Erdoğan hits at Gülen’s European lobby in Brussels
Allah-u Ekber; Allah-u Ekber, the crowds started shouting, in what appeared to be a large ballroom of a hotel. It was late on Tuesday night. A few hours before, I had watched Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s press conference with the EU trio.
“When did he come back to Turkey?” I asked myself, and soon realized that he was addressing Turks in Brussels.
Yet, most of his speech was about what he called “the organization.” Interestingly, when a Turkish official says “the organization,” it is usually in reference to the “terrorist organization” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This time however, the prime minister was clearly pointing his fingerat the Gülen movement.
This is not the first time Erdoğan has addressed Turks living abroad, especially in Europe. But most of the time, he prefers to talk about their problems, giving them a message along the lines of “integrate but don’t assimilate,” and bragging about the grandeur of Turkey and his government’s achievements.
This was probably the most “internal politics”-dominated speech abroad while addressing Turkish crowds. He was clearly targeting the Gülen movement, which ironically has been so incremental in consolidating the legitimacy and image of Erdoğan and his party in Europe, as well as the United States.
Prior to the advent of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rise to power; the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) and the Economic Development Foundation (IKV) were the most visible and important NGOs present in Brussels. With the AKP in power, NGOs close to Gülen became very active in Brussels. They lobbied intensively in favor of the AKP. They demonized the military tutelage in Turkey by portraying the staunchly Kemalist and secularist military-judicial elites as the main obstacle in front of democratization in Turkey. This was music to the ears of European officials, whose efforts to see progress in democratization and improvement of human rights hit the wall of the military-judicial coalition. While they portrayed the AKP as the big reformer in Turkey, they also were able to diffuse their suspicions about AKP’s Islamist nature. For that, they made sure to underline that all of the non-Muslim minorities that suffered under the secularists would enjoy their rights during the rule of the AKP.
The Europeans’ frustration with Turkey’s former military-judicial elites was so great, and the lobbying efforts of the NGOs closely affiliated with the Gülen movement so successful, that gross violations of human rights during the trials of military officials and even journalists went largely unnoticed in Europe.
“It is sometimes very difficult to understand from abroad what’s going on in Turkey. You have got so many different groups, and all of them give a different account of what’s going on,” a prominent German politician told me a few months ago. That was before Dec. 17; and he was referring to the secular/religious, Sunni/Alevi, Turkish/Kurdish issues. Now there is a new one: The AKP vs. the Gülenists.
After years of lobbying that the secularists were the real obstacle in front of democracy in Turkey, Gülen’s followers were identified by Erdoğan in Brussels as “the last remaining obstacle in front of Turkish democracy.” What irony.
Erdoğan also targeted Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition party. And while he recalled that Turks living abroad would not be able to vote during the upcoming municipal elections, he asked them to be in close contact with their relatives in Turkey. He underlined that Turks living abroad would for the first time be able use their votes where they live for the presidential elections in summer.
As Erdoğan is set to go to Germany next month, it is clear he has taken the war with Gülenists beyond Turkey’s borders.