’s Islamist and anti-Western ideology among Turkish diaspora groups all over the world. They also expose the link between Erdoğan’s envoys and his clandestine group, Pelican, which runs a propaganda machine to smear government critics. The group, working directly with Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, organized a campaign that led to the abrupt ouster of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in May 2016, only four months after he won election.
Topuz was arrested and indicted by the Erdoğan government on dubious charges, sparking diplomatic tension between the two NATO allies. The US repeatedly said it did not see any merit in the case, which was considered to a be part of a witch hunt against critics in Turkey.
Before major anti-government protests in the summer of 2013, known as the Gezi events, the US and the Gülen movement began preparations for an alleged coup attempt in order to put an end to Erdoğan’s rule in Turkey, according to the Turkish Embassy posts.
In fact, Turkey was shaken by the revelation of two corruption investigations, on December 17 and 25, 2013, in which the inner circle of then-Prime Minister and current President Erdoğan were implicated. After Erdoğan cast the investigations as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, the prosecutors and judges were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the corruption investigations were dropped.
Later, the police officers, judges and prosecutors who took part in the investigations were all jailed. Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was the prime suspect in one of the major corruption investigations, was arrested in Miami in 2016 on charges of evading US sanctions on Iran. Zarrab testified that Turkey’s then-Prime Minister Erdoğan personally ordered resumption of a plot to launder billions of dollars in Iranian oil revenue and circumvent US sanctions, in parallel with evidence exposed during the 2013 corruption scandals in Turkey. Zarrab also admitted that he bribed Cabinet ministers.
As can be seen in the tweets, Turkish diplomats in Bulgaria do not hesitate to circulate false and delusive information fabricated by the Twitter account of Bosporus Global (Fetogercekleri), the public face of the Pelican group that engages in trolling social media, producing negative campaign material, weaving truths into fake stories and muddying the waters of the print media.
In the posts, a criminal investigation into Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) chief Hakan Fidan in 2012 that was initiated after MIT agents were caught red-handed in terrorist acts by police investigators, was described as another failed attempt against Erdoğan’s government. Turkish intelligence is known to have assets within the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and in fact several judicial investigations into PKK terrorist acts in the past revealed that some of the detained suspects who killed and engaged in bombing attacks were in fact working for MIT. The prosecutors issued a summons to Fidan over his role in such an act on February 7, 2012, but Erdoğan prevented his intelligence chief from responding to the summons and testifying.
The Turkish Embassy in Sofia also in its posts criticized Interpol for rejecting Turkey’s Red Notice requests. Nordic Monitor previously published reports disclosing how the Interpol process was misused by Turkish diplomatic missions, judicial authorities, the national police and MIT to persecute, harass and intimidate critics and opponents living abroad. According to these reports, Turkey had sought Red Notices for 60,000 or more individuals immediately after a failed coup attempt in July 2016. As a result of similar cases, Interpol had to prohibit the use of Interpol’s communications channels to interact on any issue that concerned the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey because it contravened the provisions of Article 3 of Interpol’s constitution.
In addition to Turkish Foreign Ministry personnel known as “Twitter trolling diplomats,” the themes and style of the messages posted by diplomatic and consular missions have also been changed radically in the hands of pro- Erdoğan and ultranationalist diplomatic staff. In general, these messages exposed how the official accounts of Turkish diplomatic representatives have been transformed into propaganda tools disseminating anti-Western narratives, conspiracy theories and false information fabricated by the nefarious Pelican group.
President Erdoğan recently paid a visit to Bosporus Global in a sign of his support for the Pelican people. During the meeting he was informed about their international activities and projects in which social media serves certain regime functions with the goal of protecting Erdoğan’s Islamist authoritarian rule, disseminating false information, promoting anti-Western propaganda, mitigating dissidence, fueling all kinds of conspiracies and manipulating government agencies according to the desires of one man, namely Erdoğan.
The Pelican group has become one of the main drivers of the regime change in Turkey that undermined a decades-old parliamentary democracy with checks and balances and separation of powers and paved the way for an imperial presidency and helped Erdoğan accumulate abundant power.