The challenge of convincing Europe on FETÖ

The challenge of convincing Europe on FETÖ

Europeans are having tremendous difficulty understanding the threat of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).

How can they not, when some of us in Turkey were shocked to see how far the Gülenists went in infiltrating the state?

I was personally not convinced when the National Security Council (MGK) decided to formally name the Gülenists as the “FETÖ/Parallel State Structure (PDY)” and declare them an armed terrorist organization in its meeting in May earlier this year. 

“The PDY will be treated and tried [the same] as the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said at the time.

I thought back then that the government was in a power-struggle war, not in armed contention with the Gülenists. It was like former friends now turned enemies settling accounts between themselves, with simple citizens just bystanders. 

I thought it was an exaggeration to call the Gülenists a terrorist organization, let alone treat them as an armed group. I thought Erdoğan’s anger stemmed from the December 2013 corruption allegations.

This is most probably what the Europeans have also been thinking: “Erdoğan is angry not because Gülenists are terrorists but because they revealed the dirty business of the government and especially Erdoğan’s family.” Since he is by far the most disliked figure in the West, there was a sense of “well, he deserves it.” 

And when the coup took place, no one in Europe could believe it. Let’s face it, we in Turkey thought the era of coups had ended. A lot of people could not believe their eyes, and just as some in Turkey (a tiny minority) thought the coup attempt may have been orchestrated by Erdoğan himself, many in Europe did not hesitate to believe the same. Saying the coup was staged by Erdoğan himself is as ridiculous as saying the 9/11 attacks were staged by the Americans themselves in order to attack Afghanistan.

The difference here is that Erdoğan became a victim of his own making. He has interfered so much in Turkey’s political and economic system (like weakening the independence of the judiciary, micro-managing the economy, oppressing the media and dissenting views) that he himself helped the creation of an image of Turkey as an undemocratic third-world country, where a strong leader can orchestrate a coup against himself. 

Following their initial reactions to the coup attempt, which will be remembered as shameful, Europeans are now slowly realizing that Turkey survived a tremendous threat on the night of July 15. 

But there are still suspicions about the culprits of the coup attempt. As a result, Europe should ask this question: How is it that the opposition, especially the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which has never been on the same page as the government on any issue whatsoever, has not voiced any skepticism about the culprits? Have they heard any other theories coming from the opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) pointing to anyone other than the Gülenists?

Even if Europeans become persuaded that the coup was staged by Gülenists, it is still going to prove extremely difficult to convince them that the current purge is not just about punishing the coup plotters but also about cleansing state structures of an illegal organization. 

Erdoğan and the government already suffer from a credibility problem. Whatever explanation they make risks falling on deaf ears if the post-coup attempt purge continues in the form of a witch hunt, targeting those who have no link to FETÖ whatsoever.