The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan plotted to purge independent judges and prosecutors from the military’s highest court in 2014 and to do so used a statement provided by a womanizing, anti-American officer, a Nordic Monitor investigation has determined.
According to confidential documents, the Erdoğan government profiled members of Turkey’s Military Supreme Court of Appeals (Askeri Yargıtay, or MSCA) in November 2014 and purged and/or jailed them two years later using a failed coup attempt as a pretext. The documents confirm that the plot to transform the Turkish military into a bastion of Islamists and neo-nationalists with a purge of pro-NATO officers was planned long ago and included all branches of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), the second largest military in NATO in terms of manpower.
The plot for the purge was put into action with a statement provided by Muzaffer Yasin Aslan, a 48-year-old pro-Russian, neo-nationalist (Ulusalcı in Turkish) member of the MSCA on November 21, 2014. Aslan was known as a womanizer and was investigated in the past for multiple violations of the military code of conduct for his extramarital affairs with an employee at the General Staff and a lawyer for a government organization.
Control of the MSCA is important for Erdoğan to protect his operatives from the special forces, intelligence and other critical branches of the military from legal troubles when he runs off-the-book clandestine operations. For example, when spies from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), some assigned from the military’s special forces unit, were caught red-handed shipping heavy arms to jihadists in Syria in January 2014, the military prosecutors exonerated the local commander for intercepting the illegal shipment.
Muzaffer Yasin Aslan profiled his colleagues at Turkey’s Military Supreme Court of Appeals and claimed most were connected to a “terrorist” group:Muzaffer_Yasin_Aslan2
Since the borders with Syria and Iraq are also under the control of the Turkish military, it was important for Erdoğan to provide impunity for operatives who have been moving jihadists, supplies and arms across those frontiers. For that, the MSCA must be in check and staffed with loyalists who would whitewash any illegal activity that could trigger alarms in the Turkish military. The same is also true for crimes committed in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, where military forces were used to destroy towns and villages, killing civilians, under orders from the Erdoğan government.
As a result, a nefarious plot was put into action immediately after the Erdoğan government secured control of the Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSK) in late 2014. Using bribes, promises of promotion and blackmail, an Erdoğan-endorsed list won the election for seats on the HSK at the expense of a competing list comprising independent judges and prosecutors. The HSK started appointing regime partisans to key positions in order to initiate criminal investigations into those who were perceived to be independent or aligned with ideologies that were not acceptable to the Islamists and neo-nationalists.
Aslan’s statement, full of smears and defamatory allegations, came into play at this juncture. The government offered to expunge his notorious record and guaranteed his career. Aslan was selected to be a member of the MSCA in early 2011, but as a result of multiple investigations into his conduct, his prospects of remaining in the MSCA chamber looked dim. The MSCA ruled on November 2, 2012 to remove him from the pool of instructors and trainers assigned to serve at the Turkish Partnership for Peace Training Center (TSK Barış İçin Ortaklık Eğitim Merkezi, or BIOEM), a prestigious military institution for experienced officers, especially those with academic degrees. Since BIOEM was also involved in training foreign military personnel, having a womanizer like Aslan who had engaged in questionable conduct was not acceptable to his superiors.
Letter from Turkey’s Military Supreme Court of Appeals stating that Muzaffer Yasin Aslan was removed as an instructor at the Turkish Partnership for Peace Training Center:Muzaffer_Yasin_Aslan1
Aslan’s real troubles emerged when a woman identified as Levin Sağlam, who was a civilian employee at the General Staff Intelligence Directorate, came forward to file a complaint alleging harassment and threats by Aslan. The two started their relationship in 2011, when Aslan was working in the Legal Counsel’s Office of the General Staff and Sağlam was going through a divorce. Aslan provided her with legal assistance and sponsored her in 2012 when she wanted to transfer into another branch of the military. The two started going out and exchanging intimate messages. Aslan even met her parents, giving her father a ride to hospital visits and sorting out legal inheritance matters when the father passed away in July 2013.
After the two fell out, around the summer of 2013, Aslan kept stalking Sağlam, sending her text messages and letters. Obsessed with her, Aslan sent letters to her coworkers, talked to her friends, revealed her medical records, badmouthing her and claiming that she was not fit to work for the military in an attempt to get her fired. Carrying the obsession to an extreme, he also reached out to her ex-husband, Ömer Güler, feeding him allegations that could have paved the way for Sağlam to lose custody of their children. When confronted with the evidence, Aslan defended himself by saying that he just wanted Sağlam to stop spreading rumors about him and that that was why he talked to her coworkers.
Military prosecutor Kurtuluş Kaya investigated the allegations against Aslan as part of disciplinary proceedings in February 2014. Aslan denied the allegations and claimed he was framed in a honey pot scheme. His attorney defended letters sent by his client about Sağlam, saying he had the obligation to report any improprieties to the Intelligence Directorate, where Sağlam was working. At the same time, the lawyer contested the evidence of intimate text messages that was presented to the prosecutor’s office by Sağlam, stating that they should be declared inadmissible because there had been no decision by a judge authorizing the collection of the text messages as evidence.
The relationship between Sağlam and Aslan also drew the attention of military intelligence for improper behavior and violation of the military code of conduct. Intelligence officer Col. Bülent Çetin reported Aslan’s behavior to the General Staff before the disciplinary proceedings were initiated against him.
On June 10, 2013, he was the subject of another investigation after a complaint was filed against him by Melika Bakan, who was working as a lawyer at the government-run National Lottery Administration (Milli Piyango Idaresi) in Ankara. Bakan alleged Aslan falsely identified himself as a single man, engaged in a relationship and promised to marry her. When the truth came out, Bakan broke up with him and later filed a complaint against him, alleging that she was threatened by Aslan, who started stalking her as well. The MSCA initiated a disciplinary proceeding against him based on the complaint filed by Bakan. In retaliation, Aslan filed his own complaint, alleging that Bakan had threatened him. However, he abruptly withdrew his complaint when the civilian prosecutor’s office in Ankara decided to open an investigation into the allegations. The case was eventually dropped after Aslan changed his mind.
Fresh disciplinary and criminal proceedings were launched against him in October 2014 on allegations that he had been sending anonymous letters to get his rivals in the military dismissed or punished. The investigating judge, Col. Kemal Bal, ordered an examination of his office computer records for the collection of evidence. Among the evidence collected against him were anonymous defamatory letters sent to the intelligence branch of the military and the Ministry of Defense. He denied sending the letters, but a private who was listed as a witness in his case testified that he was asked to mail some of them by Aslan.
Another investigation that was launched into Aslan was over an allegation of conflict of interest in a case from which he declined to recuse himself involving a close friend who was tried and found guilty of document forgery. The defendant, Mehmet Celik, a retired judge with whom Aslan had often met and maintained close ties, was accused of forging official documents. During the review of Celik’s appeal, Judge Aslan was asked to withdraw from the panel by his colleagues on the grounds that his personal ties to the defendant created a conflict of interest. He refused to withdraw and backed his friend’s case in the appeal review, which later prompted a disciplinary investigation into his conduct by MSCA investigators.
With a tarnished record and no real job prospects as a military judge, Aslan enlisted himself as a witness to give a statement against perceived critics of the Erdoğan government and accused officers, prosecutors and judges in the military judicial establishment as aligned with the Gülen movement, a vocal critic of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues including pervasive corruption and the arming and funding of radical jihadist groups.
Muzaffer Yasin Aslan provided the names of people with criminal records and questionable backgrounds as witnesses who could help build a case against members of the Military Supreme Court of Appeals:Muzaffer_Yasin_Aslan3
On December 17, 2014 he gave a statement to the police in Ankara claiming that both General Staff Legal Counsellor Muharrem Köse and MSCA President Ahmet Zeki Liman ganged up on him because they were associated with the Gülen movement. According to handwritten annotated notes obtained by Nordic Monitor, Aslan accused 22 out of the 35 members of the MSCA of being critical of the government and affiliated with the Gülen movement. He also named 21 people, mostly retired officers, with questionable track records as people who could help build a false case against the senior members of the MSCA.
He offered no real evidence to support his claims but submitted to the prosecutor’s office an unsigned and undated letter sent to him by an anonymous officer alleging that he was framed by the Gülen movement. The letter may very well have been one of those he circulated to frame others. In the letter it was claimed that the Gülen movement was directed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and that the movement had taken over all critical branches of the Turkish military. It was also maintained that the movement restructured the opposition parties in Turkey under the pretext of democratization and openness in Turkish society. It further accused the movement of serving Israel and the US. In a sworn statement Aslan said he presented this anti-Semitic, anti-US letter full of conspiratorial allegations as a proof of his innocence and sent it to the Defense Ministry on June 2, 2014.
According to the assignment sheet dispatched by the putschists on the night of July 15, 2016, the coup plotters assigned 11 of the 22 members of the MSCA who were marked as Gülenists to desk jobs, meaning that they were sidelined. This dealt a blow to Aslan’s profiling lists because that meant the Gülenists who were accused by the Erdoğan government of attempting the coup had in fact marginalized their own members who were flagged as affiliated with the Gülen movement. This contradiction was raised by former Col. Cemil Turhan during a trial hearing held by the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court but was not reported at all. The Erdoğan government’s shuttering of nearly 200 media outlets and the jailing of more than 150 critical and independent journalists had apparently paid off.
It appears that both the Islamists and the neo-nationalists who jointly rule Turkey today made plans to remove any judge or prosecutor in the military’s top court they saw as impediments to their project of transforming NATO’s second largest army into an anti-transatlantic body. Most of the officers including generals and admirals who had served in NATO posts in the past were flagged and removed from the military. The secret work of profiling them was done long before the failed coup in 2016, which many already believed to have been a false flag operation and not a real coup attempt. The crackdown on Gülenists — which started in December 2013 when Erdoğan was incriminated in major corruption investigations – was just a smokescreen for what Erdoğan and his allies have been up to since then.
Muzaffer Yasin Aslan’s statement, which slandered his colleagues at Turkey’s Military Supreme Court of Appeals:Muzaffer_Yasin_Aslan4
In the end, Aslan helped in the purge of members of the MSCA who were involved in disciplinary and criminal investigations into his shady conduct, and the Erdoğan government managed to fill all positions with regime loyalists holding anti-NATO views. General Staff Legal Counsellor Köse and President of MSCA Liman were both dismissed, jailed and sentenced to life in prison in sham trials concluded in January 2020. Likewise, other profiled members of the supreme military court were also subjected to the wrath of the Erdoğan government and punished except for a few who managed to pull strings using their political connections.
In addition to Liman, the following were marked by Aslan in 2014 in a document he handed over to the police: Mehmet Ali Uzun, Yavuz Sayalgı, Ersun Çetin, Haluk Zeybel, Semih Palavaroğlu, Zafer Yağlıoğlu, Mehmet Avcıoğlu, Şeref Ayyıldız, Özcan Ersayın, Yusuf Tamer Çetin, Turgay Öztoprak, Aslan Duru, Hakan Ata, Sevilay Temizyürek Batır, Mehmet Şimşek, llker Uçdu, Arif Fikret Özev, Hulusi Gül, Hakan Kutlu, Hakan Gündüz, İnanç İşten and Erdoğan Akduman. Many have already received jail sentences in trials. For example, in December 2019, Özev was sentenced to nine years, four months and 15 days in prison, while Ata received seven years, six months’ prison time. Zeybel was sentenced to 11 years, three months in February 2020, while Ayyıldız was sentenced to 10 years. Şimşek was sentenced to seven years, six months in January 2020.
In Turkey, over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement have been put in detention facilities on fabricated terrorism charges since 2014. More than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 4,560 of whom were judges and prosecutors and were replaced by pro-Erdogan staff. As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdoğan.