Turkey’s new foreign policy item: FETÖ diaspora
In one of my visits to Brussels in 2011, I had gone to the NATO headquarters and witnessed a Turkish diplomat saluting members of the Albanian delegation in Turkish. I was told that they were graduates of Fethullah Gülen schools in Albania.
I had become familiar with the Gülen schools in the first half of the 1990s, when they started mushrooming in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. There was a sense of mystery to those schools. State officials in these countries, as well as the ones in Africa, were competing with each other to have their children enrolled in these schools. Yet something was just not right. “We can’t detect anything that would run contrary to Turkey’s interests, yet these schools are too good to be true,” one skeptical Turkish diplomat who was serving in Central Asia at that time had told me.
Starting from the late 2000s, graduates of these schools had started to assume posts in government services. That’s why Turkey has warned Kyrgyzstan of possible coup attempts in the country by supporters of Gülen, something dismissed by the Kyrgyz administration.
The Turkish government is convinced however that the Kyrgyz state establishment is in the hands of Gülenists. Apparently there are one or two more states like that in Africa.
So Turkey now has a new foreign policy item in its agenda: Fighting against the FETÖ diaspora.
From Europe to Asia, from America to Africa, Turkey will put pressure on respective governments for the closure of these schools or any other institutions like hospitals or other companies affiliated with Gülenists.
This will prove difficult, as was seen in the case of Pakistan, considered to be a friendly country to Turkey.
Second, aside from Gülen, who resides in the United States, Turkey will be seeking the extradition of Gülen members who have been involved in criminal activity in Turkey and fled the country before or after the coup, like Zekeriya Öz, the prosecutor of the famous Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials which had sent hundreds of soldiers to jail based of fabricated evidence.
And third, Turkey will have to wage a robust PR campaign to counter the propaganda machine of Gülenists abroad, who have proved extremely efficient to this day, with its web of relations including members of the media, academia and parliament.
The Kurdish and Turkish dissidents who had fled the country after the 1980 military coup proved to be an effective pressure group, especially in Europe, becoming a diaspora critical of the Turkish government’s anti-democratic practices until the end of the 1990s.
Some of the criticism of the Turkish /Kurdish diaspora was justified and the more Turkey became democratic, the less frequent and effective their critical voices became. Look at the (non-)reaction of the Kurds living abroad to the military operations that have taken place in Turkey’s southeast, which probably represents a clear discontent for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
By the same token adhering to democratic standards, avoiding mistreatment under detention and guaranteeing fair trial will help Turkey’s hands.
The extradition of Gülen is a case apart. While providing credible evidence remains important, the decision on the part of Washington is going to be political. I cannot imagine the Americans will prove that irrational by avoiding finding a formula to a problem that will put tremendous strain on relations.