Shortly after the failed military coup attempt last summer, the Turkish army chief was in the palace of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, usually a show of loyalty. Flanked by pro-government journalists, Gen. Hulusi Akar was seen posing for a selfie, a picture that drew rebuke by opponents.
The political cover provided by the government for his loyalty to Mr. Erdogan, a factor that crucially altered entire equation against coup plotters, seems not enough for mounting doubts over his conducts that night. His role during the coup night is still shrouded in mystery. The entire scenario is awash with questions: What did he talk with intel chief Hakan Fidan? Did he know about the coup earlier? Why was he accompanied by Mehmet Disli, a coup plotting general, as he landed in Cankaya by a chopper?
After all, Mr. Akar evaded giving testimony to a parliamentary committee investigating July 15 coup and his personal account of how the plotters abducted him or how the entire coup saga unfolded remains an enigma to observers and people alike.
New revelations during coup trials give additional ammunition to skeptics over the army chief’s exact position during coup night. At a court hearing in the southern province of Gaziantep, a coup suspect claimed that Mr. Akar was in fact the head of the junta council that supposed to govern the country if the attempt succeeded.
Whether the army chief desperately tried to stop the plotters, but ended up being captive at the hands of putschists at an air base in Ankara, or he was part of the plot from the beginning but switched his side after it became clear that the attempt was doomed to fail is unknown. That still remains a puzzle with no easy answers.
Captain Samil Topal, who is accused of taking part in the attempted coup, said in his defense during a court session on Monday that Regiment Commander Turgut Celebi convened officers under his command in Gaziantep to hammer out the final action plan for the uprising.
Col. Celebi told his men that Mr. Akar was head of Peace At Home Council, the junta that recited a manifesto on state-run TRT to announce the takeover of the government during early hours of the attempt.
Prosecutors seek aggravated 5 life sentences for 35 officers and soldiers from the 106th Artillery Regiment in Islahiye, a district in Gaziantep.
“At the meeting, the Regiment Commander came to the table with the documents… He told that there is Peace at Home Council, with Gen. Hulusi Akar his president… Martial law will be declared at 3 a.m. and curfew will be imposed at 6 a.m.,” the captain told the court.
The commander asked the officers how many armored vehicles they had and ordered to deploy them to the city to block police.
The captain asked for his release after saying that he defied the orders and did not deploy any vehicle outside the regiment. “I hadn’t done anything illegal… I have been imprisoned mistakenly for 8 months. I have not been able to say this error to anyone for 8 months. I demand my release and acquittal,” the officer said in anguish.
Other accounts in a separate trial echo this point, further raising the specter of doubt over Gen. Akar.
In a trial of an assassination plot against Mr. Erdogan in Marmaris, the general who was accused of leading a team of special forces, said he was told by his superiors that the military was carrying out a coup in line with the command-and-chain, with the army chief being head of the plot.
Gen. Gokhan Sonmezates told the court 2 weeks ago that he was misled by superiors as he assigned to the mission to capture Mr. Erdogan alive and bring him back to Ankara safe and sound.
The putsch dramatically collapsed after the majority of army corpses remained loyal to President Erdogan. According to a government narrative, the putschist officers captured Mr. Akar and brought him to Akinci Air Base, which served as headquarters for the plotters. He was then rescued by loyal troops.
Given Turkey’s long history of tormented relationship between civilians and soldiers, Gen. Akar had an unusual rapport with Mr. Erdogan and he came under the spotlight again last week after the Hurriyet daily reported about a smoldering resentment in the army.
The military feels it has been sidelined by the government even on matters historically seen within the scope of internal affairs of the army. The government’s decision to lift headscarf ban for female officers without consulting the army emerged as the tipping point of a testy relationship given waning patience among officers who are terrorized by Mr. Erdogan’s bewildering purge of experienced generals and torture of respected figures of the army in prisons.