Turkish officials continued to push baseless allegations of the US being behind a false flag coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 despite the fact that US President Joe Biden, when he was serving as vice president, had called his Turkish counterpart to warn that the accusations were without merit.
According to Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who first raised the accusation that the US orchestrated the July 15, 2016 failed coup in a late-night phone interview with Turkish TV network Habertürk, when the situation was still unclear, Biden had a phone conversation with Binali Yıldırım, the Turkish prime minister of the time, to protest Soylu's remarks.
Soylu revealed Biden's phone conversation for the first time during an interview with a local TV station in Diyarbakır on October 13, 2022, saying Biden had to call the Turkish prime minister right after he accused the US of being behind the failed coup, bragging about how he managed to get the attention of the US. "I'm not accusing the US of this," he said, adding, "I'm saying it like it is. The US was behind the July 15 [coup attempt]."
Biden even paid a visit to Turkey on August 24, 2016 and met with Turkish officials including Yıldırım and said they had a frank conversation and was assured by them that constitutional principles and the rule of law would be adhered to in Turkey against the backdrop of the July 15 events. Yıldırım said the US condemnation of the coup attempt was important and brushed aside what he called "perceptions" among the Turkish public about the US, without mentioning Soylu's remarks. He added that he and Biden were appearing before the press to correct those perceptions.
Despite the call from Biden and his visit to Turkey, Soylu, often described as a "barking dog" for the Turkish president, continued to repeat the same accusations against the US. In an interview with CNNTürk in December 2018, Soylu again raised the same claim and noted that he has been saying it since 2016. It was not just Soylu who leveled these charges; other Turkish officials have since then continued to echo Soylu's claims on various platforms to portray the US as the mastermind behind the 2016 failed coup without offering any evidence to support the allegations.
In fact, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has tried everything to prevent the real evidence from coming out, fearing that the false flag would be exposed and that the government would be held accountable for the deaths of 251 people during the attempted coup. A parliamentary report on the investigation into the abortive putsch mysteriously vanished, media outlets that questioned the official narrative were shut down and dozens of investigative journalists who were looking into the event were imprisoned, while prosecutors and judges who were investigating the deaths to find out what really happened on July 15 were arbitrarily purged and unlawfully jailed.
Yet, all these efforts were in vain since more evidence, revealed by the defense during trials, confirmed the view that the operation was in fact a false flag orchestrated by Turkish intelligence agency undersecretary Hakan Fidan, Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and President Erdoğan.
The evidence pointed to Fidan's key deputies Kemal Eskintan, the head of special operations, and Sadık Üstün, who ran the National Intelligence Coordination Board (Milli İstihbarat Koordinasyon Kurulu, or MİKK), a secret agency that collects intelligence from other government branches, as having carried out the false flag.
A major blunder the planners of the false flag made was to list the events that took place in the early hours of July 16 before they actually occurred, confirming that the intelligence agency had planned several incidents to make the coup attempt appear real.
According to an official document written by Ankara public prosecutor Serdar Coşkun, who prepared indictments in the coup trials, the events that unfolded on that night were known by Turkish authorities in advance. The document was dated July 16 and time-stamped at 1 a.m., three hours after the coup attempt began. Yet, the document mentioned events that took place after 1 a.m., which can only confirm that those events were actually planned in advance by operatives of the Erdoğan government, not the putschists. It also laid bare the fact that MIT wanted more bloodshed in the chaotic events.
At a time when no evidence had been collected and the incidents were still in progress, the document named Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in the US since 1999, as the mastermind behind the coup. Gülen repeatedly denied the allegations and asked for an international inquiry, a suggestion that was rejected by the Erdoğan government.
The Erdoğan government has repeatedly filed extradition requests and sought the temporary detention of Gülen in the US, but officials there balked at the Turkish demands, with the Justice Department concluding that the requests had not yet met the legal standards for extradition required by the US-Turkey extradition treaty and US law. Accordingly, the Department of Justice noted, extradition could not go forward, absent additional evidence substantiating the allegations.
Despite the call from Biden, Soylu kept repeating the same allegation on a number of occasions, saying that Gülen lacked the capability of mounting such an attempt and it was the US that was the real mastermind behind the coup attempt.
The accusation against the US over the 2016 coup bid was not the only charge leveled by Soylu during the interview. He went on to say that the US was behind all the successful military coups that took place in Turkey in 1960, 1971 and 1980 as well as military interference in 1997 that toppled the coalition government and a General Staff ultimatum that threatened action against Erdoğan's government in 2007.
According to him, the US was also the mastermind behind anti-government protests called the Gezi protests in the summer of 2013 which erupted over a government plan to destroy a park to build a shopping mall in its place in Istanbul's historical Taksim neighborhood. The December 17-25 graft scandal that incriminated senior government officials including Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates was also the work of the US, according to the interior minister.
Soylu, a far-right, ultranationalist politician, further claimed that the US was behind an attack that killed a police officer and injured another officer and a civilian in the southern province of Mersin on September 26, 2022. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out by two female militants.
Soylu claimed the terrorist attack was the work of the US because the militants came from an area in Syria under the protection of US forces and that the US embassy had inquired about the weapons used in the attack to help trace their origin, a request Soylu said his police department denied.
In recent months the verbal attacks against the US by Soylu in public speeches have increased markedly. During a panel discussion in Sarajevo last month, he claimed the US was behind all terrorism in the world and alleged that the US created al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He also pointed to the US for global drug trafficking, forced migration and chaos and instability in the Middle East.
Seeing the US, Turkey's long-time NATO ally, as the source of everything that goes badly for the Erdoğan-led Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is the hallmark of the Turkish regime, which has been aggressively and deliberately peddling anti-American conspiracy theories during the last decade. A mammoth propaganda machine and the Turkish media, which is under the complete control of the government, have been used to amplify such messages.
When the country's largest-ever corruption scandal was made public by prosecutors in December 2013, incriminating Erdoğan and his family members, Erdoğan immediately claimed there was an international plot against the government, which was further backed by lies and false claims that the then-US ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, was behind it.
In a coordinated campaign under orders from Erdoğan, all pro-government media ran front-page stories with pictures of Ricciardone and claimed the US ambassador knew about the graft probes and told a group of European ambassadors in a closed-door meeting that the world would witness the fall of an empire, an apparent reference to then-prime minister Erdoğan.
It turned out that the propaganda team, mostly drawn from the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), fabricated the story of Ricciardone being involved in the scheme of attempting to topple the government that was allegedly disclosed in the secret meeting. The day the story appeared in the headlines of five pro-government dailies, Erdoğan brought up the news during a public rally in the Black Sea city of Samsun and threatened to declare Ricciardone persona non grata.
Targeting the US ambassador helped Erdoğan set the stage for blaming the corruption on a Western conspiracy led by Washington when, in fact, there was no evidence to prove that was the case. He also concocted one of the biggest hoaxes in recent history, that Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar who has inspired a worldwide network of education and charity work, set up what Erdoğan called a "parallel structure" to remove him from power.
In October 2021 Erdoğan targeted the ambassadors of 10 Western nations — the US, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden — who jointly called for the release of a jailed philanthropist in compliance with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. He announced that he had instructed his foreign minister to declare them persona non grata and expel them from Turkey.
Although the expulsions did not take place, the noise generated by the government helped shift the debate away from domestic political issues and created a major distraction from the country's worsening economic situation.
Although the Erdoğan government's vicious anti-US campaign is partially motivated by the underpinnings of the AKP's political Islamist ideology, which loathes the West in general and the US in particular, it also serves as a useful tool in undermining the opposition by portraying them as traitors who collaborate with those who allegedly want to harm Turkey.
Soylu, along with several other Turkish government officials, was sanctioned on October 14, 2019 by the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in response to Turkey's military operations in Syria, which the US said endangered innocent civilians and destabilized the region, including undermining the campaign to defeat ISIS. The sanctions were lifted on October 23, 2019 after Turkey paused its military operations. Soylu said he had no assets in the US, anyway, and didn't care about the US actions.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.