The mother of a cadet who was jailed on controversial charges of being involved in the failed 2016 coup has spoken out.
The mother, Melek Cetinkaya, spoke during a live broadcast with rights activist MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, on Tuesday. She said her son, Furkan Cetinkaya, and other cadets who received life sentences were not even aware there was a coup in Turkey at the time.
The abortive coup, July 15, 2016
The suspension bridge across the Bosporus Strait was closed by a few dozen troops on July 15, 2016, giving the first sign of a putsch underway, in which 250 people were killed, 145 of them were civilians, according to government figures.
On that night, Air Force Academy students left their military education encampment base in the city of Yalova, for Istanbul. They were ordered to get ready with full equipment. They were taken into buses after midnight, uninformed of their task, unable to question orders of the Turkish military’s internal service act commands absolute obedience to superiors. They were split into five groups, with each group sent to different locations in Istanbul.
Following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call to the citizens via video conference aired on live TV, people took to the streets against the putschists. Due to a lack of backing from the rest of the Turkish army and fierce resistance from the people, “rebel” soldiers had to surrender by the morning of July 16.
The angry crowd gathered near the bridge and lynched a few dozen soldiers and Air Force Academy students, stationed there, killing two cadets who were later identified as Murat Tekin, and Enes Ragip Katran. The killings, subsequent torture, and ill-treatment were not investigated due to an emergency decree that granted impunity to anybody who acted against the abortive coup.
Melek Cetinkaya pleads for justice
Furkan’s mother, Melek, unable to tell the treatment her son and his fellow cadets were subjected to without breaking into tears, asserts the Air Force cadets arrived in the camp two days before the coup attempt, for a regular training period.
Abidin Unal, the Commander of the Turkish Air Forces, visited the encampment hours before the coup attempt and dined with the cadets lecturing them about the vitality of obedience for a soldier. Cetinkaya points out the peculiarity of the visit’s timing.
Unal sided with the Erdogan administration as the coup was underway, and the themes he brought up that day with the cadets raised questions from several critics about his involvement in the plot.
Ahmet Nesin, a critical journalist in exile, has previously questioned Unal’s visit and his remarks, underlining the phrase he finds the most suspicious: “Do not tire these lads today, the evening will be tiresome for them.”
Melek Cetinkaya says the cadets had no way of knowing what happened on the coup night since they did not have access to any electrical device during the training.
“They only followed orders. I want to ask the authorities, what should have they done differently to avoid these life sentences?” lamented the angry mother.
Cetinkaya says the cadets were given 40 bullets and assault weapons on the way to Istanbul. The students were told a massive terrorist attack was underway, and they were being moved to a safer place, whereby they had to protect themselves. However, as they disembarked from the buses, they encountered the rallying anti-coup crowds, and many of them surrendered singing the national anthem. The citizens embraced them with Turkish flags.
Pointing to the initial hailing of the cadets by the pro-government media outlets as heroes who stood against the coup attempt, Cetinkaya notes the academy students were sentenced to life imprisonment even though they had not carried out any criminal act.
“Please do not hit me in the eye, I have just had surgery”
Following the defeat of the rebel soldiers, the cadets were detained by the police in the morning. The Air Force Academy students were subjected to endless torture while in custody, according to their families, lawyers, and many human rights activists.
“Mother, I wish I died that night instead of living through these,” Melek said this is what her son told her.
They stacked the cadets into the cages on top of each other, the ones who needed to go to the toilet had their heads smashed onto the walls while being taken to the bathroom,” laments Cetinkaya and carries on asking, “what have they done to deserve this? They were forced to drink from the toilet when they asked for water to ease their thirst.”
Cetinkaya went on to paint the grim situation her son finds himself in: “Kagan D. was beaten to death on the bridge and was put into the mortuary assuming he was not alive. When he moved a finger, they immediately took him to court to testify.
“He was taken back to custody despite his deadly condition, and was battered there once more,” revealed Cetinkaya in tears. “Her mother could only recognize him by his voice on the first visit to the prison because his head was fully covered with a bandage. He had two eye surgeries due to the heavy battery and lost 80% of his eyesight. And he was beaten once more for standing up in the court to relieve his numbed leg without asking permission.”
Cetinkaya sobs as she continues: “He told them – ‘please do not hit me in the eye, I have just had surgery.’ They hit him in the eye more after saying that. He had eye surgery again for the third time. He completely lost his sight subsequently.”
The anguished mother of Furkan Cetinkaya carries on with telling the torture another cadet had faced: “They kicked Tolga in his genitals so much, he urinated blood the whole year.”
Melek said she receives psychological treatment and takes prescribed anti-depressants. “My husband completely isolated himself; he does not talk to anybody,” she laments.
More than 400 cadets had been tried on coup charges, with most of them receiving life sentences following the 2016 putsch.