Thinking Gülen is a peaceful scholar is a huge mischaracterization

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Approximately two months ago, I was sitting across a table from two British academics who pin themselves as Turkey experts. The conversation became heated when I tried to point out the machinations of the Gülen movement in the high profile Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases and its attempts to sabotage the latest Kurdish peace process.

Their knowledge regarding Gülen came from the intense lobbying of the movement in the U.S. and U.K. Not only did they reckon too little about the incidents that had shaken Turkey in the last five-six years, they were not willing to listen either. This was not an isolated incident. To the contrary, the same can unfortunately be said for many Western journalists, academics and politicians. The post-coup coverage of the Western media shows traces of that sentiment which attracted the attention and rightful criticism of many credible Turkish journalists.


One may criticize the government’s human rights record or the ongoing purge in the country however this should not mask the Gülen movement’s involvement in all types of unlawful activities, including the recent coup attempt. Turkey and the Turkish people faced a tremendous attack of a deep state created by the Gülen movement. Failure to report this part of the story may either be intentionally negligent journalism or a byproduct of deficient information. Hoping that the latter is the case, I want to provide a 11-point list of facts on Gülen:

1. The Gülen movement, led by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, is embraced by the Western media and politicians as a promoter of peace and interfaith dialogue. However, this was hardly ever the case. He actually left Turkey subsequent to a trial that charged him with toppling the secular state in 1999. However, in the post 9/11 era he found support in the West, where he was seen as an antidote to rising radical Islamism. His first application to the U.S. for “a preference visa as an alien of extraordinary ability in the field of education” was denied due to the fact that he was “is not an educator, and is certainly not one of a small percentage of experts in the field of education who have risen to the very top of that field. Further, the record contains overwhelming evidence that [the]plaintiff [Gülen] is primarily the leader of a large and influential religious and political movement with immense commercial holdings.” But then Gülen was nevertheless granted a green card with reference letters including ones from three U.S. officials: Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Morton Abromovotiz and former CIA officials George Fidas and Graham Fuller.

2. The Gülen movement has two layers. The first one consists of Fethullah Gülen’s many disciples who more or less believe that he is the Mahdi, the Islamic version of a messiah. The second layer is the top echelon known to operate as a secret network, nested mainly in the security apparatus and the judiciary, to achieve their goals through Machiavellian methods, especially in Turkey. His followers in the state civil service, judiciary, police and – as we have understood recently – in the army are more loyal to Gülen than the institutions they work for. They take orders from the “brothers” of the movement rather than acting in the lawful chain of command of the state.

3. Fethullah Gülen believes in secretive and incremental take-over from within and that the change should come from the bottom up. One of his early sermons which was included in the indictment of 1999 epitomizes this belief: “You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers… until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers]must continue like this… You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it… You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey… Until that time, any step taken would be too early – like breaking an egg without waiting the full 40 days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside.”

4. The Gülen movement had been working with the best PR agents in America and built a strong lobbying machine in the U.S., the U.K. and Turkey. According to the U.S. government, this movement’s financial capacity was estimated to be between $25 billion and $50 billion with schools and charities in more than 150 countries.

5. The Gülen movement’s infiltration into the Turkish state dates back to late 1980s. His disciples’ presence were tacitly condoned by the Bülent Ecevit, Süleyman Demirel and Tansu Çiller administrations, even though he has always been considered as a threat by the Kemalist establishment and the army, which considers itself the guardian of the secular state. It appears that those who suspected their actions were very much right.

6. The Gülen movement lived its golden years during the first decade of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. The AKP initially formed an alliance with the group to eliminate the power of the army in politics. This alliance was most apparent in 2007, in the aftermath of the e-memorandum of the military opposing the presidency of Abdullah Gül. 46 days later a high profile case called Ergenekon started. Another case called Sledgehammer followed in 2010. In these cases, military officials, opposition MPs and journalists were accused of plotting a violent coup to oust the AKP government. It later turned out that these cases were based on fabricated evidence and that most such fabrications were done by the Gülenists in the police. All the defendants were acquitted of those crimes in 2015. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan later admitted that he was misled by Gülen’s followers in the state. July 15 showed that it was actually the followers of Gülen who had violent coup plans.

7. Daily Hürriyet Editor-in-Chief Sedat Ergin recently published an article affirming that the perpetrators of the coup were the military officers who had risen to critical positions which were vacated by the sham Sledgehammer trial. It is obvious that these cases served the purpose of undermining the power of Kemalists in the armed forces and replacing them with the Gülenists.

8. Journalists who had written about the Gülen machinations in these trials endured slander campaigns and threats of arrests. Fellow journalists Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan, Soner Yalçın, Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık served time because of their work that showed Gülen’s infiltration into the state. Şık was writing a book on Gülen’s presence in the police force while Şener was investigating the links of Gülen’s disciples with the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Now Gülen-linked officers stand trial on the Dink murder case.

9. Fethullah Gülen in his recent op-ed for the New York Times makes a reference to the AKP’s crackdown on Kurds. However, this sounds rather hypocritical. Many of us, including myself, criticized the AKP’s handling of the peace process. However, the Gülen movement was one of the main forces that worked actively to undermine the process. Their first strike was a mass arresting campaign against almost 8000 Kurdish activists, elected mayors, academics and journalists after 2009 known as the KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union) arrests. Prominent Kurdish politician Hatip Dicle acknowledged that “the mind that started the KCK operations was the Gülen movement’s elements in the police and judiciary… After we had won 100 mayorships from the 2009 local elections, they came up with the idea of these operations just to terrorize us.” The idea of the Gülen movement being the mastermind behind the KCK operations not only belongs to Kurds, as it was also confirmed by the AKP government. “It was the Gülen movement who had staged the KCK trials,” said Undersecretary of Public Security and Order Muhammed Dervisoğlu. The second strike was the leaking of the records of the Oslo talks, where the chief of National Intelligence Agency (MİT), Hakan Fidan, was negotiating with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Only the Gülenists within the security apparatus had the means to reach such confidential material and they were the ones who promoted them the most. The third strike was an attempt to detain Fidan and former directors of the organization on Feb. 7, 2012, because of those negotiations. This attempt was also backed by known Gülenists within the judiciary.

10. The accusation that the coup attempt was led by Gülenist generals is not based on simple force of assertion. It is rather based on hard evidence that had unfortunately been dismissed for years. Ahmet Zeki Üçok, a military prosecutor, carried out a comprehensive investigation into the Gülenists in the armed forces in 2009. He discovered a large secret network within the army. He identified many members of this unlawful organization by their names. However, he could not complete his investigation as he was detained on the grounds that he tortured certain witnesses by “hypnotizing” them and also as part of the Sledgehammer case. He spent almost five years in prison. When he gave an interview to Ahmet Hakan last April he stated that he knew the Gülenists in the army name-by-name. Immediately after the botched coup attempt, he declared that the leaders of the coup matched perfectly the list that he had. Referring to the F-16s that bombed the Turkish parliament he recalled the words of now-retired Col. Selçuk Başyiğit in the court records: “We are now very strong. We have F-16s, F-4s that will take off with a single order of Fethullah Gülen.” Üçok’s findings were corroborated by many soldiers who fought against the coup attempt or by those soldiers who were the victims of the Sledgehammer case.

11. Finally, all political parties in the parliament, the AKP, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are in consensus in an unprecedented way that the coup attempt of July 15 was orchestrated by Gülenist soldiers. The testimonies of the perpetrators of the coup further prove this point. Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar’s aide-de-camp confessed to links to Gülen and described how he had wiretapped former Chief of Armed Forces Necdet Ozel.

Akar’s testimony also revealed that one of the masterminds of the coup, Maj. Gen. Hakan Evrim, told him that he could arrange a phone call with Gülen, whom he called their “intellectual leader”, on the night of the coup.

In light of this information it would certainly be a huge mischaracterization to think of Gülen merely as a peaceful Islamic scholar and preacher. His followers in the armed forces waged a campaign of terror on the night of July 15 and Gülen’s role in it deserves everyone’s attention.

Hürriyet – Ezgi Başaran

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