Turkey’s anti–Gülen campaign may be harmful to Turks living abroad

Turkey’s anti–Gülen campaign may be harmful to Turks living abroad

An important part of the efforts to combat the Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) threat has to take place in foreign countries. Some 120 countries to be exact, as that is the estimated number of states where the Gülenist network is believed to have opened schools.

If you ask the Turkish government, it would say it is exerting immense energy on dealing with the Gülenist network abroad. 

Indeed, there are only one or two departments in the Turkish Foreign Ministry that are not dealing with the Gülen dossier. And there are only a handful of Turkish diplomatic missions abroad that enjoy the luxury of not having to deal with a case related to the Gülenist network.

However, there are three serious issues about these efforts.

First, the degree to which these efforts are efficient and bring about the desired results. Second, the degree to which the energy spent on Gülenists is coming at the expense of undermining other foreign policy issues that need an equally immense amount of energy. Third, the degree to which the anti–Gülen campaign may have negative consequences on Turks living abroad.

It seems that Foreign Miniser Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has turned the FETÖ dossier into a dossier of numbers. He has entered into a race with other ministries’ anti–Gülen efforts, focusing heavily on the numbers. In the first few weeks after the coup, each diplomatic mission was expected to report on its daily anti–Gülen activities: How many statements did it make to the press? How many tweets did it post? How many diplomatic demarches did it undertake? 

Even five months after the coup attempt, Turkey’s diplomatic missions abroad are still required to provide a list of their activities (now on a weekly basis).

Unfortunately, some Turkish diplomats - sensing an opportunity to take a fast track in their career - have joined the race to show off how active they are in the anti-Gülen campaign. For example, Turkey’s diplomatic missions are flooded by unsigned letters of informants accusing various targets of having links to the Gülen movement. Although Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said early on that unsigned letters should not be taken into account, some diplomats have preferred to stay on the safe side and have sent these unsigned letters to Ankara.

Perhaps they should not be blamed, as they are under extreme pressure to take action. Apparently, some Turkish prosecutors have even threatened some Turkish diplomats abroad by initiating legal action against them if they do not prove they have taken all possible measures in the hunt for Gülenists. 

Meanwhile, I am also hearing that some foreign governments are getting irritated by the actions of some Turkish diplomats acting as vigilante “Gülen busters.” This could prove detrimental as there are incidents in which some members of Turkish diplomatic missions are being denied appointments by the relevant authorities of the host countries, who are showing their degree of irritation. 

There is also the dimension of Turks living abroad. As if there are not already enough divisions, Turks abroad are also divided between Gülenists and anti-Gülenists, which is adding extra tension to Turkish communities. Physical attacks against Gülen-linked institutions like schools or school buses are an irritating factor; if such incidents continue, the presence of Turkish communities will become a source of headache for the local authorities. That may reflect itself in increased bureaucratic difficulties that Turks face abroad, such as the denial of work permits or the prolongation of residence permits.

There is no doubt that FETÖ has a very efficient and strong network in foreign countries. And instead of going low-key, it has been waging a strong anti-Turkey campaign. An effective counter campaign is definitely required, but it remains to be seen just how effective the government’s current moves have been.

I am extremely puzzled about why the government has not engaged professional PR companies in key European capitals, whose contributions would definitely prove helpful. You cannot leave the aim of addressing and trying to influence hundreds of European Parliament members to just a few Turkish diplomats, when you know that Brussels and Strasbourg are among the strongholds of the Gülenist network.