ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
'Is the shopping center that was to be built there worth a single drop of blood?' said Gülen in his first such remarks about the Gezi Park protests. CİHAN Photo
Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen has criticized the Turkish government for a police crackdown on protesters during last year’s Gezi Park demonstrations in which a number of people were killed.
“The people voiced democratic demands [during the Gezi Park protests] and, initially, there were innocent protests. These protests could have been tolerated. Officials could have visited the protesters and learned about their demands. Instead, the protests were violently suppressed. Is the shopping center that was to be built there worth a single drop of blood?” said Gülen in his first such remarks about the Gezi Park protests in the fourth part of an interview with daily Zaman.
The Gezi Park protests started on May 2013 as a peaceful demonstration to prevent the construction of a shopping mall in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square and turned into massive protests across the country with the police crackdown.
“Naturally, pressure led to violence and a local issue turned into a national security issue. And the evil networks which were waiting for an opportunity to stir up chaos stepped onto the stage, and we were very concerned at that time,” said Gülen, while denying claims that his movement masterminded the protests.
He urged the importance of toleration and diversity in the society. “We must refrain from treating our differing ideologies and diverse identities as reasons to quarrel or engage in conflict. Everyone must respect diversity. Freedom of speech and expression cannot be restricted. While the views of the majority certainly deserve respect, the views of minority groups should be treated with the same level of respect as well. If you suppress the masses, this will cause friction along social fault lines. And this is such a big risk that no political party can [do that] for whatever political gain,” said Gülen, adding that the government failed to adopt such a view during the Gezi Park protests.
Speaking about the ongoing Kurdish peace process, Gülen said fundamental rights and freedoms “should not be seen or used as a card in the bargaining.”
“At once we must raise teachers who are capable of teaching in Kurdish. This is not something that can be done upon demands from the public. The state must take the first step. In taking this step, we must refrain from words, attitudes and behavior that may give the impression that we are doing this as a favor,” he added.
Gülen also said he had heard of Turkish officials’ efforts to “undermine Turkish schools abroad” which are run by his movement in many countries across the world.
“Unfortunately, this appetite for destruction pushes all fair limits. These schools were established through the great self-sacrifice of the people of Anatolia,” he said.
People from all segments of Turkish society and from all political parties, including the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), have visited some of these schools in the past, said Gülen. “I have not heard even one person say, ‘These schools are harmful, and they should be shut down.’ No rational or political argument or criterion can be employed to advocate the closure of these schools.”
The Turkish government and Gülen Movement are involved in a fierce rift which started late last year when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
declared his decision to close down private prep schools, “dershanes,” many of which are run by the Gülen Movement. The rift became almost irreversible after Dec. 17, 2013, when a massive corruption and graft probe opened, targeting high-profile figures close to the government. Erdoğan accused the Gülen movement of orchestrating the probe and a plot against the government since then.