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“We’ve shot four people. Everything’s fine.” The Turkish Coup through the Eyes of its Plotters

July 24, 2016

By Christiaan Triebert

Translations: Русский

COVER

A group of plotters of the failed Turkish coup attempt used a WhatsApp group to communicate with each other. Bellingcat has transcribed, translated, and analysed the conversation, thereby cross-referencing the messages with photos, videos, and news reports of the evening, night, and morning of July 15-16.

The transcript is composed of two different sources. The first source is a video which was uploaded to Twitter in the morning of July 16, and appears to show the conversation on the phone of a surrendered, captured, or killed coup plotter. This video revealed the WhatsApp conversation from its start at 21:15 to 22:45. The second source is 21 photos that show the rest of the conversation, has already been transcribed. The photos are courtesy of Al Jazeera Türk’s Selahattin Günday, and we are thankful that he was willing to share them with Bellingcat. We owe many thanks to “Has Avrat[1] for fully translating the transcript, as well as contributing to the analysis. All times mentioned are in the local time zone, which is EEST (UTC+3).

This article will chronologically highlight and analyse most the most striking parts of the transcript, including the following:

  • The WhatsApp group consists of high-ranking military officials, mostly of the Turkish Land Forces, including two Brigadiers and eleven Colonels;
  • The group is just one coordination group of the coup attempt, as it focuses on (predominantly) land forces in Istanbul and Sakarya only. There were likely other coordination groups for actions elsewhere in Turkey. It is thus important to bear in mind that this is a snapshot of the conversation of some of the coup plotters, and not a full picture;
  • At least one member of the group communicates with “Ankara”, where the coupist headquarters was located (probably in Akıncı Air Base);
  • At least three out of the five coupist regiments are part of Turkey’s NATO Rapid Deployable Corps;
  • The conversation and communication between the coup plotters appears to be chaotic, as several numbers still had to be exchanged amidst the attempt;
  • Traffic congestion is a problem throughout the night, and so are private broadcasters;
  • There is a constant repetition regarding taking their superior hostage, the Commander of the First Army;
  • Air support is requested many times, including the suggestion to strike the Bosporus Bridge;
  • As the morning breaks, the coup plotters realise it is over. “Shall we escape”, a Colonel asks. “The choice is yours”, he gets as response. “We have not decided yet. But we have left our position. I’m closing the group. Delete the messages if you want”.

A full transcript in both the original Turkish and translated English of the WhatsApp conversation can be viewed and downloaded here as a PDF-file.

2115 — Group created

On July 15, 2016, at 21:15, Major Murat Çelebioğlu creates a WhatsApp group with the name “Yurtta sulh”. This refers to the first two words of a famous sentence pronounced by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of the Republic of Turkey, in 1931: “Yurtta sulh, cihanda sulh”, meaning “Peace at home, peace in the world”. It was later accepted as the approach to foreign policy for Turkey, but also became the slogan of the Turkish Land Forces.

Subsequently, Major Çelebioğlu adds a number of people to the group and tells them that he will be making announcements in the group, and that the members can share importants updates here. “I’ll pass them on to Ankara”, Çelebioğlu says, referring to the coupist headquarters in Ankara.

WhatsApp 1

Some numbers that are being added to the group have been added to the contact book of the person’s phone from which we read the conversation, as they are shown by name and, most of the times, military rank. Others introduce themselves, or can be identified sooner or later in the conversation as they reveal more of their identity. In that way, the following list of high-ranking military officials can be compiled.

Names

2126 — Military vehicles on the road

At 21:26, Major Çelebioğlu gives the first instructions for military action: block traffic on Istanbul’s two main highways, the E5 and the Trans European Motorway (TEM or E80). Traffic outside of Istanbul will be left as it is, but traffic “trying to enter Istanbul will be halted and turned back.”

WhatsApp 2

Colonel Ahmet Zeki Gerehan replies that the locations “which need to be taken must be taken immediately”. Clearly, the coup plotters had several locations in mind to seize or, at least, show their presence. The following locations can be identified as most important, and are the topic of conversation throughout the chat:

  • The Bosphorus Bridge (or First Bridge);
  • The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (or Second Bridge);
  • Taksim Square;
  • The Disaster Coordination Centre (Turkish: Afet Koordinasyon Merkezi Müdürlüğü, AKOM);
  • Atatürk International Airport;
  • Sabiha Gökçen International Airport;
  • Istanbul Police Headquarters at Vatan Caddesi (Turkish: İstanbul Emniyet Müdürlüğü);
  • Istanbul Riot Police Headquarters in Bayrampaşa (Turkish: Çevik Kuvvet Şube Müdürlüğü);
  • Kuleli Military High School (Turkish: Kuleli Askerî Lisesi);
  • The Istanbul Stock Exchange (Turkish: İstanbul Menkul Kıymetler Borsası, IMKB);
  • The Istanbul Governor’s office;
  • The Sakarya Governor’s office;
  • The Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial office;
  • The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation in Istanbul (Turkish: TRT İstanbul Müdürlüğü Harbiye, TRT);
  • The Logistics Support Base (Turkish: Lojistik Destek Üssü, LDÜ);
  • The War Colleges Command (Turkish: Harp Akademisi Komutanlığı, HAK K).

At 21:29, Colonel Müslim Kaya is the first to mention a unit that is on it’s way: “6 started”, referring to the 6th Motorised Infantry Regiment based in Hasdal, a district of Istanbul. Why it is clear that this is the specific regiment to which Colonel Kaya refers, will be discussed below.

WhatsApp 3

A first problem arises at the same time. At “the academy”, a person referred to as “Fatih Irmak” is having problems convincing his unit to join the coup attempt. Major Çelebioğlu asks whether Colonel Gerehan can help him out. The latter replies a minute later that he is on his way to help, only to read that there is no problem after all: “Fatih and his team are onboard. There’s no problem”, Major Murat Yanık writes.

WhatsApp 4

However, a few minutes later, there is a new problem which will be recurring throughout the night: traffic congestion. “Are the 2nd and 66th having difficulties due to traffic congestion on the roads”, Major Çelebioğlu. Istanbul is notorious for its traffic jams, especially on Friday night. But again, there is nothing to worry about, Major Osman Akkaya replies: “We have not left yet”.

WhatsApp 5

Subsequently, Major Çelebioğlu asks again for a location of the two regiments. Though a different regiment, Colonel Kaya replies that the 6th Motorised Infantry Regiment is about to reach the Disaster Coordination Centre (Turkish: Afet Koordinasyon Merkezi Müdürlüğü, AKOM), which is located in northwest Istanbul. This appears to show that, before taking any other action, the coup plotters want to take control over the disaster centre.

WhatsApp 6

Just like the 6, the numbers refer to military regiments. By investigating open source information, it can indeed be established that the group members refer to the 2nd Armoured Brigade, stationed in the Istanbul district of Kartal, and the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, which is based in Hasdal together with the 6th Regiment. The regiments fall under the 3rd Corps of the First Army of the Turkish Land Forces, as shown in the table, which also shows the location of their bases and the their approximate strength in manpower as of 2014. The units of which their commanders are in the WhatsApp group, are marked in green.

Turkish Land Forces

Furthermore, all three regiments are part of the Turkey’s NATO Rapid Deployable Corps since 2003, which has its own emblem with again the same slogan: “Peace at home, peace in the world.”

NRDC

By cross-referencing registration plates, military vehicles of the 2nd Armoured Brigade and the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade can indeed be spotted on photographs taken during the coup attempt in Istanbul. Number plates from vehicles from the First Army all start with “1” followed by five other numbers, thus “1XX XXX”. While some military vehicles had their number plates covered during the coup attempt, others had not and often showed registration plates starting with “117” and “196”, as Twitter users @Ald_Aba and @AbraxasSpa noted.

 

117 1117 2

These numbers can be specifically attributed to the 2nd and 66th regiments, by looking at older photo and video material of both units, @Ald_Aba tweeted. As with regards to the numbers “196”, photos uploaded to Facebook of the 2nd Armoured Brigade also show vehicles with the number “196”. Similarly, the numbers “117” we also spotted on a vehicle of a YouTube video of the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade.

196 vehicle plates

Number plates of the 6th regiment have not been identified, but Colonel Kaya informs the WhatsApp groupthat they are taking over AKOM, saying it is being “interned”, which is taking someone prisoner for political or military reasons.

WhatsApp 7

This development goes relatively unnoticed, because it coincides with the next major development: blocking traffic on the Bosphorus bridges.

2145 — Blocking the Bosphorus bridges

At 21:45, Major Muammar Aygar reports that the access to the Bosphorus Bridge or First Bridge has been halted. The bridge is one of the two suspension bridges spanning the Strait of Bosphorus and a vital highway between the European and the Asian continent. But that is not all: the Faith Sultan Mehmet or Second Bridge, is also under control of the soldiers obeying the coup plotters. This development marks the the military start of the coup attempt. It is over half an hour later when the development gets widely reported by international media (There is a some confusion over when this was first reported, as TRT takes 21:29 as time, while Reuters takes 21:29. Both times are converted to the local time zone.).

WhatsApp 8

https://twitter.com/agirecudi/status/754039502981791744

2150 — The first reinforcements

At 21:50, Colonel Gerehan asks whom the “Hadimköy reinforcements” should contact, “They are waiting at the entrance [of the barracks]”, also called “General Kani Akman 1. Garrison”. Gerehan refers here most probably to the 52nd Tactical Armoured Division, as that is the only military unit based in Hadimköy.

WhatsApp 9

Four minutes later, Major Çelebioğlu says that he is calling “Pasha Eyüp”. The word “pasha” is an Ottoman-era honorific title for general, which is still being used in Turkey and the wider region. Çelebioğlu also asks for the number of Lieutenant-Colonel Mehmet Erol from the Turkish Air Force, though another Major says that General Eyüp already has been contacted, that he will open the gates, and that he is speaking to Lieutenant-Colonel Erol. Colonel Sadık Selim Cebeci shares the phone number of Erol, who will only be added to the group fifteen minutes later.

WhatsApp 10

A minute earlier, Colonel Kaya informed to group that a unit is on its way to the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, also known as TRT, Turkey’s national public broadcaster. He specifies that it is TRT Radio where they are going. Nine minutes earlier, Kaya wrote that they were taking over AKOM, which might indicate that the persons in this group command a number of groups spread over Istanbul and Sakarya.

WhatsApp 11

2156 — War Colleges taken over

At 21:56, Major Murat Yanık informs the group that the Command of the War Colleges (Turkish: Harp Akademisi Komutanlığı, HAK K) has been taken, located in northern Istanbul on the European side. Yanık says “follow Hadimköy units”, though it is not clear to what or where, or if he meant that the Hadimköy units were to follow.

WhatsApp 12

At the same time, everything is under control at the Second Bridge. “Police are following orders […] no problems”, Major Aygar writes.

WhatsApp 15

Troops are also on their way to TRT TV, Colonel Kaya informs the group, and to Bayrampaşa (Riot Police headquarters) and (Atatürk International) Airport, Lieutenant Özkan Özgenc writes.

WhatsApp 16

Meanwhile, Colonel Kaya reports that AKOM has been seized, but that they need help from the technical team of the Air Force to cut off broadcasting. “They are trying themselves but are unable to do it.” This message seems to suggest that they seized the Disaster Coordination Centre to cut off broadcasting of media. Control of television, radio, and newspapers will indeed prove to be a massive challenge for the coup to succeed. Kaya subsequently shares the contact details of someone at AKOM that needs to be contacted by someone “from the technical team”.

WhatsApp 14

2206 — “Vast majority” of Istanbul Police complies

Another major challenge for the coup plotters will be the police. Will they comply and obey the military’s orders? At 22:06, Major Çelebioğlu writes that the deputies of the Istanbul Police Chief have been called and informed about the coupist intentions: “the vast majority have complied.” Colonel Uzan Şahin also writes that the deputies of Istanbul Police have complied. Using a Turkish phrase expressing warmth and affection, he does not hide his content: “Tell our police friends, I kiss their eyes.”

WhatsApp 17

At the same time, Colonel Kaya informs that troops are on their way to the Logistics Supports Base (Turkish: Lojistik Destek Üssü, LDÜ), which is a military facility that provides supplies, and sometimes personnel, to troops that are deployed or facilities closer to the deployment area. Interesting to note is that Colonel Kaya by far informs the group the most of military movements (AKOM, TRT Radio and TV, Bayrampaşa Police, Atatürk Airport, and now LDÜ).

2209 — First Army Commander must be taken hostage

While the planned locations are successfully taken, the coup plotters also want to intern several military and governmental officials. The most important person for this group is their superior: General (Turkish: Orgeneral; OF-9) Ümit Dündar, Commander of the First Army. It is Colonel Cebeci at 22:09 that mentions it for the first time in the conversation, but it will be repeated throughout the night and morning. They will not capture him. Instead, Dündar will be appointed the acting Chief of Staff for the anti-coup military later in a few hours from now (Source: T24).

WhatsApp 18

2219 — Commanders try to reach coup plotters

At 22:19, non-coupist military commanders know that something is not right. General Dündar keeps on calling Kuleli Military High School, while Brigadier Kemal Başak, Commander of the 66th Regiment, is calling Colonel Eyyüp Gürler “non-stop”. They are told not to answer their phones.

WhatsApp 19

Simultaneously, group members discuss the “Hadimköy reinforcements”. The coupist headquarters are wondering whether they are ready, Major Çelebioğlu messages. They are, and on their way to the barracks in Hadimköy. Colonel Gerehan then asks whether the reinforcements are going “to send location”, to which Cebeci replies that these have already been sent in the morning.

WhatsApp 20

Subsequently, Major Çelebioğlu sends a photo of a series of numbers. The numbers are two sets of coordinates referring to a geographical location, using a different notation style. Though some numbers are crossed out, the two sets can be cross-referenced to find the complete set of digits: “35 TPF 84098 32413” and “N 40°55’19” / E 29°11’10“, which is the helicopter landing platform at the premises of the base of the 2nd Armoured Brigade.

WhatsApp 21

2223 — İBB Municipality complies

A “high ranking official from the municipality is complying”, Colonel Kaya informs the group at 22:23, referring to Istanbul Greater City Municipality (Turkish: İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi, İBB). The person asked not be hurt, and Kaya shares his phone number. Colonel Gürler says that a unit will go to the [possible the İBB] governorship within ten minutes.

WhatsApp 22

Besides “the bridge being closed by Gendarmerie”, nothing is being reported on Haberturk, Lieutenant Özgenc informs the group. It is then 22:23 and besides the bridges, AKOM has been seized, while other units are on their way to take control over other locations.

WhatsApp 23

One of such units is under the command of Colonel Ömer Korkut, who is on his way to Atatürk International Airport. “212 has been passed”, he informs the group, referring to the 212 Power Outlet mall located north of the airport.

Meanwhile, four academy students have been sent to take General Dündar hostage. “But they need help to intern him”, Colonel Cebeci writes at 22:26.

WhatsApp 25

2226 — Bayrampaşa “pretty much ok”

Between 22:26 and 22:28, the situation at the Bayrampaşa Riot Police headquarters is shortly discussed. The units that Lieutenant Özgenc mentioned earlier have arrived at the main entrance of the facility and are talking to the police. Major Çelebioğlu asks Captain Kadir Yıldız, who seems to be at the location, to update him when it is “sorted”. “Ankara is waiting for information.” But whatever the outcome of the conversation is, the situation is “pretty much ok”, Yıldız replies. “They cannot exit.”

WhatsApp 26

At AKOM, broadcasting has been cut off, 44 minutes after the coup troops “intervened” there. The main hub for coordination in case of emergencies is now not operational anymore.

WhatsApp 27

About half an hour after the coup plotters had contacts with the deputies of the Istanbul Police Chief, the person himself is coming to the blocked bridge. Major Çelebioğlu orders to arrest him, which is received by Major Aygar.

WhatsApp 28

2236 — LDÜ under control

The Logistic Supports Base is now also under coupist control, roughly thirty minutes after Colonel Kaya said units were on their way to take the location. At LDÜ, “Planning is underway for meals to all our troops in the European and Asian sides for tomorrow morning onwards.” From July 16, Colonel Kaya says he does not know the “overall picture” of the coup plan, so “someone who does know needs to go to LDÜ.” No one replies.

WhatsApp 29

At this stage, LDÜ, AKOM and the bridges are under control of the rebelling military officials. Colonel Gürler informs the group that units are also on their way to the governorship (though unclear which) and the İBB, while Major Akkaya reports that there is also a unit on their way to the Provincial Police headquarters, located at Vatan Caddesi. Colonel Kaya then writes that the “AFAD provincial directorate said that there won’t be a problem at the Governorship. […] He supports the action.”

WhatsApp 30

Meanwhile, at the bridges, the General Dünder has arrived. Major Aygar: “They ran away to the Asian side after having come 600-700 m to the bridge.” Major Çelebioğlu suggests that the bridges will be opened in both ways, and “tell everyone to go home”, perhaps referring to the many hundreds of civilians blocked by the military. Colonel Şahin then tells Major Aygar to open the bridge, but to “put a couple of armoured vehicles in the middle of the bridge to prevent police from crossing.”

WhatsApp 31

2244 — Atatürk Airport and TRT Radio under control

WhatsApp 32

The main entrance and entrance B at Atatürk International Airport have been successfully taken, Colonel Korkut reports at 22:44. “They have complied”, he says, referring to the airport police that is cooperating. “There superiors are coming too, we are waiting.” TRT Radio has also been taken, Colonel Kaya messages.

The above messages were the last shown in the video, but not the last messages of the “Yurtta sulh” group chat. AJ Türk got their hands on the remaining part of the conversation, in form of 21 photos of a transcript, and have shared this with Bellingcat. Unfortunately, the transcript does not have any timestamps, so the approximate time has to be determined by cross-referencing the messages to events in Istanbul and elsewhere. What further complicated the analysis, was that the messages were only partly in chronological order. We have tried our utmost to find place the messages in the right sequence.

Lieutenant-Colonel Muzaffer Düzenli is at or in constant communication with the coupist headquarters in Ankara. He orders that armoured vehicles will be sent to Atatürk Airport, but there is no need to: there are already three tanks and four infantry fighting vehicles (Turkish: Zırhlı Muharebe Aracı, ZMAs) present, Colonel Korkut replies. Photos and videos of the military units at the airport show several military vehicle registration plates starting with “117”, meaning it are vehicles from the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade.

WhatsApp 33

With Atatürk Airport under control, there are several other interventions going on at: the War Colleges Command (“They have complied, they are sitting inside”) and TRT TV, while a unit is on its way to the provincial office of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The Logistic Supports Base, meanwhile, asks for the settings. Colonel Kaya: “It would be good if the 1st Army prepared a report.” Again, no reply. But there are a lot of messages about General Dünder, who is believed to come to the Kuleli Military High School. “Has anyone interned him”, Major Aygar asks. “He’s still free”, Colonel Gürler responds.

WhatsApp 34

Quite randomly, perhaps feeling the heat of growing resistance, Colonel Şahin mentions that their numbers are 20,000, including units from Trakya. Open source data of the manpower of the different regiments, suggest that the following numbers per regiment identified as taking part in the coup: 52nd (9,000), 2nd (5,000), 66th (5,000), and 6th (4,000), the “units from Trakya” excluded. Those numbers do not tell much, however, as they might be outdated and, more importantly, not reflect the number of soldiers that can be employed.

WhatsApp 35

Meanwhile, “they” want to send police from Bayrampaşa, Major Akkaya writes. “Prevent it.” Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli goes as far to say that even the intervention at AKP’s provincial offices should be stopped if “Bayrampaşa” would need back up.

Captain Yıldız, who is in charge of the units at the Riot Police’s headquarters, is the first to reply: “Done.” He says “a tank has closed”, which seems to suggest he has blocked the main entrance of the facilities. This is indeed what a photo, which can be geolocated to Bayrampaşa Riot Police headquarters, tweeted at 22:50 shows: a military vehicle blocking the entrance. Captain Yıldız notifies the group that he will send three armoured personnel carriers (Turkish: Geliştirilmiş Zırhlı Personel Taşıyıcı, GZPTs) to the location.

WhatsApp 36

2301 — PM Yıldırım makes a statement

At 23:01, Turkish Prime Minister (PM) Binali Yıldırım makes a statement about what he calls an “uprising attempt” (CNN). This gives a good indication of the time, as Brigadier Yiğit mentions it in the group. No one reacts to his message.

WhatsApp 37

It is around this time that Taksim Square is mentioned for the first time, the heart of modern Istanbul that they want to occupy. Other locations are also successfully seized: the Sakarya governor’s office and the İBB.

WhatsApp 38

However, General Dünder has still not been taken. Major Aygar tried, without success, to get him to Kuleli by tricking him: “I’ve invited him by saying that I could not control Mürsel.”

WhatsApp 39

2318 — Coup announced on TV

A statement purportedly from the Turkish military is broadcasted by TRT TV, and says the country has been taken over by the military to protect the democratic order. The statement was e-mailed to news organisations by coupists (Source: TSK).

The statement also announces that martial law has been installed, to which Colonel Ömer Faruk Özköse seems to refer. A bit later, Colonel Kaya asks what will happen to “the ones said to be the Turkish Land Forces”, possibly referring to anti-coup soldiers.

WhatsApp 40

Meanwhile, the Istanbul Governorship is about to be taken under control by units under Colonel Cebeci, after initial resistance of the police.

WhatsApp 41

The blocking of the bridges will create problems for incoming reinforcements, Lieutenant Özgenc foresees, and he suggests Major Aygar there need to be controlled exits. He informs Major Aygar.

WhatsApp 42

Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli then requests an intervention at the Istanbul Moda Sea Club, where a wedding istaking place that is attended by many senior ranking military officials. “Many Generals there that need to brought in,” he says, meaning they need to be interned.

WhatsApp 43

But the WhatsApp group is busy with other things: Landings are permitted at Ataturk Airport, while units are about to reach Istanbul’s other airport Sabiha Gökçen as well; and the 5th and 2nd Corps “have been assigned with providing with reinforcements to Istanbul.” Besides, Colonel Cebeci says he is about to take the AKP provincial office, but says it is crowded outside and is postponing. He asks Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli what to do.

WhatsApp 45

The first mentions that an intervention is needed at the club: “Guys, Air Force Commander Abidin Ünal is at the Moda Deniz Club. Intervention needs to be done there”, which suggests that Air Force Commander Ünal’s internment is also important for the coupists.

WhatsApp 44

Meanwhile, reinforcements per helicopter for the troops at Vatan Caddesi are ready to take off, Captain Türk informs the group. A reply by Major Çelebioğlu seems to suggest that he sees a chance to let Captain Türk’s helicopter intervene at the Moda Deniz Club first, before flying to Vatan Caddesi. Türk replies that, if they hurry, the can make it “to the empty space in the middle of the crowd”, opening fire if needed. It is not clear whether he refers to the club or to the Police headquarters at Vatan Caddesi.

WhatsApp 46

One way or another, a helicopter did intervene at the wedding. A video of a military helicopter hovering above the club’s parking lot was uploaded to Twitter at 23:52. Unfortunately, the video the user which uploaded the video has restricted her account since. This is one of perhaps two Turkish Air Force AS532 combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopters that raided the wedding. Commandos successfully kidnapped the person, David Cenciotti writes on The Aviationist.

At the same time, the units at Taksim Square are asking for reinforcements, as a “crowd is gathering.” Captain Türk replies that they are airborne, but not to Taksim, but for Vatan Caddesi.

WhatsApp 47

While reinforcements are coming to Vatan Caddesi, Taksim is requesting extra troops, too, and so is Colonel Cebeci at the AKP provincial office. “Helicopters would work. Crowds keep gathering.”

WhatsApp 48

2336 — Gunfire at Vatan Caddesi

At 23:36, gunfire is reported at Vatan Caddesi street on Twitter.

While the exact time of sending cannot be established, Major Akkaya sends a message that he plans to open fire on the Provincial Police headquarters at Vatan Caddesi. “There’s no other choice.”

WhatsApp 55 - 1 (Akkaya Vatan Caddesi)

2350 — AKP provincial office surrounded

At 23:50, photos are being tweeted that the AKP provincial office are surrounded by soldiers.

Again, the exact time cannot be established, but Colonel Cebeci informs the group that they have taken control of the AKP provincial offices and that people are being interned. According to CNN Türk, the “head of the Istanbul branch of Turkey’s ruling AK party says soldiers entered the party building and asked them to leave,” with time stamp 1:14.

WhatsApp 55 - 2 (AKP offices)

0005 — TRT news anchor forced to read coup declaration

At 0:05, TRT TV news anchor Tijen Karaş is forced to read a declaration from the coup leaders, who call themselves the “Peace at Home Committee” (again, “Yurtta sulh”). They claim to have taken over control of the country to restore democracy and the rule of law.

“Friends, thankfully we have captured several targets in Ankara in Istanbul. The statement has been read on TRT”, Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli writes. “Anyone who opposes our acts will be dealt with harshly. This is the order.”

WhatsApp 49

Television “has a significant influence on people in Turkey, especially among older generations”, TRT wrote in a post-coup article. AKOM, TRT TV and Radio have been successfully seized. But unlike the previous coups in Turkey, the state broadcaster is not the only broadcaster. There are now also private channels such as CNN Türk and Habertürk, which continue live broadcasting. Politicians and citizens are now, on live television, encouraging others to go onto the streets to protest against the coup attempt. Colonel Cebeci: “Privately owned TV stations must be silenced.”

WhatsApp 50

But that is a little too late.

0019 — Citizens pour into the street

Citizens are ignoring the military curfew and are pouring into the streets to protest the coup attempt, as this video of hundreds of videos shows.

That crowd is only getting  bigger when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses the nation on CNN Türk around 00:26, urging the Turkish citizens to “take the streets”.

CNN Turk Erdogan

President Erdoğan’s speech is not mentioned in the group conversation, but the direct results of that speech are clearly noticeable: most units are asking for support as they are being surrounded by large crowd of civilians.

For example, the helicopter reinforcement for Colonel Akkaya at Vatan Caddesi is now self being surrounded by what “a really large crowd” and cannot find Akkaya and his troops.

WhatsApp 51

Similarly, the troops at Taksim Square need reinforcements, and so do the units at Atatürk Airport. “Can armoured vehicles be sent?” Colonel Kaya asks. The next message is from Kaya again (“We are sending one column to Taksim”), suggesting that at least some of the WhatsApp group members are not on the ground themselves but coordinating their troops through Istanbul. Understanding the symbolic value of public squares and the strategic importance of airports, Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli stresses that such locations should be kept under control. “Units will not withdraw.”

WhatsApp 52

Meanwhile, outside of the Istanbul in Sakarya, “urgent support” is also requested by Lieutenant-Colonel Çoşkun, where crowds are trying to stop the coup tanks. He sends another message: “Need urgent air support for Sakarya.”

WhatsApp 53

The only place that seems relatively calm, judging from the messages, is Çengelköy, where the Kuleli Military High School is located. But the calmness comes at a price: “We have shot 4 people who were resisting at Çengelköy. Everything’s fine.” The victims are probably soldiers that were disobeying the coupist soldiers.

WhatsApp 54

Another location where people are getting shot is Acıbadem neighbourhood, where Major Mehmet Karabekır and his units “were attempting to take over Turkey’s telecommunications center Türk Telekom”, according to Daily Sabah.

However, they met civil resistance and Major Karabekır ordered any civilian standing it the way to be shot. One of the civilians was Mete Sertbaş, the mukhtar (a headman responsible for the neighbourhood) of Acıbadem. Major Karabekır shoots mukhtar Sertbaş at point blank in his stomach. The chilling moment was captured on camera. Sertbaş bled to death on the street.

With regards to Acıbadem, Karabekır says the following (after he shared two photos). He does not mention that a civilian has been shot.

Mehmet Karabekir shooting

Interestingly, Major Karabekır sends the most violent messages to the chat. “Show no compassion”, he writes as well as “Don’t dare [to] hesitate, hit them”.

Mehmet Karabekir shooting 2

President Erdoğan’s call to take the streets is strengthened by Turkey’s Directorate for Religious Affairs (Turkish: Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı). Mosques throughout Turkey began to recite the Sela prayer, used in times of emergency, to protest the coup attempt and to get people on the streets. The “Sela” is not the regular call to prayer, but used to alert and gather the public. It was used, prior to advertisements and widespread use of communication networks, to gather people to a their town squares and sometimes as a call to arms.

“They are whipping up fury among the public. Is there no way to stop it?” The WhatsApp group tries to shut the mosques down. The following selection from different periods of time shows that the WhatsApp group is aware of this, and successfully shuts a mosque (the Arıcılar Mosque in northwest Istanbul, close to AKOM). Later, reference is made to the satellite antennas at Çamlıca that need to be taken under control while coup tanks have them in range.

0040 — Helicopters over Vatan Caddesi

At 00:40, a helicopter is reportedly flying over Vatan Caddesi. A civilian was later allegedly killed by this gunfire.

https://twitter.com/Efeler_tabur/status/754087404294770689

0106 — First Army Commander publishes statement

At 01:06, a statement of Ümit Güler, the Commander of the First Army, is published by Yeni Şafak. He states that those attempting a coup are a small faction and thus “nothing to worry about”. It is a good indicator for the time frame of the conversation, as Colonel Kaya mentions Güler’s statement.

WhatsApp 56

The message that follows is from Captain Türk. He has arrived at Vatan Caddesi, but cannot find Colonel Akkaya and his unit. “We communicated when we initially arrived. They had said it was impossible for us to meet.”

Colonel Akkaya seems to be in charge of (a part of) the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade. There is chatter in the conversation that the Commander of that unit “told his units to withdraw.” Colonel Akkaya’s number is shared another time in the group, but he cannot be reached. Colonel Yusuf then sends his first message to the group, saying he has taken over the command of the 66th, saying they are not withdrawing. “May God help us.”

WhatsApp 57

The situation is critical at most locations. Reinforcements are requested for Atatürk Airport, Taksim, Sakarya, and TRT Radio. But they are not coming: the 2nd Corps of the First Army and the Fourth Army are not obeying the coupist orders.

WhatsApp 58

Meanwhile at the house of the Sakarya Governor, Lieutenant-Colonel Çoşkun says that the crowd and the police have joined forces, and is asking for reinforcements. “They are telling our troops to surrender. We are outnumbered.”

WhatsApp 60

Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli advises Çoşkun to withdraw. That’s hard, because the roads are blocked, he replies.

WhatsApp 59

0126 — Sakarya Governor’s house overrun by civilians

At 01:26, Lieutenant-Colonel Çoşkun’s forces are overrun by civilians, and he informs the group.

“Crush them, burn them,” Major Karabekır tells Çoşkun. “No compromise.”  Çoşkun replies that even if he would open fire, it would not help. “We’ll hit 3 or 5, but we won’t be able to stop them from entering.”

WhatsApp 62

Ten minutes later, his soldiers are convinced by civilians to leave the premises.

Lieutenant-Colonel Çoşkun’s last message of the conversation informs the group that some of his soldiers have been taken by the police and that the prosecutor has been called.

WhatsApp 63

0143 — Firing on civilians at the First Bridge

“We have shot 20-30 people”, Major Aygar, who is responsible for the Bosphorus bridges, writes. “But our guys at the 2nd Bridge are struggling. Need helicopter.” Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli passes on an order from the coup headquarters: “CROWDS THAT HAVE GATHERED WILL BE FIRED ON.”

WhatsApp 64

There are videos of the soldiers at the First Bridge firing on civilians, both from civilians on the ground as well as from a Sky News livestream.

0151 — AKOM units detained

Around 01:50, tweets suggest that soldiers at AKOM are being detained.

The last messages relating to AKOM are of Colonel Kaya, who informs that heavy machinery is brought in by anti-coupists. The reinforcements Colonel Kaya was about to sent from AKOM to Taksim Square have been hit. “They are not moving”, meaning that Taksim has to do it without reinforcements. Colonel Kaya had also requested air support for AKOM.

WhatsApp 65

0229 — Clashes at IMKB

A photo tweeted at 02:29 speaks of heavy clashes at the Istanbul Stock Exchange (Turkish: İstanbul Menkul Kıymetler Borsası, IMKB);. In the conversation, there are only three messages referring to the IMKB. There had been clashes with police, but Colonel Baykal regained control of the situation and said that the “morale is high”. But not for long. The third and last message says that IMKB is about to fall. “They’ve broken the doors. Need help.”

WhatsApp 66

Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli replies in caps lock, “FRIENDS, RESPOND WITHOUT HESITATION”, while Colonel Şahin reassures that the reinforcements from Trakya, the 65th Mechanised Infantry Brigade from the 5th Corps, are coming. But they never would.

WhatsApp 67

“The battalion I sent from Lüleburgaz”, which is in Trakya, “never made it past the police barricade. The police arrested the battalion commander.” The story of the Lüleburgaz reinforcements in four messages:

WhatsApp 68

But there were also other reinforcements. What about them, Colonel Kaya wonders.

WhatsApp 69

No reply.

Turns out that units that were thought to be on the side of the coupists, are transformed into anti-coup units.

WhatsApp 68 WhatsApp 79

0321 — CNN Türk studio seized

At 03:21, coup soldiers force broadcaster CNN Türk to go off air. The moment is captured on live TV.

The move was announced earlier in the WhatsApp conversation by with Captain Türk, who sent helicopter reinforcements to Vatan Caddesi earlier.

WhatsApp 75

0338 — F16s above Taksim Square

It is chaos at all locations. Lieutenant-Colonel Düzenli, passing on an order from Ankara, stresses once again to shoot on the crowds. “May God help you.”

WhatsApp 70

Perhaps the most thrilling event is when F-16C fighter jets roar low over Istanbul proper. This was requested by Colonel Kaya, the WhatsApp messages show. “Air support, plane should fly low over Taksim.”

WhatsApp 71

The situation is so critical that Colonel Kaya writes that the Taksim units “cannot take [it] anymore.”

WhatsApp 71 -1

But then sonic booms are reported above Taksim. Journalist Oz Katerji captured the moment on the livestreaming app Periscope.

“The planes have worked for Taksim”, Colonel Kaya writes, “It’s calm now.” He asks for more air support when it gets lighter, as well as “helicopter fire support”. Reading the messages, Major Aygar at the bridges asked if the same can be done for the Second Bridge, where his troops are under heavy pressure.

WhatsApp 72

At a certain point, Major Aygar goes as far to ask whether it is a possibility to conduct “an air assault” on the Second Bridge.

WhatsApp 73

But the fighter jets flying over Istanbul are only a short-lived success: Colonel Kaya writes not much later in the conversation that the Taksim units are falling back.

WhatsApp 74

Colonel Kaya still asks whether air support can be increased as soon as the sun rises. “The planes are important for morale.” But with the first sun-rays would lighten Istanbul, most of the coup attempt would have been failed in the city.

WhatsApp 76

Two persons already leave the group, for whatever reason.

Fighting is ongoing at several places.

“Does what it takes to stay alive”, Major Çelebioğlu writes.
“Meaning”, Captain Türk asks.
“Surrender. Or flee”, Çelebioğlu replies.

Another person leaves the group.

WhatsApp 77

The last part of the conversation says it all: the coup attempt, at least in Istanbul, has failed.

“Has the operation been cancelled Murat”, Major Aygar asks.
“Yes, commander”, he replies.
Major Aygar: “We’re quitting??”
Colonel Doğan: “Which operation, all of it?”
Major Çelebioğlu: “Yes quit, commander.”
Colonel Doğan: “Meaning?”
Major Çelebioğlu: “Yes, commander, operation aborted.”

Colonel Doğan: “Shall we escape?”
Major Çelebioğlu: “Stay alive, commander. The choice is yours. We have not decided yet. But we have left our position. I’m closing the group. Delete the messages if you want.”

Evidently, that never happened.

WhatsApp 78

At 4:41, pictures emerge of young soldiers being taken taken by civilians from both Ankara and Istanbul. The soldiers look terrified. “Privates”, people comment. “They are just doing their mandatory military service.” While units stationed elsewhere could flee or stand down with more ease, the soldiers on the bridge were stuck. Two hours later, they also surrender.

 

The names of the senders in this article have been standardised to make the article more readable. Telephone numbers are replaced by [phone number]. The names, which only includes high-ranking military officials, have not been anonymised, as the persons involved have already been exposed in many Turkish media outlets. For that reason, Bellingcat considers this conversation as public information and will use the real names of those involved.

[1] Translator’s note: The nature of the text, hastily written WhatsApp messages littered with spelling errors and military abbreviations, makes it very challenging to translate. To wit, I have done my utmost to translate the messages from the Turkish in the most literal sense possible to prevent interpretation of the meaning and intent of the text from being altered in English. I do apologise in advance for any errors.

Update Feb. 20, 2017: A reader noted that TRT World and Reuters have differing times on when the bridges were blocked in Istanbul, despite having the same times for other events in their timelines. TRT has the time at 22:29, while this article and Reuters (and other outlets) mentioned 21:29 as time. Both times are expressed as local time. It is unclear why TRT uses 22:29 as time. 

Christiaan Triebert

Christiaan Triebert is an all-source conflict analyst with an interest in conflict and development. He has conducted fieldwork in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine, among other countries. King's College London and University of Groningen graduate. Contact via Twitter: @trbrtc

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34 Comments

  1. Heh...

    Prove the truth about this communications and this came 10 days after the real deal.
    If this is true or not none will know it.
    A pitty the head of the snake is still alive.

    Reply
    • Aric Toler

      Please refer to the sources mentioned at the beginning of the post. It came “10 days after the real deal” because there were hundreds of messages to translate from Turkish into English, along with the actual article to write. The transcripts were available in Turkish a week before.

      Reply
  2. Estella

    I have to ask this but is there any evidence of a Gülen connection? From the transcripts here it seems to be a straightforward military coup but is it supposed there were any backers?

    Reply
  3. Max Power

    Coup or no coup Turkey is not out of the fire yet. The country is full of terrorists, and they will strike at Turkey too as we saw at Istanbul airport.
    Edrogan recently went cap in hand to Putin, but after the incident with the downed fighter jet I expect the Russians will have long memory. Turkey depends heavily on tourism, and this may begin to wreak havoc on it’s economy before long

    Reply
  4. Nicolas

    Maj. Mehmet Karabekir is the first putschist to be buried at the austere new “traitors’ cemetery”.

    Reply
  5. Jess

    This was so fascinating to read. Çok teşekkürler. Appreciate the translation by Has Avrat. It definitely shows the lack of organisation and planning that went into this… there weren’t enough reinforcements, they didn’t target small broadcasters, etc. It’s difficult to know who decided this, whether it was an insider job, or someone else, just something completely random? I know Erdoğan likes to blame Gülen but I think it’s just too easy to do that. And now he’s exercised his control over the country. Seems way too perfect.

    I am just incredibly saddened by the innocent lives that were lost. That shooting of Mete Sertbaş was particularly confronting. Seeing him lie down on the ground, probably knowing he was going to die, is just horrific. Karabekır saying “crush them, burn them” is insane. He’s talking about his own people!

    Anyway, thank you again for this. I was linked by a Turkish online friend of mine who lives in Kayseri (I’m in Australia); he keeps me up to date with Turkish politics and things that are going on. Appreciate the effort that went into it.

    Reply
  6. aurelien clave

    You can’t do a coup a friday at 9:00pm. This is the first time in modern history.

    Reply

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