Eight Turkish military officers and NCOs that fled to Greece aboard an army helicopter early Saturday issued a joint statement on Thursday, moments after they were handed down a two-month suspended sentence on a misdemeanor charge of illegally entering the country – essentially a mild reprimand.
We thank the Greek people for the support. We ask forgiveness for the disturbance we have caused for the Greek state, but we had no other choice. We believe in democratic principles and human rights. We had no involvement whatsoever in the coup attempt. We are officers of the Turkish army and proud of this. We served with self-denial all of the past years and love our country. We regret the situation that exists in Turkey,” was the statement read out by one of the attorneys defending the men.
The attorney, Katerina Dapoudani, also said the eight Turkish nationals requested assistance from any NGO interested in helping them.
In answer to a series of questions directed from the sole judge presiding over the case, the eight – pilots and flight engineers – claimed they were ordered by phone to report to their Istanbul-area unit on Friday evening in order to pick up injured, without however, being informed on how the soldiers were injured.
They also claimed that only one of the three helicopters they commanded was able to fully execute the order, given that the violence already taking place on the metropolis’ streets prevented the other two aircraft from evacuating any injured party. In fact, they said the other two helicopters came under fire.
In the end, the crews of all three helicopters, which they emphasized are used exclusively as flying ambulances and transports, piled into one of the three aircraft and eventually made for the nearest airport on the Greek side of the border, namely, Alexandroupolis, after several hours.
Before deciding to flee Turkey, they said they first landed at a base that includes a military hospital near Istanbul, remaining until before dawn and again taking off after shots were fired. The last stop before Alexadroupolis was a brief stopover in a wooded area near the city, where they found out about the coup through the Internet.
All eight said they were concerned about the safety after watching officers and servicemen being roughed up by mobs on the streets of Istanbul, regardless of whether they were involved or not in the coup attempt.
They added, again after being queried, that Greece was their intentional destination for the purpose of requesting political asylum, as they had enough fuel to reach Bulgaria and even Romania.
The eight will remain in administrative custody pending a review of their political asylum requests, given that the Erdogan-dominated Turkish government has demanded their extradition.
“Today in court it was proven that the eight defendants are duty-bound people; officers and non-commissioned officers, Turkish army cadres, and specifically serving in a helicopter unit of the land army … Their helicopter was not armed, this was proven in the preliminary phase; they had no knowledge of the coup; they were following orders; all three helicopters were hit during the clashes that had begun between the army, the coup conspirators, the Turkish police and citizens … It was ascertained that what they did they did out of necessity and not out of treacherousness,” another defense attorney, Menia Polychroni, emphasized.