Interpol and Turkey’s fight against the Gülenists
Created in 1930, INTERPOL Ankara is one of the first and oldest INTERPOL National Central Bureaus (NCB), its official website says.
Established in 1923 with the name International Criminal Police Commission Interpol, it is as old as the Republic of Turkey itself. So the relationship between Interpol and Turkey dates back to the time of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
“We have always been a very cooperative member of the organization. But no message of condolence whatsoever came after the July 2016 coup attempt, when so many police officers lost their lives,” one source from Ankara told me.
By now, Turkey’s foreign interlocutors are tired of hearing from Turks about how Europe has shown a tepid reaction to the failed coup. One may think that the disappointment would be limited to government-to-government relations, but it goes deeper than that.
The network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen is an extremely sophisticated illegal network that penetrated the Turkish state and ultimately tried to topple the government in a coup attempt last year. It is so unique - with such an unparalleled structure - and so well-organized abroad that the fight against the network, especially in Western countries, requires an extremely sophisticated approach put into practice with highly skilled officials.
Unfortunately, aside from a few exceptions Turkey has neither a sophisticated approach nor the skilled officials. The efforts of those “few exceptions” are dashed away by the mistakes committed by other incompetent officials.
This is entirely the mistake of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Once upon a time, in order to eliminate Turkey’s secular bureaucracy, which it considered its enemy, the AK Party helped the Gülenists. While the Gülenists did everything to root out the secularists, they also canalized all the state’s means and privileges – such as receiving training abroad - to its members. Given a free ride for many years, the Gülenists once shined as the most competent and qualified officials in the state bureaucracy.
Once the state was cleansed from the “best and brightest” after the coup attempt, the small handful of remnants of the secular bureaucracy, which had clung on with many scars from the abuses of the Gülenists, found themselves increasingly alongside incompetent and unqualified colleagues. The latter now dominate the bureaucracy only because they know how to pray in the right way. In the campaign against the Gülenists, they often do more damage than good.
It was a grave mistake, for example, to upload a list of 70,000 names onto Interpol’s database a few days after the coup attempt - before legal cases had even started in Turkey against them – and then lying about it by saying these were all people who had lost their passports. This move inflicted great damage on Turkey’s cooperation with Interpol.
There is also an external factor that makes the struggle against Gülenists additionally difficult: The lack of empathy on the part of Turkey’s foreign interlocutors.
My Turkish sources admit initial mistakes and try to justify it by the sense of panic and shock that dominated Ankara in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt. But they also accuse Interpol of scrapping a quarter-and-a-half-century-long cooperation, immediately closing the doors without even listening or trying to understand their Turkish colleagues. Interpol refused to give the benefit of the doubt and has suspended all cooperation on the Gülen cases.
The Turkish side has now lowered the number of wanted Gülenists to 2,000. But Interpol wants a separate justification for each of these cases - a procedure it does not deploy for foreign jihadist fighters. In addition, Interpol also says that because the cases relate to a coup attempt, it is a political affair and they therefore cannot interfere.
While Gülenists were stepping up their campaign stating that Turkey is using Interpol against legitimate democratic dissent, another mistake was made last July: Turkish authorities sent a list of German companies suspected of having links to Gülenists to Interpol.
The problem here is manifold. Ever since the break up between the AK Party and the Gülenists in 2013, state institutions have not been able to reshuffle themselves. The security attaches assigned to Turkey’s foreign missions were all called back after 2013 and they have still not been replaced. If they had been replaced in time it could have been a little bit easier to maintain a healthy dialogue with security officials of Western capitals.
But the gist of the problem lies behind the fact that the AK Party does not learn from its mistakes. The remnants of the secular elites are still looked down on, while the government prefers to rely on incompetent but so-called pious officials.
The secular bureaucracy had years of experience in how to pursue Turkey’s enemies, especially in Western Europe. The government should have paid more attention to them. For instance, they should have listened to the advice that Gülenists should not be labeled a terror organization. There is a huge legal difference between a terror organization and a criminal organization.
Unfortunately, as a friend of mine recently said, Turkey’s state bureaucracy is today dominated by a group whose vocabulary is limited to around 100 words!