Key generals in Turkish Land Forces on annual leave during the coup attempt, classified memo shows

Levent Kenez


A large number of generals in the Turkish Land Forces, including key officers at important command centers, were on annual leave or assigned to tasks at other duty stations at the time of an abortive coup on July 15, 2016, an internal memo drafted by the General Staff shows.

The memo, titled “Generals out of Garrison” and dated July 14, 2016, shows 49 top officers were either on vacation or working at military installations other than their permanent duty stations. Given the fact that the Land Forces has always been the backbone of military coups in the past, it is odd that an attempt was made when so many of its leaders were either vacationing or otherwise engaged. It also shows that the attempt was set to fail from the start.  

The memo is a standard check on all generals to inform the General Staff of their whereabouts and is issued every morning by headquarters.   

According to Nordic Monitor’s review of various court documents and Supreme Military Council rulings, most of the generals appearing on the list were either arrested or forced to retire in a post-coup crackdown.

Twenty-two generals on the list were purged from their posts and later arrested. Six of 15 generals who retired between 2016 and 2019 were reportedly forced out immediately after the coup attempt, while three of them retired at the same time.

Top officers who were formally charged in connection with the failed coup repeatedly testified in hearings that they were on vacation with their families and that they would have been at their assigned duty stations if they had been involved in the coup attempt.

It is well known that the month July is a holiday time not just for many civil servants but for officers in particular since August is the month for promotions and appointments in the Turkish military, meaning that many officers move house to start work in new cities. Top officers normally prefer to spend their holidays at military-owned facilities located near Turkey’s favorite vacation spots, offering budget-friendly accommodation and dining.

For instance, a key officer involved in military mobilization, Lt. Gen. Bahadır Köse, who was the head of the Operations Directorate at the General Staff, told a panel of judges that he had been at the Aksaz military vacation facility with his family since July 7, 2016, adding that he was never at his duty station in Ankara during the coup attempt. Köse was sentence to life in prison on June 20, 2019.

Lt. Gen. Mustafa Özsoy, head of the Intelligence Directorate at the General Staff, who first testified in November 2017, said he was in Foça, a holiday resort near the western city of İzmir, and immediately returned to Ankara late on the night of the coup attempt after he heard about strange incidents at the General Staff. Özsoy was also sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2019.

Maj. Gen. Salih Sevil, who was chief of staff at the Allied Land Command, the standing headquarters in İzmir for NATO land forces, said at a hearing in 2017 that he was vacationing in Bodrum, a popular resort town in southwestern Turkey on the day of the coup attempt. He immediately returned to İzmir to give a briefing via teleconference to NATO commanders and was arrested there. Sevil repeatedly claimed he was not involved in the chain of command in the Turkish Armed Forces since he worked at NATO. He also stated that not a single Turkish soldier was under his command.

Many generals and admirals are believed to have been arrested since their names appeared in martial law directives sent to military units on July 15, 2016 without any notification to them. Turkish journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan revealed in November 2019 that a personnel roster distributed on the night of the abortive coup was prepared long before the incident by ultranationalist, pro-Russian and Iranian ex-officers on behalf of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in an effort to fire critics and pro-NATO officers in the Turkish military. 

Secret documents Nordic Monitor published in June show that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan specifically targeted generals and admirals who had served abroad at NATO posts critical to Turkey as well as liaison officers and attachés at diplomatic missions in allied nations.

According to data compiled by Nordic Monitor in November 2019, the government has removed nearly all flag officers from NATO’s second largest army, leaving only a small fraction on active duty while allowing Islamists and neo-nationalists to quickly move up in the ranks. Only 42 flag officers out of the 325 who were on active duty at the time of the abortive putsch have managed to retain their rank or receive promotions, confirming the view that Erdoğan’s Islamist government was intent on transforming the military into a bastion of partisans, zealots and loyalists.



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