The Turkish government has arrested two generals and a retired colonel on terrorism charges for involvement in the ordered inspection of trucks allegedly sent to Syria by Turkey’s intelligence agency to aid anti-Assad Turkmen rebels.
The military men join a number of prosecutors and journalists arrested for involvement in the disclosure of these shipments in 2014.
Turkish newspaper Zaman identifies the three arrested as Brig. Gen. Hamza Celepoğlu, Maj. Gen. İbrahim Aydın, and retired Col. Burhanettin Cihangiroğlu. The latter two are being charged with “founding or leading an armed terrorist organization,” among other charges, while the former is facing prison time for “attempting to destroy or prevent the government of the Republic of Turkey from functioning and founding or leading an armed terrorist organization.”
Zaman does not specify what role they played in the investigation of unmarked trucks traveling from Turkey to Syria, later found to have been sent by Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT. It is believed they were involved in making the order to search the trucks in the first place, resulting in an investigation by private media that uncovered their origins, and claimed the trucks were sending arms to ethnic Turkmen fighting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Turkish state media outlet Anadolu Agency clarifies the charges, noting that a search of MIT assets is forbidden under Turkish law for “national security” reasons. The Turkish government has previously claimed that the trucks were carrying “humanitarian aid” to the Turkmen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the public revelation that such trucks were carrying shipments to rebels in Syria “treason,” and insisted the “humanitarian aid” was designated for “Bayır-Bucak Turkmens.” In one statement, Erdogan suggested that the publication of news regarding the trucks “also exposed those going to the FSA [Free Syrian Army, an Arab group] in that way,” though he did not directly state that the aid from Turkey was meant for the FSA.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has echoed the president’s statements. “That aid was going to the Turkmens. When there is a war next door are we to watch our Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish brothers being massacred? Really?,” he said in Ankara in November.
Celepoğlu, Aydın, and Cihangiroğlu join the editor in chief of Cumhuriyet, a secular newspaper, and its Ankara bureau chief facing charges regarding the incident. Editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul approved the publication of a story confirming the trucks were MIT property, turning the incident into an international story.
As Turkey had yet to join the anti-Islamic State coalition led by the United States in Syria at the time, the report led many to conclude that Turkey’s support was meant for the Islamic State against Assad, not just ethnic Turkmen. The men face prison for the charge of “divulging state secrets.” Erdogan personally sued Dündar, demanding a life sentence for his editorial decision.
“We are not traitors, spy, or heroes; we are journalists. What we have done here was a journalistic activity,” Dündar told reporters while awaiting legal processing in Ankara.
Zaman notes that, while Erdogan and Davutoglu had repeatedly insisted the convoy was carrying humanitarian aid to the Turkmen fighters, the downing of a Russian jet that had allegedly breached Turkish airspace has changed the attitude of Ankara’s government.
“So what if there were weapons in them? I believe that our people will not forgive those who sabotaged this support,” Erdogan said on November 24, as allegations of supporting Islamist groups resurfaced following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Erdogan ordered the attack on the Russian Su-24 fighter jet to protect oil shipments from the Islamic State.
“We have every reason to believe that the decision to down our plane was guided by a desire to ensure security of this oil’s delivery routes to ports where they are shipped in tankers,” Putin said Monday. Erdogan has denied these charges and vowed to resign should Russia divulge proof of this trade.