By Ercan Di̇laver and Sai̇m Harmanci
An NCO with Turkey’s gendarmerie has described his links to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) in a chilling account of the way the group recruits boys and young men to serve its goals.
The 28-year-old sergeant gave his testimony to prosecutors in Hakkari, southeast Turkey, following the bloody July 15 coup attempt that saw more than 230 people killed as military officers loyal to FETO try to seize power.
The soldier, identified only as S.A. in prosecution documents, confessed his links to the group, said to be headed by U.S.-based preacher Fetullah Gulen, after being appalled at the bloodshed in Istanbul and Ankara.
“I deeply regret that I had relations with FETO,” he said in his statement. “They are an insidious structure that deceived the whole nation and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
The sergeant, originally from Bingol province in eastern Turkey, described how he was approached by Gulenist students at high school and went on to join the group at university before they instructed him to enlist in the military.
He enlisted with the help of Gulensits who gave him the answers to the entrance exam and eventually became a member of the technical intelligence staff involved in wiretapping in the weeks leading up to the December 2013 wiretapping scandal that shook Turkish politics.
S.A. told prosecutors how he was provided with four telephone numbers by his FETO contact just a month before the scandal, which saw a number of ministers and officials close to Erdogan accused of corruption in an investigation that was heavily reliant on wiretapping.
The government has said FETO-linked police and prosecutors were behind the wiretapping inquiry, which targeted more than 7,000 people, in an effort to bring down the Justice and Development (AK) Party government.
“I just memorized those numbers but did not even check to whom the numbers belonged to avoid any legal sanction,” S.A. said. He was posted to the Intelligence Department of Gendarmerie Regimental Command in Izmir when he carried out the eavesdropping.
Following the wiretapping scandal, S.A. said he “began to see the facts” and cut his ties to FETO, also known as the parallel state for its infiltration of state bodies, particularly the police, judiciary, military and education system.
He added: “Due to the illegal demands that they asked me to do previously, I was expecting that they might attempt a coup against Turkey’s legitimate government.”
High school recruitment
Recalling his introduction to the group, S.A. said he was a high school student when he met a group of older university students.
“The university students offered help with my school courses, saying they did not want any money in return. This is how I met the parallel state.
“Later, I began to meet them regularly on Sundays at a house where we also prayed and read parts from Fetullah Gulen’s book Eternal Light.”
In his final high school year he earned a scholarship at a private school to prepare for the university entrance examination. However, his Gulenist “brothers” persuaded him to cram for the exam at a FETO-linked school.
In 2006, he started a science degree and reunited with his Gulenist friends who offered him accommodation. Over the next four years he lived in shared houses with the “brothers” -- moving address every three or four months.
“A number of students who had financial problems and needed a place for accommodation preferred those houses of the parallel state,” he said.
Describing these years, S.A. said the houses never had television or the Internet and students were banned from smoking or drinking alcohol. He later became his house’s “imam” and would meet others weekly to discuss Gulen’s messages, which he said were mostly of a religious rather than political nature.
However, he and his fellow students were encouraged to vote for the AK Party and said they were directly instructed to vote in favor of the changes offered in a 2010 referendum to bring Turkey’s constitution into line with EU rules.
S.A. told prosecutors that FETO members operated secretly and did not necessarily tell one another their real given names -- surnames were never shared. In addition, recruits were told to change their mobile phones and numbers twice a year.
The instructions were part of a rigid system demanding complete obedience, he added. It was this obedience that saw him move out of FETO-linked housing in his final year at university to stay with friends.
“It was an order to obey,” he said. “I also bought a new phone with a new number.”
Cutting obvious ties to other FETO members could be seen as preparation to adopt a clandestine cover and cover up any ties to the group.
His future role for the organization became apparent shortly before he left university, when he was called to a meeting in Erzurum, Gulen’s home province in eastern Turkey.
“A person called Bulent in his forties was addressing to a group of around 60 university students,” S.A. said. “He told us that he knew Fetullah Gulen in person... He said that a great religious scholar appeared in the world every century after the Prophet Muhammad’s death and that Fetullah Gulen was the 14th and last of those scholars”.
Following the two-hour meeting, the students were interviewed individually. S.A. told the man who interviewed him he wanted to become a teacher but was told he should join the military.
He protested but was reminded of the importance of obedience and told Allah would punish him if he disobeyed.
“Affected by the atmosphere that day, I agreed to take the military examination,” he said. He passed the initial exam and was later briefed by one of the FETO “imams” on how to handle an interview, including denying links to the group.
A further military exam saw FETO members supply S.A. with the answers to the test. In a meeting in an Ankara hotel, a man who identified himself as Selami gave him a list of questions and answers.
S.A. reacted against the immorality of cheating and said he was successful enough to pass through his own efforts but Selami told him to use the answers to ensure a patriot such as him would enter the military rather than “traitors”.
“I was convinced again,” he said. The following day he passed the exam, having deliberately got five of 50 answers incorrect.
Selami was to be his regular contact after he enrolled at the Beytepe Gendarmerie Schools Command in Ankara in 2011. “He told me that being cautious was highly significant and advised me to pray secretly... and not to discuss overtly religious matters with anyone… I said ‘OK’ but did not do what he suggested as praying secretly did not make sense to me.”
Two years later, the wiretapping scandal broke and S.A. broke his ties to FETO. After volunteering his testimony, he is now waiting to hear if he will be prosecuted for his role in the shadowy organization.
Reporting by Ercan Di̇laver and Sai̇m Harmanci; Writing by Ayse Humeyra Atilgan