Small Wars Journal

Who Used ISIS Tactics to Behead an Air Force Academy Cadet in the July 15th Military Uprising in Turkey?

Sun, 02/02/2020 - 10:11am

Who Used ISIS Tactics to Behead an Air Force Academy Cadet in the July 15th Military Uprising in Turkey?

Mahmut Cengiz

The Small Wars Journal has published two articles by the author. After publication of the first article, “Who Was Behind the July 15 Uprising in Turkey,” a British tourist who stayed at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hotel on the night of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt reached out to the author. The tourist’s contributions, which were published in the second SWJ article, “Dark Points in the July 15 Military Uprising: Was President Erdogan Really at the Hotel?,” shed light on whether Erdogan had stayed at the hotel until late at night on July 15. After the second article was published, several Turkish Air Force Academy (AFA) cadets who witnessed the unsuspecting involvement of fellow cadets in the coup attempt reached out to the author and shared their experiences and knowledge.

The AFA cadets witnessed what they described as “the creepiest events” of the July 15 coup attempt. The cadets, who were unaware that they had entered one of the hot spots of the coup attempt, paid huge costs. Members of unknown jihadist and paramilitary groups lynched one cadet and used Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organization’s tactic to behead another.[1] The cadets were caught in the crossfire between so-called amateurish plotters[*] (SAP) and well-prepared counter-coup plotters (CCP). Both sides had planned to involve the cadets in the coup attempt, but the actions of the CCPs resulted in the brutal killing of the two cadets and the arrest of 442 other cadets.

In the history of military coups in Turkey, cadets occasionally were exploited by coup plotters. For example, one of the May 27, 1960, coup plotters, Military Academy Commander Talat Aydemir, made two unsuccessful coup attempts with cadets a year later. The cadets were prosecuted in 1963, and 75 out of 293 cadets were sentenced to four years in prison. The remaining 218 cadets were acquitted.[2] Some of these cadets from the early 1960s, in contrast to the cadets exploited for the July 15 coup attempt, intentionally participated in the coup.

The cadets who were exploited in the July 15 coup attempt, however, paid a heavier price for their unintentional involvement. Two of them paid with their lives. The others lost their chance for an education and a career, were labeled as traitors, and were imprisoned on the basis of scant evidence that included unanswered and contradictory statements from Air Force commanders who were part of CCPs. This article, using interviews with former air force cadets who experienced the events on July 15,[3] examines how Turkish military cadets were involved in the July 15 coup attempt.   

What Happened at the Air Force Academy Training Camp?

The AFA cadets were at the summer military camp, when the coup attempt took place in the province of Yalova, 60 miles southeast of Istanbul, on July 15, 2016. The cadets were transferred from the military camp to various locations in Istanbul. One of the cadets who was at the military camp in the early hours of the coup attempt spoke about being suspicious of the cadets’ commanders. This respondent talked about one commander in particular, then Commander of Air Forces Abidin Unal, saying:

I had joined several training summer camps, and the most distinctive detail among them was the visit by Abidin Unal to Yalova Airport Base Command. The visit by this commander was traditionally expected in the last day of the camp; however, he visited the camp on the fifth day of the camp, the July 15. It did not make sense why he visited us so early and made a speech on obeying military directives and doing our best to protect the secular constitutional system in the country.[4] He also said to the cadets that you should die or kill, if necessary.[5] He turned to other commanders and said to them, “Do not make these cadets tired. They will be tired tonight,[6] and let them have a very light sport exercise.”[7] The commander canceled the Sports and Regiment Race, which was planned for July 15 afternoon.[8]

As specified in the author’s first SMJ article, Unal seems to be one of the most active members of the CCPs. He knew about the coup attempt before it happened but did nothing to protect his personnel, the cadets, out of harm’s way. It remains unclear what motivated Unal to place the training-camp cadets in the middle of gunfire as the coup attempt unfolded. The respondent continued, saying:

After the 10 p.m. roll call in the training camp, we settled in our tents. While I was about to fall asleep, I heard about emergency scramble around 10:20 p.m. with loud noises. It was not ordinary to see all commanders present in the scramble area. I saw the buses queued up next to the bullet boxes brought from military arsenal. It was the time for me to be aware of some incongruity, but the commander’s announcement, saying that we would go to military drill, made everything meaningful in my mind. Actually, I did not question the helicopter hovering on us, because the Air Force commander was at the military camp. The commander read the names of cadets, including mine, and asked us to head off the buses, excluding others who had health issues. Including three cadets in front of me in the queue, we did not get on the buses, because it was full. However, our commander told us that each of cadets should join the military exercise. I felt very sad to miss the exercise around midnight. Even one of the cadets changed his queue with another one and was able to get on the bus. Nonetheless, the one who got on the bus is in the jail, and another one who lent his queue is free.[9]

The nine buses left at 12:07 a.m. on July 16. It was treacherous to let these students be part of the coup at this hour, because the coup failed around 11 p.m. on July 15 when the SAPs’ attempt was foiled. A police car was parked in front of the military camp and, despite having known that the coup attempt had failed at around 11 p.m. on July 15[10] did nothing to prevent the buses from leaving the camp. The respondent continued, saying:

Around 300 cadets left at the camp owing to the lack of the buses and began to wait for other buses. The buses took the Osman Gazi Bridge and paid the toll. In one of the buses, the cadets collected money to pay the toll road, because they did not have cash money with them. These cadets would not pay, if they were the coup plotters. There was a black Mercedes brand car accompanying the buses and directing them. The person inside the car was on the phone, directing the buses.[11]

The cadets who stayed at the military camp were under the command of a newly graduated lieutenant. One of the respondents gave details about what happened the cadets who were waiting at the camp:

One of our friends came with a radio. We were flabbergasted listening to the confrontations and bombings by warplanes and tanks. We tried to look for a radio frequency mentioning about AFA cadets but failed to find one. It was clear that our friends were plotted to involve in the coup attempt. Then the buses returned to the military camp. We got on a small transporter vehicle. The driver soldier even did not know where he was going to take us. We were given only two bullets. Some of our rifles were out of service. We stayed around one hour in the transporter and left it around 1 a.m. As far as I learned after a day, some of the commanders who left with the first group of cadets called and gave directives that remaining students should have stayed at the military camp. On July 16, the police officers who came to the camp to question us said that the riot police made barricades around the camp at 2 a.m. and were directed to shoot the cadets, if they had left the camp.”[12]

The cadets who had left the military training camp were sent to five locations in Istanbul. Two buses went to the Bosporus Bridge, three buses went to Sultanbeyli district (located inland on the Asian side of Istanbul), two buses went to Orhanli (a town on the Asian side of Istanbul), and two buses went to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet (FSM) Bridge in Istanbul. In addition to those cadets, 37 others were taken to the Digi Turk media outlet in Istanbul.               

What Happened in Sultanbeyli and Orhanli?

When the buses transporting the cadets reached Sultanbeyli, the road was blockaded. The cadets learned about the ongoing coup attempt from people who had gathered near the stopped buses. The cadets told the onlookers that they were students and that they had not participated in the coup attempt. The crowd then grew quiet. One of the police officers at the scene explained to the crowd that the cadets did not know what was going on. When the cadets joined the crowd in reciting the Turkish national anthem, the onlookers appeared to believe that the cadets had not been involved in the coup attempt. The police, however, did not let the cadets to leave the scene until early the next morning, even though the crowd had dispersed. The confrontation began when several provocateurs gathered around the buses, stoned the vehicles and tried to lynch the cadets.[13]

Two other buses were stopped at the Orhanli toll road checkpoint where the road had been blockaded, leaving the buses and the cadets onboard stuck between a crowd of onlookers and police officers. When the cadets and their commanders got off the buses, a group of people armed with long-rifle automatic weapons and positioned on a lower hill began shooting at the cadets and commanders. The ambushed cadets fled back onto the bus to protect themselves from the onslaught. One of the video recordings of the confrontation confirmed the statements of the respondents. At 45 seconds into the video, an unidentified individual can be seen shooting in the dark, targeting the crowd and the cadets immediately after the cadets got off the buses.[14] The confrontations lasted until the early hours of the morning and resulted in the death of two soldiers, one police officer, and five civilians. The police officer was killed by half-meter gunfire behind him. Given the distance between the group of cadets and SAP soldiers and the police, many questions arose about who shot the officer. Forty other people were wounded in the clashes. A ballistics examination conducted later showed that none of the fatalities were caused by bullets fired from the cadets’ weapons. The cadets were detained and tortured for days.[15]

What Happened on the Bosporus Bridge?

Two other buses transporting the cadets to Istanbul were stopped and attacked by a crowd on the Bosporus Bridge, which connects the Asian and European continents.[16] The attackers broke the front window of one of the buses and hurled incendiaries at the vehicle’s gas tank in an attempt to detonate the bus. Some cadets were forced to get off the bus and were lynched. The crowd then took the cadets an area of the bridge where soldiers assigned to the location by SAPs had congregated to blockade the one-way road over the bridge. The clashes on the bridge resulted in the death of 34 people, a crime for the cadets were accused of committing even though a ballistics examination proved that the cadets’ weapons were not used to kill any of the victims. The SAP soldiers and cadets surrendered in the early hours of the morning, but the crowd responded by attacking the soldiers and cadets with knives, belts, and irons. Two cadets were killed, including one who was beheaded (see Figure 1). Autopsy reports confirmed the manner of death.


Figure 1: Photograph of the cadet who was beheaded on the Bosporus Bridge on July 15, 2016.[17]

It should be noted that one of the civilians killed on the Bosporus Bridge was Erol Olcak and his son. Olcak was a close friend of Erdogan. According to the government’s theory, Olcak and his son were killed by SAPs. Olcak’s wife, however, dared to question the suspicious killing of her ex-husband and son. She stated that the SAP soldiers on the bridge were accused with scant evidence against them and noted, “When I went to the bridge in the early mornings of July 16, the bridge was washed and cleaned. All the evidence was wiped off. I am dubious about the report of the Forensics. I can disinter my son for further examination.[18]

Who Targeted Air Force Cadets in Ankara?

It seems that the CCPs made a detailed plan to target all of the cadets at the Air Force Academy. On July 15, for example, a small group of junior cadets were in Ankara for parachute training and stayed at the Military Academy guesthouse. The cadets were unaware, however, that the CCPs had something else in mind for the guesthouse visitors. One of the cadets in Ankara in that day described the events that took place on July 15, saying:

We, 142 Air Force cadets, were in Ankara to get parachute training and were accommodating at the guesthouse of the Turkish Military Academy. One of the military captains was leading us. We saw jets flying low around 9 p.m. It did not make sense for all of us, including the captain. We were all shocked, because we did not hear from anyone else what was going on. Our location was very close to the National Parliament, Ankara City Police Headquarter, and the Office of Commander in Chief. The confrontations broke the windows of the guesthouse and made us panicked. In the meantime, the captain was trying to reach out senior commanders and finally heard from the regiment commander who directed us to return our military unit without involving any ongoing incidents.[19]

Then we began to wait for the buses in the ceremony area with our luggage. The plan was to reach out to the air base and then to fly to Istanbul to arrive our school’s military training camp. Two helicopters landed around 4 a.m., and the lieutenant colonel directed us to board the helicopters. However, the captain wanted to ask it to regiment commander, and he did not let us board the helicopter. Then the captain directed the helicopters pilots to take us to the Air Force base in Etimesgut. In that time, the captain and lieutenant colonel bickered, and then the lieutenant colonel scolded us and said, “You are disgraces of the military, and you will be the dirty stains of the history.” Then, as far as I learn, the goal of the lieutenant colonel was to weaponize us and take us to the office of the commander of the chief, but the captain hindered them.[20] Interestingly, this lieutenant colonel was not arrested and indicted.[21]

The helicopters were able to transfer 91 cadets until 5 a.m., and they did not come back. So, we, the remaining 51 cadets, stayed at the guesthouse 12 days. Two prosecutors visited us on July 24 and took the statements of two of our friends. They told us that there was nothing to make us worried. We were interestingly detained and handcuffed on July 27. The police always kept us handcuffed along six days until we were arrested. The police took us an indoor sport facility, where there were around 250 people, which all of them were handcuffed, too. We stayed in this facility until August 1st, and we were constantly exposed to the pressure, assault, and humiliations by the police officers. Many people were tortured and harshly beaten by the police officers. Our daily food was 40-gram cheese, 100-gram bread, two boiled potato, and one-liter water. We were not allowed to stand and speak even during daytime. We spent 24 hours under the heavy spotlights of the facility. They did not turn off the lights even one minute. We were trying to sleep handcuffed. We were all arrested on August 1 and were transferred to Sincan Prison in Ankara. The prison put 42 people in 14-people capacity rooms. We were not allowed to use monthly free visitation rights.[22]

It is not clear what roles the cadets’ commanders played in the suspicious activity that occurred in Istanbul and Ankara. It seemed that a few commanders at the academy were members of SAPs and made a plan to exploit the cadets. In the trials that ensued after military raids on Turkish media outlets, the judge and prosecutor asked the academy’s regiment commander why he sent the cadets to Digi Turk media outlet in Istanbul. The commander’s answers were not credible.[23]  

Why Were the Cadets Targeted?

It seems that the SAPs and the CCPs planned to involve cadets in confrontations. The CCPs, for example, calculated that the cadets would return fire when they were ambushed by intelligence unit-controlled jihadist groups and paramilitary groups.[24] The cadets, however, did not respond as expected. They did not shoot back at their attackers even though their restraint put them at risk of losing their lives.[25] If the cadets had been coup plotters, then they most likely would have returned fire, killing some of people involved in the nighttime coup attempt.[26]

According to some respondents’ comments, the cadets were the weakest and most impressionable target because they were not able to question the directives of their superiors.[27] The SAPs and CCPs were confident that these cadets would obey all directives without asking any questions. The CCPs, moreover, knew that implicating the cadets as active participants in the coup would be a plausible pretext for the government to shut down all military schools.[28] The plan worked as intended. The government responded by firing all military-school students (not just those students at the Air Force Academy) and shutting down the schools immediately after the coup attempt was foiled. In subsequent action, the government replaced the purged military officers and cadets with more than 20,000 officers who were linked to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party but no more than two to six months of the six years of academy training needed to become a military officer. Many critics of the government’s action continue to speculate that the communist Vatan Party has had a significant influence on new students.[29]

Who Killed the Civilians on the Bosphorus and FSM Bridges?

A significant number of the casualties that occurred during the July 15 confrontation on the Bosporus Bridge were civilians as a result of Erdogan’s invitation them to the public spaces. According to Turkey’s Armed Forces, 8,651 of the SAPs were members of the country’s military force. That number represents only 1.5 percent of Turkey’s entire military force. A very limited number of warplanes, tanks, and warships were deployed. Although it was quite possible that the remaining 98.5 percent of Turkish armed forces who did not participate in the coup could have prevented the small group of coup plotters from acting, it is difficult to understand why Erdogan invited civilians to come onto the streets and to gather in public places. These civilians were killed by mostly unknown perpetrators in public spaces. The unknown perpetrators consisted of jihadist groups under the control of Turkish government intelligence officers and paramilitary groups directly linked to Erdogan.

Many people were killed or wounded at all of the locations where the cadets’ buses stopped. Forty people were killed—but not at the hands of the cadets, all of whom fired no bullets.[30] If the cadets are blameless, then who were the perpetrators? According to some of the comments provided to the author, the jihadist groups under the control of Turkish government intelligence units and several paramilitary groups were the dark hands targeting the cadets and innocent civilians. Given that the government interfered with and hindered the investigations undertaken to identify the perpetrators, it is likely that the country will never know for certain who fired the bullets that left civilians dead; however, the tactics, methods and physical appearance of the perpetrators strengthen the allegations that jihadists and paramilitary groups with ties to the Turkish government were on duty the night of July 15.

Jihadist Groups

The Turkish government’s policies on Syria created a favorable environment for jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaida and ISIS to flourish. Many international media outlets have reported that these jihadists cross over the Turkish border to enter Syria. Other evidence on the dark relationship between the Turkish government and jihadists groups comes from two police investigations. The first investigation was of an incident that occurred in February of 2014. Buses filled with weapons and ammunition were stopped by Turkish military personnel. Investigators eventually discovered that these weapons and ammunition were destined for jihadist groups in Syria. The military personnel who stopped the buses and the prosecutors involved in the investigation of the incident were arrested and put in jail. The second investigation was of another incident that occurred in early 2014. As part of their investigation, the police raided an office of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (Insani Yardim Vakfi, or IHH) based on evidence suggesting that the organization was transferring cash and weapons to Al-Qaida-affiliated groups in Syria. Similarly, these police officers were arrested and put in solitary confinement. During this period in 2014, the number of jihadists in Turkey increased. Police investigations proved the linkage between domestic jihadists and government intelligence officials. According to some allegations, an unspecified number of these jihadists were on the streets on July 15 and were responsible for beheading one of the cadets on the Bosporus Bridge. Given the high level of respect the Turkish army has for ordinary Turkish citizens, the beheading of the cadet can be explained only by the involvement of jihadist groups on the night of July 15, 2016. Figure 2 is a photograph of the jihadists who killed another one of the cadets.


Figure 2: Jihadist groups with the body of a cadet they lynched and killed on July 15.[31]

Paramilitary Groups

The other likely perpetrator is comprised of two paramilitary groups: SADAT (International Defense Consulting) and ASDER (Adaleti Savunanlar Dernegi, or Association for Those Supporting the Justice). These paramilitary groups have been tasked with protecting the Erdogan regime in case the military force fails in its duty to ensure the president stays in power. SADAT and ASDER are seen as alternative protectors of the Erdogan regime. SADAT has provided training programs to opposition groups in Syria. The director of the SADAT is an advisor to Erdogan.[32] Many rumors name SADAT as the perpetrator of suspicious homicides in Turkey. The director of ASDER stated on a television program that his group executed a plan to prevent the coup on the night of July 15.[33] It seems that both groups were well-prepared to take on the responsibility of preventing coup intended to overthrow the Erdogan government. Both groups had been trained and were positioned strategically to shoot the civilians and the cadets. The photograph in Figure 3 shows members of the two paramilitary groups, including some masked assailants who most likely are members of SADAT.


Figure 3: The killing of the cadets by masked paramilitary groups. The photograph was captured from a video taken at the scene of the incident on the Bosphorus Bridge on July 15, 2016.[34]

How Were the Cadets Prosecuted?

In the early morning of July 16, all of the cadets were detained. Groups of at least 120 cadets were packed into rooms built for a maximum capacity of 40 persons. They were given a scant amount of water and food. When they were escorted to the bathrooms, they were beaten harshly by police officers. The cadets appeared before a judge in the fourth day of their detention. The judge listened to only one cadet before sending all of the cadets to Silivri Prison in Istanbul to serve a life sentence. Conditions at the prison were harsh. Groups of 45 cadets were crowded into rooms intended for a maximum occupancy of seven people. During the trials, the judge refused to watch video recordings of the confrontations on the bridges, refused to listen to witnesses who wanted to speak in defense of the cadets, and knowingly ignored the cadets’ allegations of having been tortured by the police. The judge, however, did agree to hear the testimony of witnesses offered by the Prime Minister’s office.

In court, it was proved that the cadets—based on ballistics examinations—did not use their weapons. The lawyer of beheaded cadet presented strong evidence on 15 people who became involved in the killing of cadets, but the prosecutor replied to the lawyer, “There is nothing to do, and do not create problems and burn us.”[35]  The court, however, did not investigate the perpetrators who killed the two cadets, despite an abundance of video recordings that clearly documented the perpetrators’ actions. Because the Erdogan government had invoked a state of emergency in response to the coup attempt, even the perpetrators who lynched and beheaded the cadets on the Bosporus Bridge were protected from prosecution. Instead, many of the cadets on the Bosporus Bridge that night were sentenced to life in prison. After the trial, the mother of one of the cadets met with the head of Turkey’s Bar Association to complain about the injustices her son and the other cadets had endured. However, the head of bar association recommended that she make an appointment Erdogan to discuss the matter. The mother replied, “If the courts and judiciary are free and independent in this country, why would I need to make appointment with the President or parliament members?”[36] Among the cadets, the ones who had been assigned to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge were released after eight months because the prosecutor for that case prepared the indictment more quickly than the prosecutors assigned to the other bridge cases; however, after Erdogan involved in the trials, other courts began to delay issuing indictments while inflicting harsh sentences on the cadets. A total of 259 cadets are now in jail.[37] The Erdogan government now enforces a zero-tolerance policy against anyone who wants to speak about and discuss the suspicious arguments that arose during the cadets’ trials. For example, one of the mothers who tried to speak about such matters in relation to her son’s trial was detained several times.

Unanswered Questions

  • The involvement of unsuspecting cadets in the coup attempt has resulted in many unanswered questions:
  • Why did the Air Force commander visit the military training camp days earlier than usual and make a provocative speech?
  • What did Air Force commander mean when he said, “Do not make these cadets tired. They will be tired tonight?”
  • Who let the cadets leave the military training camp at 12:07 a.m. on July 16 to engage in the coup attempt when this person most likely knew that the coup attempt had failed an hour earlier, at 11 p.m.?
  • Who were the officers in the black Mercedes car, and why were they directing the cadets’ buses to Istanbul?
  • Who transferred the cadets to the Digi Turk Media outlet?
  • Who organized the paramilitary groups and jihadist groups at the locations where the cadets’ buses were stopped?
  • Who lynched one cadet and beheaded another one on the Bosporus Bridge?
  • Who were the masked assailants? Why did they wear mask? Were they members of the SADAT or ASDER paramilitary groups?
  • Who killed Erol Olcak and his son on the Bosporus Bridge? Why did Olcak’s ex-wife question the reliability of the evidence against Olcak’s killer or killers? Who gave the order early on July 16 that the Bosporus Bridge be washed and cleaned to rid it of any incriminating evidence?
  • Why did the police refuse to allow the cadets to leave the scene of the events in Sultanbeyli after the crowd had dispersed and instead forced the cadets to wait until the early hours of July 16?
  • Who shot the police officer on the head with adjacent shooting behind him in Orhanli? Given the geographical distance between the police and the soldiers, who was the perpetrator if the soldiers were not responsible for the deaths? Why did the government not conduct a fair investigation to determine who killed the police officer?
  • Why did the police fail to investigate the snipers and attackers who targeted the cadets?
  • Who was the lieutenant colonel at the Ankara Military Academy guesthouse who tried to implicate the cadets in the coup attempt? Why was he not arrested? 
  • Why did the trial judge refuse to allow the introduction of video evidence that showed the snipers engaged in violent activity against the targeted cadets?
  • Why did the trial judge refuse to listen to witnesses who could exonerate the cadets but agree to hear testimony from all of the government’s witnesses?
  • Why did the government invoke a state of emergency prohibiting the investigation of the murderers of cadets and other innocent civilians on July 15?
  • Why did the trial judge ignore evidence from the ballistics examinations of the cadets’ weapons, which proved that the cadets had not fired their weapons and had killed no one?


The July 15 military coup attempt is full of unanswered questions. The confrontations between SAPs and CCPs yielded results for both sides. The suicidal actions of the SAPs not only landed them in prison but also served as a pretext for the government to crack down on its opponents and make Turkey a more authoritarian country.[†] The CCPs who got support of Erdogan enjoyed keeping their positions. The period after the failed coup attempt has been marked by the victimization of hundreds of thousands of people. Among those victimized was a group of unsuspecting Air Force Academy cadets caught in the middle of lethal confrontations organized and carried out by the CCPs. Two of them lost their lives, and one of them was brutally beheaded.

It seems that the SAPs had devised a plan to use the unsuspecting cadets in the coup attempt, given that a group of cadets was transferred to one of the media outlets in Istanbul. At the same time, CCPs used their knowledge of the SAPs’ plan to involve a group of the cadets in the coup attempt and therefore devised a more detailed plan. The CCPs incorporated into their plan every detail on how the cadets would be transferred to various points in Istanbul. Their plan also included the deployment of jihadist groups and paramilitary groups with orders to attack the cadets and trap them in shootouts. The CCPs left many traces of their actions, providing clear evidence of their involvement in every aspect of efforts to exploit and target the cadets. Therefore, the judge shut down the investigation of beheaded and lynched cadets, despite the evidence on the perpetrators presented by the lawyer of beheaded cadet.

It is precisely because so many questions remain unanswered that the government has staged extravagant ceremonies commemorating the government’s ability to defeat the July 15 coup attempt. Erdogan continues to paint a narrative, blaming the Gulenists for the coup attempt and telling the people of Turkey that he had defeated an enemy bent on destroying the government. Erdogan’s actions and pronouncement stem are an attempt to hide what really happened on the night of July 15 and convince the public all of the facts related to that fateful night have been made known. The CCPs and Erdogan, however, will not be able keep their secrets forever. At some point, the people of Turkey will learn the truth—that the cadets were trapped, targeted and ambushed. Until that time, however, the cadets caught up in the scheme remain jailed for crimes they did not commit. No one knows how many more years of their lives will be lost to injustice.

In his first SWJ article, the author described two group of plotters. The first group was comprised of a small cadre of plotters from ultranationalist, Kurdish, Gulenist, and secular military staff. The author referred them as “so-called amateurish coup plotters” (SAP) who were part of a very badly orchestrated coup attempt. They did not have a coup plan, and their act was like a suicide. Another group, the counter-coup plotters (CCP), were well-prepared to benefit from the results of the coup attempt. The group was comprised of force commanders, the chief of intelligence, and some high-level politicians. Although it would not have been difficult to prevent the coup, the CCPs not only turned a blind eye to the acts of the SAPs but also enabled the coup attempt. Because they served as enablers, the CCPs bear responsibility for the death of many innocent civilians and for the exploitation of Air Force Academy cadets.

End Notes

[1] “15 Temmuz Koprude Yakalanan Fetocu,” Youtube, accessed on September 25, 2019, from

[2] Y. Demir, “Albay Talat Aydemir’in Darbe Girişimleri,” ÇTTAD, C. 12, 2006.

[3] This article used qualitative data obtained in open-ended ethnographic interviews. The dataset is comprised of 5 interviews conducted with AFA cadets who experienced the July 15 coup. They were selected through a snowballing technique because it was the best way to find experts on the topic. The respondents voluntarily participated in the research, and each interview lasted three hours. Each respondent stipulated to keep his/her identity confidential. Therefore, each respondent was codified to anonymize his/her identity, using letters and numbers. For instance, AFA1 symbolizes the first cadet and AFA2 is the second cadet.  

[4] AFA1 and AFA4, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[5] “Harbiyeli annesi Melek Çetinkaya, tüm bildiklerini Çağlar Cilara’ya anlattı!,” Youtube, accessed on October 25, 2019 from

[6] Org. Abidin Ünal, 15 Temmuz günü öğrencilere “itaatin önemini anlatmis,” Grihat,

[7] Org. Abidin Ünal, 15 Temmuz günü öğrencilere “itaatin önemini anlatmis,” Grihat,

[8] AFA3 and AFA4, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[9] AFA3 and AFA4, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[10] “Harbiyeli annesi Melek Çetinkaya, tüm bildiklerini Çağlar Cilara’ya anlattı!”

[11] “Harbiyeli annesi Melek Çetinkaya, tüm bildiklerini Çağlar Cilara’ya anlattı!”

[12] AFA2 and AFA8, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[13] “Askeri Darbe Girismi Esir Alinan Askerler Dovuldu,” Youtube, accessed on November 5, 2019, from

[14] “Orhanli Giseler Polis Uyarisiz harbiyelilere Ates Ediyor,” Youtube, accessed on October 27, 2019, from

[15] AFA1 and AFA3, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[16] 15 Temmuz Boğaziçi Köprüsü - Gelen Jandarma Otobüsü Ve Yaşananlar,” Youtube,


[18] “Nihal Olcak’tan Deliller Yetersiz Aciklamasi: Oglumun Mezarini Actirabilirim,” ABC Gazetesi, accessed on December 11, 2019 from

[19] AFA11, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[20] AFA3 and AFA7, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[21] AFA11, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[22] AFA11, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[23] “TRT ve Digiturk Binasini Isgal Girisimi Davasi,” Haberler, accessed on December 9, 2019, from

[24] AFA2 and AFA3, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[25] AFA3 and AFA4, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[26] AFA1 and AFA4, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[27] AFA3 and AFA4, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[28] AFA2 and AFA3, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[29] AFA3 and AFA4, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

[30] “Istanbul FSM Koprusundeki Askerler Boyle Dovuldu”, Youtube, accessed on November 17, 2019, from And “Koprude Askeri Linc Ettiler,” Youtube, accessed on Novemver 3, 2019, from


[33] ASDER Uyesi Darbesavar Askerler, Youtube,

[34] “15 Temmuzda Koprude Yakalanan Fetocu,” Youtube, accessed on November 2, 2019, from

[35] “Askeri okul ogrencisinin avukati: Savcilik, “Yapilack birsey yok, bizim basimizi yakmayin” Youtube, accessed on December 7, 2019 from

[36] Harbiyeli annesi Melek Çetinkaya, tüm bildiklerini Çağlar Cilara'ya anlattı!”

[37] AFA2 and AFA5, Interview by Mahmut Cengiz, Personal Interview-Skype, September 2019.

Categories: Turkey - coup

About the Author(s)

Dr. Mahmut Cengiz is an Assistant Professor and Research Faculty with Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Dr. Cengiz has international field experience where he has delivered capacity building and training assistance to international partners in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. He also has been involved in the research projects for the Brookings Institute, European Union, and various US agencies.



Fri, 09/24/2021 - 7:31am

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