UK envoy: Gülen may be behind failed coup attempt
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
The Gülen movement led by self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen in the United States might have staged the July 15 coup attempt, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Turkey has said, vowing to cooperate with Turkey against Gülen-affiliated institutions in the kingdom if evidence is provided.
Richard Moore, the ambassador of the U.K. to Ankara, replied to the questions of the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on July 28.
What do you think was the turning point in the July 15 coup attempt?
I think one of things that made great impressions on me, the key point clearly in the whole night – was when the president was able to get on the iPhone and make that interview with the CNN Türk. That was the turning point. Subsequent events proved this. People responded to the president’s call, went out the streets and at that point the coup was doomed. It was for me a kind of coming of age of Turkish democracy.
The fact that all four parties united in condemnation of the coup just said something very important about Turkish democracy. And then you know people coming out of the streets facing down soldiers, tanks and guns with bravery and a lot of loss of life. This all make you think that this country has reached a level of democratic maturity despite the polarization and difficulties of the last few years and fierce disputes between the government and opposition. Here is the moment where they stood together. And it seems to me that this is one of the big elements of hope to come out of this.
The government accused the Gülen organization of being behind this coup attempt. Do you agree with this?
I guess we’ll see more definitively as the legal process develops. But I don’t have any difficulty in accepting what the government is saying; that Gülenists were involved in this coup. I think emerging evidence suggests that conclusion (i.e., some of the comments supposed to have been said by some of the arrested officers, the indication from the chief of General Staff that someone offered to put him on the phone to Fethullah Gülen). So, circumstantially, without prejudging the judicial process, it looks to me a pretty convincing case. But no doubt more will emerge in the coming weeks so I don’t want to jump to conclusions.
You are a sort of Turkish expert and you know these Gülenist people. Have you ever thought that these people could attempt such a thing?
Look, having spoken to senior officials, to senior ministers here, I don’t think anyone understood the degree to which they appear to have penetrated the military. I think there is a quite good deal of understanding that they had infiltrated other institutions, particularly the police and judiciary. We saw that in the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases. But I think we were all surprised at the scale of it in the military. But is it a complete surprise? No. There have been reports of Gülenists trying to get in the military as early as the 1990s.
So, I don’t find it difficult to understand. Again, in private, I have heard from Turkish ministers that others apart from Gülenists were probably involved in the coup; not every single officer discharged from the army is likely to have been a Gülenist. Clearly there are people involved in the coup for other motivations which should come clearer in the coming weeks. Perhaps some of those other people did not know that some of their brother officers were Gülenists; no doubt some of that detail will come out. But do I have any trouble in accepting the Gülenist movement played a part in this? No, I don’t frankly.
We read a lot of reports on foreign powers’ role in the coup. Was the U.K. behind it?
No, clearly we are not. Nor is the United States, by the way. That’s also ridiculous. Some of the coverage of the coup and its aftermath, frankly, has been pretty ill-informed and not very high-quality. That’s true for some of the Western media coverage. I am afraid that it is also true for some of the Turkish media coverage. To run stories about American generals in Afghanistan being behind the coup…. It’s not just silly, it’s damaging because if that type of stuff is floating around, it allows people overseas to be dismissive and they should not be. They should know how close this country came to falling into an abyss. And it did not fall into an abyss because the political class here remained united and ordinary people went out on the street and stopped it and of course we mustn’t forget that the vast majority of the Armed Forces stayed loyal.
Do you share concerns that the government reaction against the Gülenists within the state, media and elsewhere could turn into a major crackdown on opponents?
I think it’s legitimate to recognize there is a risk. But I think it’s understandable if the government reacts sharply when people start to criticize them in advance for bad things they expect Ankara to do but they haven’t actually done yet! This has particularly been the case on the issue of capital punishment. I think we will have to carefully watch and see what happens. That for me is the most important thing. We have to start off by recognizing that this country has a serious issue it has to deal with – and again I have been influenced by the attitude of the opposition parties on this issue and those not known to be pro-government. They have been very clear that they understand there is an issue here: and that if people try and infiltrate state institutions and act as a subversive force, then that threat needs to be removed. So there is an understanding; this is the starting point.
And then of course any action against anyone has to be proportionate and has to stay within the rule of law. Turkey has to meet their international obligations. And on all of those, the government has given assurances that those are its intentions.
Clearly we have raised in recent months and years concerns about the deterioration in the freedom of expression, and those concerns remain. We have been surprised by some of the names included in the arrests. I hope as prosecutors take this process forward that those people who can be seen neither to be involved in the coup nor involved in the infiltration and subversion of the Turkish state institutions can be allowed to resume their normal life quickly.
What would be your reaction to any Turkish demand regarding Gülen-affiliated organizations in the U.K.?
We will take any approach by Turkey seriously. We have not yet had any documentary requests but I am sure they will come. I had a call to the General Directorate of Security police chief primarily to express my condolences on the losses of his officers’ lives. The issue of Gülenists in London was raised. And what I said to him was we will take this seriously. We are not dismissive of this in any shape or form. We are Turkey’s closest ally in the fight against the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and the DHKP-C [Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front]. If Turkey produces evidence that organizations in the U.K. affiliated with Gülen movement have been involved in illegal activities and attempted to subvert democratic institutions, then we’ll have no hesitation, of course, in trying to help.
We have witnessed thousands of dismissals from the Turkish army. As a NATO ally, do you think the Turkish army has been weakened?
Look, clearly, you can’t go through the experience of a coup where elements of the military were involved without repercussions for the Turkish military. Our starting point is we understand something needs to be done. You can’t just carry on as if nothing happened. The Turkish military is the second largest army in NATO and Turkey has been an absolutely vital member of NATO since 1952. And therefore, we need a strong and effective Turkish military within the alliance. I am very confident that the government and the TSK intend to come through the turbulence and to get to that point.
Frankly I would also say, “never waste a crisis;” there are some opportunities to make reforms in the military and in military-civil relations which perhaps were overdue. Leaving aside the conventional military partnership we share, we also worry deeply about the threat from DAESH [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] in particular, and the PKK – a dangerous threat to Turkey, to its tourism industry and to rest of Europe. Cooperation on that issue remains absolutely vital for us.
So in the aftermath of the coup, we received assurances from the highest levels in Turkey that Turkey intends to absolutely continue its struggle against DAESH at the same level.
The appointment of Boris Johnson as Britain’s foreign secretary caused skepticism here over his remarks on Turkey. When does he plan to come to Turkey?
Well, I don’t know, but I know he wants to come relatively soon. Probably in the autumn. I found some of the rhetoric during our referendum campaign both ill-informed and unfair about Turkey. But the Turkish leadership absolutely made it clear in conversations with our new U.K. government that that is in the past.
International relations are not just about personalities; we should look at the fundamentals of our relationship. Here we are already NATO allies and G-20 partners. [We are] Turkey’s second largest export market, and 2,700 U.K. companies work here. So there is a deep full spectrum relationship and I am very confident that our new foreign secretary and prime minister will get on very well with their counterparts.
For our foreign secretary, his connection with Turkey really means something to him. He’s got relatives, cousins here, some of them very eminent Turkish diplomats. It’s not a remote thing to him, it’s a meaningful connection. I think when he comes he will focus on it. But you tell me, is there any foreign secretary in the world who is partly Turk? I think that gives us a unique perspective on Turkey. Turkey is very much in front of his vision at the moment after the attempted coup which was the first crisis with which he had to deal.
Minister Duncan sole European visitor to Turkey after coup
I do understand the Turkish frustration with people who mention the coup briefly and swiftly go on to complain about post-coup measures. But it is important to remember that the condemnation of the coup was universal from all of Turkey’s allies. The U.K.’s condemnation of the coup was particularly clear and absolute.
That’s why our minister for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan, came out on July 20-21. He had only been in office for three days. Why I did advise him to come? Because it was important to go beyond just statements and to perform a very symbolic act by coming to Turkey. We also have not rushed to make judgements on things like the state of emergency. Before calling on the foreign minister and prime minister, the first thing our Minister Duncan did was to go to see the speaker of the Parliament, to say “Right I am here in the building, the symbol of democracy, that was bombed.”
The last time the House of Commons was bombed was by Hitler.