Chief of Air Staff Abidin Ünal was one of 17 generals who was taken hostage at Moda Maritime Club on the night of July 15.On the night of the coup, attending the wedding of the daughter of Mehmet Şanver, Combatant Air Lieutenant General, Ünal heard from his wife that Air Lieutenant General Fikret Erbilgin, an official in General Staff, had been taken into custody. After that, he called his deputy, major general Cevat Yazgılı, who told Ünal that aircrafts were flying low over Ankara.
Full general Ünal called 4th Base Commander Brigadier Hakan Evrimi, and he realized a coup attempt was going on, upon his response, “I ordered them, I had to.”Gathering the generals who attended the wedding, Ünal gave the order, “Everyone call his base and confirm that there are no flights in any form, and order them to not take off.” Moving to a meeting room with the offer of the hotel administration, the 17 generals did an estimate of the situation and ordered not to obey the orders of Air Forces Operation Headquarters, in Ankara.
Meanwhile, the armed putschists, who got to the yard of the club by helicopter, were waiting in front of the meeting room. The putschists, who did not get away from the room despite the orders of Ünal, took Ünal and 17 generals hostage with the help of a second group of soldiers arriving at the club. Being taken out of the room one by one, the generals’ hands were tied from behind with plastic handcuffs and they were laid down on the ground. Encircling the club, the putschists took Abidin Ünal to Akıncı Base with helicopter. Ünal was rescued from the room he was kept in on the following day at 15.30, after the coup attempt was repelled.
Being held hostage on July 15, Chief of Air Staff Abidin Ünal’s 5-page statement as complainant is as following:
“I attended the wedding of Combatant Air Lieutenant General Mehmet Şanver’s daughter and retiree Air Brigadier’s son, held at the Moda Maritime Club as a guest. Around 19:30, I was at the wedding hall. And I did not feel or see any negativity, nor extraordinary situation until then. I suppose that my wife called me around 21:30 to tell me that Air Lieutenant General Fikret Erbilgin had been taken hostage and that she was worried about the situation.
“I heard aircraft noises on the phone”
After that, I called my deputy in Ankara, Major General Cevat Yazgılı. I heard aircraft noises while talking to Cevat Yazgılı about the situation in Ankara on the phone, and I asked what happened. He said, “I do not know either, but there are jets flying over Ankara.”
“Hakan Evrim said, ‘I had to’”
Then I ordered him to get to Air Forces Operations Headquarters and take the control of the situation. Then I called the commander of Akıncı 4th Base, Brigadier Hakan Evrim. I asked him whether the jets had taken off on his order. Hakan Evrim said, “I gave the order, I had to.”And I said, “There are no such obligation, there is an order to not fly any jets.”
“He said to me ‘Your life is in danger’”
He said, “It is not as you think, your and my lives are in danger.”Before this conversation, I thought that the putschists had threatened him, but later, I figured out that he, himself, was involved. He said, “People around me want us to end the conversation.” and hung up. He did not answer my calls, although I called him a couple more times, and though his phone rang.
“I knew that Akın Öztürk was at Akıncı”
After that I thought of calling Full General Akın Öztürk, I knew that Akın Öztürk was with his grandsons at Akıncı Base, and I knew Akın Öztürk’s son-in-law Hakan Karakuş was the commander of 141st Fleet. I was not able to reach Akın Öztürk’s phone for a long time, then I told Lieutenant General Mehmet Şanver to reach Akın Öztürk, Mehmet Şanver gave the phone to me when he contacted Akın Öztürk.
“Are they attempting a coup using your orders?”
I asked Akın Öztürk, “They fly jets over Ankara, what’s happening there, are they attempting a coup using your orders?” and he said, “I thought it was only a red-eye, let me investigate.” and I told him that it was not a red-eye, there were jets flying low over Ankara. After that, Akın Öztürk did not contacted me in any way. Even if he had intended, there was no way I could know as my phone was not with me. “Following that, I gathered the base commanders who attended the wedding. I said, “Everyone call their own bases and order them to not fly in any way, and confirm that there will be no more flights.”
“Commanders of bases where jets take off, are responsible to the court martial”
I said, “Commanders of bases where jets take off, are responsible to the court martial, acknowledge that.” Following that, all the base commanders at the wedding called their bases and confirmed that there were no activity, except for the Diyarbakır 8th Main Jet Base. Diyarbakır 8th Main Jet Base Commander Air Pilot Lieutenant General Deniz Kartepe reported that six F-16s were ready to take off from the base in Diyarbakır. I immediately ordered to cancel the takeoffs. He consistently called Staff Colonel at Diyarbakır Base Operations, whose last name is Akgülay, and ordered him to cancel the flights.
“Jets took off, despite the orders”
But after a while, he told me that the jets had taken off, despite the orders. We ordered the tower to end the flights, but the tower in Diyarbakır reported that the pilots in the jets flying did not respond to the order. Other than that, I was informed that two air refueling aircrafts had taken off from İncirlik 10th Base, who were not at the wedding. I tried to reach Lieutenant General Bekir Ercanvan, but he didn’t answer his phone despite that it rang. Then, I reached Lieutenant General Recep Ünal, who was on watch at Air Operations Headquarters in Eskişehir at that moment, and ordered him to return all jets and refueling aircrafts to their bases, using all the radars.
“I called Cevat Yazgılı to order him to take control of the situation”
After a while, Recep Ünal reported to me that he made calls but he got no responses. Meanwhile, I tried to reach Air Forces Operations Headquarters in Ankara to have step them in, but Ankara Air Forces Operations Headquarters did not respond to my calls. Following that, I called Major General Cevat Yazgılı again, who was Chief of Staff in Ankara, to order him to take the control of the situation, going to the operations headquarters.
Cevat Yazgılı called me after a while, to tell me that Brigadier Aydemir Taşçı had arrived at Air Forces Headquarters with a gun in his hand, and had taken the phone of Cevat Yazgılı, telling him that he was following the orders of Chief of Air Staff, Abidin Ünal, using my name. And Cevat Yazgılı told me that he had tried to enter Air Forces Operations Headquarters but the door was locked from inside, and the specialist sergeant at the door had told him it was prohibited to enter. Then, I ordered him to form a separate battalion from Air Forces to breach the door, because Cevat Yazgılı had reported that there were Brigadier Sami Özatak, Brigadier Kemal Mutlum and Staff Colonel Devrim Orhan inside.
“We confirmed that this team was giving supportive orders for the coup”
We confirmed that this team was continuously giving supportive orders to the units for the coup. For that reason, the operation headquarters had to be occupied as soon as possible. When they got to the door with his battalion, the specialist sergeant reportedly tried to prevent them by firing in the air. Meanwhile, I was informed that my general secretary Staff Colonel Veysel Kayak and my private secretary Gökhan had swooped down on Cevat Yazgılı in order to arrest and handcuff him. All this information was reported to me by Cevat Yazgılı.
“I ordered them to blind the operations headquarters”
I called my general secretary Staff Colonel Veysel Kavak ordering them to follow Cevat Yazgılı’s directions, and at the same time, I called Colonel Ketencioğlu of Air Forces MEBS Directorate ordering him to follow Cevat Yazgılı’s directions and to blind Air Forces Operations Headquarters, make it dysfunctional, meaning to cut the electricity, computer systems and phone lines. They obeyed my order and reported that they couldn’t manage to contact anyone inside in any way.
“To all units: No aircraft will take off”
Meanwhile, from the wedding hall where I was, I called Air Operations Headquarters in Eskişehir, ordering all the units, “Ankara Air Forces Operations Headquarters are in the hands of illegal persons, you will not obey any orders from them in any way, every order will come from Eskişehir Air Operations Headquarters under my name, every aircraft will stay put until my second order.”This message reached all the units in seconds, thus I was telling everyone that the powers of Air Forces Operations Headquarters were now from the Eskişehir Air Operations Headquarters. Within this period, Brigadier Recep Ünal was authorized at Eskişehir Air Operations Headquarters, so I ordered Lieutenant Ziya Cemal Kadıoğlu and Lieutenant Nihat Kökmen who were at the wedding, to move to Eskişehir as soon as possible in order to support and join Recep Ünal.
“Your first objective is to stop jet traffic at Akıncı”
In the meantime, Air Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Hasan Hüseyin Demiraslan, who was off-duty, called me to ask if I had any orders for him. I ordered him to move to Eskişehir with haste, using the best transportation. Again, meanwhile, Major General İdris Aksoy, who was off-duty in Erdek, called me to ask if I had any orders. I ordered him the same, to move to Eskişehir with haste, using the best transportation. I reminded this personnel that their first objective was to stop jet traffic at Akıncı.
“I said, whom are you following, but they said, ‘We don’t know sir’”
While I was taking control of the situation, the hotel administration offered us to go to the meeting room. We got there and started to estimate the situation around the meeting table along with the 17 generals, except for the others I sent to Eskişehir. Around 23:30, I saw my guards, whom I left in Ankara, in full camouflage and armed, standing in front of the meeting room. They said, “We are here to provide protection for you, sir.” and I knew the meaning of it, so I asked, “I didn’t give such an order, whose orders are you obeying?” They said, “We don’t know, sir.” then I said, “Leave us, stay away.”
“When he insisted, they shot the window”
When Major General İsmail Güneykaya wanted to get outside to see his wife, they tried to prevent him, and when he insisted they shot the window. They didn’t fire down on the ground, so I ordered them to calm down, and they did so, but I figured out that they were waiting for another group.
“I saw two brigadiers handcuffed”
It was coming to 24:00 when a group of around ten fully-equipped people came in shooting and firing at ceiling, they all had plastic handcuffs in their hands. I cautioned everyone to be calm, and they turned me to the first group and wanted us to get in the helicopter. When I turned my back to look, I saw my friends being handcuffed and even saw two brigadiers being handcuffed on the ground.
“They didn’t handcuff me”
They didn’t handcuff me. We got in the helicopter and landed in Sabiha Gökçen Airport. They took only me to that helicopter and there was a CN235 CASA airplane waiting, and the putschists took me to the airplane to fly to Ankara Akıncı Base, and landed around 02:00. Till we got out, I kept my contact with Eskişehir Headquarters, and they reported that the flights still continued and there was live ammunition dropped on Ankara.
16 aircraft ready to fly...
When I got out of the plane, they took me to a van. It was a young lieutenant driving the van. They deliberately took me around the flight line in order for me to see the activities there. Around 16 aircrafts were ready to fly supplied with ammunition and bombs, and I saw the personnel in constant activity.
They took me to the command post, where these flights were arranged, known as 141st Fleet. When I got out of the van, I saw around 30 pilots there, most of them being lieutenants and first lieutenants, but there were majors and field officers as well.
“All the tags were ripped off from their uniforms”
All of their name tags on their chest were ripped off. I was welcomed by Ahmet Özçetin, Staff Colonel and Commander at Akıncı 4th Main Jet Base Operations. He said, “Welcome, sir.” and I said, “I am not honored.”He said to me, “We are trying to fix the weathered regulations.”And I said, “Go fix yourself first.”
“They put two armed guards at the door”
The talk between us was just that. They took me to a prepared room, where a single chair stood, took my phones, and they put two armed guards at the door. While he was leaving, I said, “Smarten up, may God recover you, I have nothing more to say and I don’t want to see you ever again.” and I left. They locked me inside and I stayed there until 15:30 in the following day. They only came to bring me a breakfast in the morning, meanwhile I wasn’t handcuffed and they didn’t fold my eyes.
“Akın Öztürk visited me”
Around 09:30, I heard the runway square bombed. After that moment, a rumble cut out in the building where I was taken hostage, later I learned that all the personnel at the base were called for meeting in the meantime. Until 12:00, a great silence took over the place. Around 12:00 Full General Akın Öztürk, a member of YAŞ, visited me, so I asked him about the situation. He told me that when I had called him, he had been calling the Commander of 4th Main Jet Base, but it had been answered by Major General Kubilay Selçuk, instead of Brigadier Hakan Evrim.
“Akın Öztürk told me that he had suggested surrendering”
Kubilay Selçuk is the Commander of 2nd Main Jet Base in İzmir. When I asked Kubilay Selçuk what he was doing there, he said that they were continuing the activity, and they were waiting for him as well. Akın Öztürk told me that he had gone to the headquarters to negotiate with the team who did the attempt, telling them to surrender and they would not be successful, and there was a high possibility that it would end disastrously. He stated that they were not convinced, especially the young team, but they knew they had lost after the square bombed, and they knew they were shattered and they were searching for a way to end this.
I am not sure whether Akın Öztürk informed or talked to his son-in-law Hakan Karakuş between 09:00 and 12:00. In addition, I am not sure why the putschists didn’t intervene in, or why they didn’t arrest Akın Öztürk, after he told them they were doing the wrong thing, as I stated above.
Akın Öztürk also told me that Chief of General Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff were in Akıncı, and they had talked.Now the incident was coming to an end, as the putschists were planning to surrender. He left telling me he was going to visit again. Around 15:30 he came back and told me that he was with the Deputy Chief of Staff and we could leave. We went outside, talked to the deputy chief, and beside that, I heard that the generals I was together in İstanbul were also in Akıncı base. I suggested not to leave without them, and I learned from a soldier in plain clothes with a radio in his hand, that they were kept in a guest house named Yuvam.
“Each general held in a separate room like sheep to slaughter...”
When we got to the guest house, we saw that there were no guards left and most of them had left their equipment too. When we got in to the rooms, we saw that each general, hands and feet tied and blindfolded, were held in separate rooms, like sheep to slaughter. We untied them in a little while, using scissors and knives.
While untying them, Full General Yaşar Güler and a team of 15 were with us. Meanwhile, Akın Öztürk was with us as well.
“I’ve never seen Hakan Karakuş”
I have never met Hakan Karakuş, by the way. I’ve never seen him. When I went from Akıncı Air Base to Headquarters, Full General Akın Öztürk followed me too. Other generals were arrested at Air Headquarters. There were Lieutenant General Hasan Küçükakyüz, Lieutenant General Mehmet Şanver, Lieutenant General Atilla Gülan, Major General Mehmet Özlü, Brigadier Bahri Biber, Brigadier Ahmet Biçer, Major General Haluk Şahar and Major General Fetih Alpay.
“Akın Öztürk didn’t run away to the field with the putschists”
Akın Öztürk come with us to Air Forces Headquarters. Akın Öztürk didn’t flee to the field with other putschists leaving Akıncı Base, he came to Air Forces Headquarters after us, with the car of Deputy Full General Yaşar Güler, I suppose. In the evening, around 20:00, we left the headquarters together.
10 generals from Air Forces were in Akıncılar. And there were 5 land generals as well, I suppose. Deputy General with his own car and I with my own car with Mehmet Şanver left Akıncı altogether.
And other generals followed us to Air Force Headquarters, and when we got there, I saw two Brigadiers, a Colonel and a Brigadier collecting phones with a gun in his hand and my private secretary Major Gökhan, who occupied the Air Forces Operations Headquarters, taken into custody. As far as I learned, Major General Cevat Yazgılı monitored the situation with a security team at the Security Center in the headquarters, starting from my order. And in the end, Cevat Yazgılı was arrested, even though he was in command while the putschists, who occupied Air Forces Operations Headquarters, were being arrested.
Cevat Yazgılı told me that he brought a complaint, but it was not taken by Central Command, so I told him to call Central Commander, if he was determined.
After Cevat Yazgılı called Central Commander, I learned that Cevat Yazgılı was taken into custody as well, because a Colonel got there with a list among which both Cevat Yazgılı and Veysel Kavak’s name were involved.
“They bombarded to suppress us psychologically”
Aircrafts, which were against the putschists, bombed the 4th Main Jet Base:
I understood from all the incidents that the precautions we took in Eskişehir were very effective, because the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence planned to suppress activities in Akıncı Base, keeping direct contact with the headquarters in Eskişehir, and they decided to block Akıncı 4th Main Jet Base’s runways with F-4s from Eskişehir 1st Main Jet Base. They decided to bomb every runway intersecting from three points to intercept take-offs from Akıncı Base. In addition, they bombarded the square at three different points to psychologically suppress them. While doing this, they put maximum effort to not lose any personnel.
“I wasn’t battered, I complain against everyone who is involved in this”
Later, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence then eulogized the generals, who took decisions in Eskişehir, to show the importance of the effort they made. I wasn’t battered, insulted or threatened, no one dishonored me. I complain against everyone who is involved in these activities.