By Vasilis Lambropoulos
“I participated in a rescue operation for injured soldiers on the Istanbul bridge, and not in the coup d’etat. I had been targeted by the Erdogan government even before the coup. I ask for Greece to follow the example of Sweden, which did not extradite Turkish military men and granted them asylum.”
These are the words of the 35-year-old Turkish military officer who at the appellate level was granted asylum, against which the Greek government has filed suit, in his 30-page asylum application, drafted by his Greek lawyer, Stavroula Gomara.
The petition was filed with the Attica asylum bureau, which is under the purview of the interior ministry, but is independent of government intervention, as judges and experts sit on the asylum committees.
The positive asylum decision triggered a string of bellicose rhetorical attacks on the Greek government by Ankara.
Initial rejection of asylum petition
The initial ruling of the lower level asylum committee, which denied the officer asylum, noted that he participated in military operations with a helicopter, on which he was co-pilot. The ruling said there was no rescue operation in which he participated, and that he had offered unclear information upon his arrival on Greek territory.
The ruling, which was overturned on appeal, stated, “The Erdogan regime had no other reason to search for him, other than due to his participation in the coup d’etat.”
In his asylum application, the officer detailed the circumstances of the rescue operation on the Bosphorus Bridge.
The night of the coup
“Every Friday night, the two bridges of Istanbul, a city with a population of 18 million, have huge traffic problems. When the bridges close, not even an ambulance can pass, and the only way to transport the dead and injured is to send an airlift to parts of the city where ambulances cannot gain access due to traffic jams. The injured that we were summoned to collect were soldiers,” he said.
“In my [asylum] interview, I told the case manager that by Turkish state law, it is forbidden for private helicopters to fly over Istanbul’s airspace after sunset. The only exception is for military helicopters with specially trained pilots and special equipment, such as green flight glasses. I stress again that the two bridges in Istanbul shut down at 9:45pm, and not at 10pm or 11pm, as the case manager mentions,” he said, noting that the helicopter that he and five other Turkish officers who sought asylum with him was fired upon.
The appeal of a Kurdish officer
In his appeal to the appellate asylum committee, the Turkish officer said he is of Kurdish descent and lashed out at the abuses of the Erdogan regime.
“The ruling overlooks the fact that I belong to a ‘special social group’, Turkish military officers, which has gradually endured pressures and prejudices, even before Erdogan’s election, from 2002 until today. Officers were nurtured with Western principles and values, which were taught and inspired by Kemal Ataturk: the secular state, the democratisation of society, separation of religion and state, a parliamentary democracy instead of a Sultanate, religious tolerance, the reforming role of the state, and the existence of a constitution, all of which for decades characterised Turkey as a secular, Western-type state,” the asylum application stated.
“At this time, there is in progress an effort by the Erdogan government to purge, arrest, jail, and prosecute the vast majority of my colleagues, especially those who have served and been trained at NATO bases or have been awarded by NATO, and this is occurring en masse and indiscriminately.”
Targeted as a Kurdish officer
“Indicatively, I note that a few months ago, a mandatory military order was issued for all soldiers and officers indiscriminately to participate in Friday [Muslim] prayers, by going to Mosques, while on duty. For this reason, Kemalist officers who belong to religious or ethnic minorities (such as Jewish or Christian officers) were afraid to reveal their religious affiliation, so as not to be targeted. The same occurred to me due to my 100 percent Kurdish background. Knowing the rage of Islamists against Kurds, even against Kemalist Kurdish officers, I never revealed to anyone my Kurdish background, because I had learned some time back that some of my Kurdish colleagues had been targeted and had received unfavourable transfers. Moreover, Prime Minister Yildirim (and not President Erdogan), issued an order on 16 July, 2016, before dawn, for all aircraft in flight to be downed.”
I am not, nor have I ever been, a Gulenist
“That night, my colleagues and I were executing under adverse conditions a rescue operation on orders from my superiors. I was never either a coup plotter or a terrorist. I never had any connection with the FETO organisation of Fetullah Gulen. I have repeatedly stated that I consider Erdogan and Gulen to be the two sides of the same coin,” the Turkish officer underlined.