Gülenists ‘abused’ efforts to enhance democracy: Ruling AKP official
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Facing threats from the tutelage system of the military and the judiciary, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was set to democratize the state and opened a large space for civil society, a high-level AKP official has said. According to AKP deputy head Mahir Ünal, the Gülenists ran an illegal organization that posed as a civil organization. He dismissed claims that Gülenists became stronger under their administration, saying, “While this structure, which was posing as a civil organization, supported democratization, their infiltration into the state speeded up.”
“While we tried to strengthen civil space, it turned out that we jumped out of the frying pan into fire,” he told the Daily News on the first anniversary of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, widely believed to have been orchestrated by the followers of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
What could have happened had the coup been successful?
In previous coups, putschists would change the political actors and go to elections. This (parallel state) structure would not have done so and would have ended it with a total occupation. Let’s not think that this organization, which has penetrated the state in the past 40 years, has done it all by itself. We know that this is about the global forces trying to seize control over Turkey. Had this coup been successful, neither our independence, freedom nor our democratic republic would have survived. We would have turned into a colony.
What do the findings after the coup attempt tell us about the dimension of the threat that Turkey has averted?
After we realized that this was a parallel state structure, we became aware of many things but could not have imagined that they could act in such an extreme way by bombing the parliament and trying to kill the president. They had infiltrated the state severely that they managed to obstruct the state’s fight against terrorism. We saw it crystal clear in the past year that we developed massive progress in the fight against terror because a structure that was sabotaging the fight and informing the terrorists ahead of an operation was no longer left within the state.
You mentioned it at the beginning, but who exactly is behind FETÖ?
We can’t pinpoint this or that. But nowhere in the world is such a huge organization left on its own to operate. They are existent in 160 countries, under the cover of a civil organization. A man (Fethullah Gülen) with only primary school education cannot possess such means and have this vast amount of space spanning such a huge geography to operate. They have facilitators that open doors and provide these means. The world will understand how dangerous they are in five to 10 years’ time. They have sleeper cells in all the countries they operate in. Until 2013, they were acting like normal journalists, civil officials, and ordinary soldiers; but we then saw them turning into something which only functions upon the orders of those who give them instructions.
Similar incidents like the one that happened to us will take place in the countries they are operating in. There are sleeper cells there too, and when the forces that control them instruct them on what to do, they will act.
What is the current dimension of the threat; is it still continuing?
It is no longer a threat to the (Turkish) state because it has been cleansed from it. But there is a risk that it can turn into a social problem. We are taking measures so that this does not turn into a social problem. If there are some injustices caused as a result of the state of emergency, there is a commission set up in parliament to address these. But, of course, it is not possible to easily eliminate this structure, which has infiltrated the state and the society in the past 40 years.
But they became very strong under your governments.
They did not become stronger during our tenure. In a bid to democratize the state we opened a large space for civil society. We fought against the tutelage system and we led this struggle together with the civil society. While this structure, disguised as a civil organization, supported democratization, their infiltration into the state speeded up. Remember how our government faced threats from the General Staff, how we were threatened by the judiciary, and how we faced closure? While we tried to strengthen civil space, it turned out that we jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, because an illegal organization, which presented itself as legal, started to in the meantime infiltrate the state.
It seems your government has difficulty explaining the threat of FETÖ to the international community.
This organization is in an active perception operation in the 160 countries they operate in. And we are trying to explain this too. But here is the problem: For the past four years there has been a crisis in Syria and we have been saying to them, “You are going to set up a new order in this region, we have to have a say in it.” We also say, “We passed from the league of less developed countries to the league of developed countries, and now I am going to go to the league of developed countries.” But they tell you, “One minute, we won’t let you.”
And they are using FETÖ for that?
It is one of the actors. Let me put it this way: If you are about to jump to a higher league, your opponents would eliminate your advantages and keep you (in the lower league) by aggravating your problems.
So the world does not want to hear about FETÖ?
Indeed, but we have friends too. We do not see the world in black and white. We have very good relations in the gray area. Also, there is not one United States, one Europe or one Germany; there are several layers in Germany. What is important is how you manage these relations and how you solve them.
What are the lessons learnt from the coup attempt?
After the Cold War, the world left behind the practices of that period and turned to sophisticated smart policies. Turkey failed to do this transformation. Starting from 2002, the AK Party assumed this mission and while trying to integrate Turkey into the world, it tried to solve its domestic problems. We had certain social problems stemming from the state’s approach in the Cold War era, including the relationship between religion and the state, issues on where to place the position of the religion and the pious in the society, how to respond to the demands of different segments of the society and their demands in terms of identity, etc. While trying to solve these problems you face certain crises, and these have taught us a lot.
What did it teach?
If you were to ask what the most precious thing in Turkey is; it is its democratic experience. On the night of July 15, no looting took place. Not a single weapon, not a single tank was harmed by the people; they were given back. We have a very strong election tradition and a very strong parliament, our political institution is very important. But what all this taught us is who should rule the state and who should make decisions on behalf of the state. There is one answer: The people should decide.
What are the lessons and measures taken to safeguard those you say are precious for Turkey?
We have learnt many lessons and we will see these in the new road maps in the period ahead. This is actually the continuation of the democratization process that was already started by the AK Party. What the world fails to see amid all this dust is that as a group of parliamentarians we went to the United States after July 15, where they told us that many journalists were very critical of the 9/11 attacks but that no journalist was sent to jail. But I told them, “Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, but if the individual uses this freedom to make the propaganda of a terror organization or to act together with that organization it is wrong. If you had found out the relationship of these journalists with Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda, would you say ‘These people are journalists, we cannot touch them?’” They said “no.”
The state will take action against those linked to the outlawed PKK or FETÖ. And when this happens, they create the impression as though freedoms are being restricted in Turkey.
But when someone like Ahmet Şık, who even wrote a book to unveil FETÖ’s true face, is in prison; the world finds it difficult to comprehend.
If you try to manage the workings of the judiciary with the political mind then you will disrupt the functioning of the judiciary. It is out of the question for any politician to be in contact with the judiciary. On the contrary, we are paying the cost of what is taking place. If we could interfere in the judiciary, we would not have been paying this heavy price.
Who is Mahir Ünal?
He started working as a teacher in 1992. He worked at the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO) in 2005 as an adviser and was a board member of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Sports Club between the years 2007-2009.
He started to give lessons in the AKP (Justice and Development Party) Politics Academy in 2003 and he has been a member of the team that prepared the election strategy for the AKP on all elections that have taken place since 2004.
Ünal worked as part of the strategy teams for the election campaigns in a lot of countries like Iraq, Malaysia, Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt. He was chosen in 2009 as a member of the central board of the AKP’s decision-making. In the 2011 elections he was elected as a member of parliament from Kahramanmaraş and became a parliamentary group leader.
Between November 2015 and May 2016 he served as the minister of tourism and culture.
He worked in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in the 64th government of Turkey. He is currently the deputy head of the AKP responsible for media and the party spokesperson.