A group of plotters of the failed Turkish coup attempt used a WhatsApp group to communicate with each other. Bellingcat has transcribed, translated, and analysed the conversation, thereby cross-referencing the messages with photos, videos, and news reports of the evening, night, and morning of July 15-16.
The transcript is composed of two different sources. The first source is a video which was uploaded to Twitter in the morning of July 16, and appears to show the conversation on the phone of a surrendered, captured, or killed coup plotter. This video revealed the WhatsApp conversation from its start at 21:15 to 22:45. The second source is 21 photos that show the rest of the conversation, has already been transcribed. The photos are courtesy of Al Jazeera Türk’s Selahattin Günday, and we are thankful that he was willing to share them with Bellingcat. We owe many thanks to “Has Avrat” for fully translating the transcript, as well as contributing to the analysis. All times mentioned are in the local time zone, which is EEST (UTC+3).
This article will chronologically highlight and analyse most the most striking parts of the transcript, including the following:
- The WhatsApp group consists of high-ranking military officials, mostly of the Turkish Land Forces, including two Brigadiers and eleven Colonels;
- The group is just one coordination group of the coup attempt, as it focuses on (predominantly) land forces in Istanbul and Sakarya only. There were likely other coordination groups for actions elsewhere in Turkey. It is thus important to bear in mind that this is a snapshot of the conversation of some of the coup plotters, and not a full picture;
- At least one member of the group communicates with “Ankara”, where the coupist headquarters was located (probably in Akıncı Air Base);
- At least three out of the five coupist regiments are part of Turkey’s NATO Rapid Deployable Corps;
- The conversation and communication between the coup plotters appears to be chaotic, as several numbers still had to be exchanged amidst the attempt;
- Traffic congestion is a problem throughout the night, and so are private broadcasters;
- There is a constant repetition regarding taking their superior hostage, the Commander of the First Army;
- Air support is requested many times, including the suggestion to strike the Bosporus Bridge;
- As the morning breaks, the coup plotters realise it is over. “Shall we escape”, a Colonel asks. “The choice is yours”, he gets as response. “We have not decided yet. But we have left our position. I’m closing the group. Delete the messages if you want”.
A full transcript in both the original Turkish and translated English of the WhatsApp conversation can be viewed and downloaded here as a PDF-file.
2115 — Group created
On July 15, 2016, at 21:15, Major Murat Çelebioğlu creates a WhatsApp group with the name “Yurtta sulh”. This refers to the first two words of a famous sentence pronounced by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of the Republic of Turkey, in 1931: “Yurtta sulh, cihanda sulh”, meaning “Peace at home, peace in the world”. It was later accepted as the approach to foreign policy for Turkey, but also became the slogan of the Turkish Land Forces.
Subsequently, Major Çelebioğlu adds a number of people to the group and tells them that he will be making announcements in the group, and that the members can share importants updates here. “I’ll pass them on to Ankara”, Çelebioğlu says, referring to the coupist headquarters in Ankara.
Some numbers that are being added to the group have been added to the contact book of the person’s phone from which we read the conversation, as they are shown by name and, most of the times, military rank. Others introduce themselves, or can be identified sooner or later in the conversation as they reveal more of their identity. In that way, the following list of high-ranking military officials can be compiled.
2126 — Military vehicles on the road
At 21:26, Major Çelebioğlu gives the first instructions for military action: block traffic on Istanbul’s two main highways, the E5 and the Trans European Motorway (TEM or E80). Traffic outside of Istanbul will be left as it is, but traffic “trying to enter Istanbul will be halted and turned back.”
Colonel Ahmet Zeki Gerehan replies that the locations “which need to be taken must be taken immediately”. Clearly, the coup plotters had several locations in mind to seize or, at least, show their presence. The following locations can be identified as most important, and are the topic of conversation throughout the chat:
- The Bosphorus Bridge (or First Bridge);
- The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (or Second Bridge);
- Taksim Square;
- The Disaster Coordination Centre (Turkish: Afet Koordinasyon Merkezi Müdürlüğü, AKOM);
- Atatürk International Airport;
- Sabiha Gökçen International Airport;
- Istanbul Police Headquarters at Vatan Caddesi (Turkish: İstanbul Emniyet Müdürlüğü);
- Istanbul Riot Police Headquarters in Bayrampaşa (Turkish: Çevik Kuvvet Şube Müdürlüğü);
- Kuleli Military High School (Turkish: Kuleli Askerî Lisesi);
- The Istanbul Stock Exchange (Turkish: İstanbul Menkul Kıymetler Borsası, IMKB);
- The Istanbul Governor’s office;
- The Sakarya Governor’s office;
- The Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial office;
- The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation in Istanbul (Turkish:TRT İstanbul Müdürlüğü Harbiye, TRT);
- The Logistics Support Base (Turkish: Lojistik Destek Üssü, LDÜ);
- The War Colleges Command (Turkish: Harp Akademisi Komutanlığı, HAK K).
At 21:29, Colonel Müslim Kaya is the first to mention a unit that is on it’s way: “6 started”, referring to the 6th Motorised Infantry Regiment based in Hasdal, a district of Istanbul. Why it is clear that this is the specific regiment to which Colonel Kaya refers, will be discussed below.
A first problem arises at the same time. At “the academy”, a person referred to as “Fatih Irmak” is having problems convincing his unit to join the coup attempt. Major Çelebioğlu asks whether Colonel Gerehan can help him out. The latter replies a minute later that he is on his way to help, only to read that there is no problem after all: “Fatih and his team are onboard. There’s no problem”, Major Murat Yanık writes.
However, a few minutes later, there is a new problem which will be recurring throughout the night: traffic congestion. “Are the 2nd and 66th having difficulties due to traffic congestion on the roads”, Major Çelebioğlu. Istanbul is notorious for its traffic jams, especially on Friday night. But again, there is nothing to worry about, Major Osman Akkaya replies: “We have not left yet”.
Subsequently, Major Çelebioğlu asks again for a location of the two regiments. Though a different regiment, Colonel Kaya replies that the 6th Motorised Infantry Regiment is about to reach the Disaster Coordination Centre (Turkish:Afet Koordinasyon Merkezi Müdürlüğü, AKOM), which is located in northwest Istanbul. This appears to show that, before taking any other action, the coup plotters want to take control over the disaster centre.
Just like the 6, the numbers refer to military regiments. By investigating open source information, it can indeed be established that the group members refer to the 2nd Armoured Brigade, stationed in the Istanbul district of Kartal, and the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, which is based in Hasdal together with the 6th Regiment. The regiments fall under the 3rd Corps of the First Army of the Turkish Land Forces, as shown in the table, which also shows the location of their bases and the their approximate strength in manpower as of 2014. The units of which their commanders are in the WhatsApp group, are marked in green.
Furthermore, all three regiments are part of the Turkey’s NATO Rapid Deployable Corps since 2003, which has its own emblem with again the same slogan: “Peace at home, peace in the world.”
By cross-referencing registration plates, military vehicles of the 2nd Armoured Brigade and the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade can indeed be spotted on photographs taken during the coup attempt in Istanbul. Number plates from vehicles from the First Army all start with “1” followed by five other numbers, thus “1XX XXX”. While some military vehicles had their number plates covered during the coup attempt, others had not and often showed registration plates starting with “117” and “196”, as Twitter users @Ald_Aba and @AbraxasSpanoted.