Gülen followers glad over PM’s return call

Gülen followers glad over PM’s return call

ISTANBUL / ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Gülen followers glad over PM’s return call

Leading Islamic figure Gülen is currently in a self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. REUTERS photo

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call to the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen to return to Turkey has been welcomed by his followers and supporters in the country, while opposition parties questioned the need for an invitation.

Hüseyin Gülerce, a columnist for daily Zaman and a prominent figure of the “Gülen Movement,” said June 15 that Gülen’s adorers were thrilled by Erdoğan’s call on Gülen to return to Turkey.

Although Erdoğan did not mention any names in his June 14 speech, the call was apparently addressed to Gülen, who is currently in a self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, United States.

“We want this longing to end,” Erdoğan told tens of thousands of spectators at Istanbul’s Türk Telekom Arena during the final event of Turkish Olympiads, which brings together students from Gülen Movement schools all around the world. “We want to see those who are abroad and longing for the homeland among us,” the prime minister said, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

“The prime minister’s sincere invitation has caused a great joy among his followers. Volunteers’ movement as we call ‘Hizmet’ (service) was relieved after this speech,” Gülerce told the Hürriyet Daily News in a phone interview.

Gülen left Turkey in 2000 and a criminal investigation against him was launched following his departure from the country on charges of “establishing an illegal organization.” The Islamic scholar was eventually acquitted and the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the acquittal upon an appeal in 2008, clearing any legal barriers for Gülen’s return to the country.

Cemal Uşak, vice president of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, at which Güeln holds the honorary chairman post, said Erdoğan voiced “the society’s widespread opinion.”

“Hundreds of thousands of people wait for Gülen to return Turkey,” he said. 

Gülerce also said that with his final act Erdoğan had ended the rumors of disagreement between the government and the Gülen movement, which had reached their climax after the recent reassignment of some specially-authorized judges and prosecutors.

“Certain parties tried to put a distance between the movement and the government, and the prime minister’s words extinguished ‘the fire of incitement’ according to me,” Gülerce said.

The “Gülen Movement” and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been at odds over the government’s plan to curb the authority of specially-authorized courts, which deal with coup plots and terror cases. The AKP and the prime minister have received a fierce reaction from the Gülen community, whose newspapers urged the government that its fight against plotters would be weakened as a result of this step. 

The prime minister’s remarks failed to move the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), with its deputy leader Oktay Vural telling daily Hürriyet that it would be absurd to discuss the return of an individual who is already a Turkish citizen. 

“There is no need to question his return,” Vural was quoted as saying. “If he wishes to return, he is capable of knowing his options,” he said.

Atilla Kart, a Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy also expressed his doubts, saying there was no legal barrier holding Gülen from coming to Turkey.

“Then why does the prime minister step in with a special invitation? Does he mean Gülen was his authority’s partner? Is it a confession from the prime minister or is it bargaining?”

On the other hand, deputy Prime Ministers Bülent Arınç and Bekir Bozdağ both put their weight behind Erdoğan’s remarks.

“[Erdoğan] was hesitant before when I mentioned my desire for [Gülen’s return],” Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said. “He didn’t want it to cause any distress in the country. But now even the opposing sides know Fethullah Gülen is innocent. He is a lover of Turkey, a man that holds this land above anything. I hope the prime minister’s wish becomes reality. We would love to greet Gülen here in Turkey.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also described Gülen as a national asset. 

“Turkey’s assets should be in Turkey. Our wish is for this longing to end,” Bozdağ said.