AKP’s problematic relations with Gülen

AKP’s problematic relations with Gülen

I strongly recommend you read Barçın Yinanç’s interview with Mahir Ünal, the deputy chairman and spokesman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), in today’s Hürriyet Daily News. You can find a concise analysis of the past relations of the AK Parti with Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016, coup attempt to overthrow the government, shut down the parliament and seize power in Turkey. 

Rejecting criticisms that it was the AK Parti which let them grow under its rule since they obtained power in the November 2002 elections, Ünal said, “They did not get stronger during our time,” elaborating on the relationship as follows:

“In order to democratize the state, we opened a large space for civil society. We started to fight against the tutelage system and we led this struggle together with the civil society. While this structure, posing as a civil organization, supported democratization, their infiltration into the state speeded up. 

“Remember how our government faced threats from the General Staff, how we were threatened by the judiciary, and how we faced closure? While we tried to strengthen civil space, it turned out that we jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, because an illegal organization, which presented itself as legal, started to in the meantime infiltrate the state.”

In order to fully understand what Ünal is pointing at, we have to use a mini-glossary to analyze the remark.

“Democratize the system” for the AK Parti meant to clear the political sphere, the judiciary and the education system from the influence of the military and the secular-republican establishment, which was fine in principle. 

“Tutelage” meant the military tutelage inherited from the three military coups in the past; in 1960, 1971 and 1980 as well as a psychological operation in 1998 that resulted in the resignation of the Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. 

The “civil society” did not necessarily mean the associations, foundations and alike, it also embraced the religious orders and networks which were regarded as not being lawful since the early years of the declaration of the Turkish Republic, which was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. AK Parti believed they represented an important population in Turkey and should not be excluded from the political-social system.
The “threat from the Chief of General Staff” was an e-statement with the name of Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt in April 2007 against the possibility of AK Parti electing then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül as president. The implied reason behind it was that Gül’s wife wore the headscarf, which was regarded by the military establishment as inappropriate for the secular system.

The “threat by the judiciary” was from the Constitutional Court, when they cancelled the parliamentary voting for Gül due to a voting formality and then accepted a move by the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals to close down AK Parti in 2008 with accusations of being the source of anti-secular activities in Turkey. Gül was elected as president after an early election called by then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan together with a constitutional change for the popular vote instead of parliamentary to elect the president.

It was at that stage when Gülen and his network had already started to occupy important positions in the police force, education and more important, the judiciary.

It has always been claimed but never proven that it was the Gülenists who influenced the Constitutional Court voting to reverse the voting result that turned down the closure case.

It was the same year prosecutors and judges, most of whom are now either in jail or on the run with accusations of being a member of the “terrorist” network of Gülen, started to open cases and imprison former and on-duty soldiers, academics, journalists and writers together with alleged criminals on charges of conspiring to overthrow Erdoğan’s AK Parti government. The controversial cases of Ergenekon, Balyoz, the Military Espionage, OdaTV and others were opened one by one based on evidences that are revealed to be mostly fabricated by Gülenist police officers and prosecutors.

Relations seemed excellent between Gülen and the AK Parti at the time. In 2009, a standing order by the Foreign Ministry to Turkish diplomats abroad to give full assistance to Gülenist institutions and schools opened in remote corners of the world, think tanks in influential places like the U.S. and European capitals, and institutions in world-renowned universities. Gülen’s trade network TUSKON, which was one of the network’s (now calling itself as the “Movement for Service”) major source of income, reached the most respected status by the government. Influential names of the AK Parti government used to give statements describing Gülen as “a lighthouse enlightening our path,” despite their denials today.

The relations reached its zenith during a constitutional referendum in 2010 when the AK Parti decided to radically change the judicial system, in a move to deliver a blow to the - already problematic - judicial system of the “old Turkey.” Gülen was so enthusiastic that he made a televised speech from his Pennsylvania ranch to his followers that they should “bring their dead ones from graves to use votes if possible” to support the changes. The archives show that when the Justice Minister of the time, Sadullah Ergin, warned Erdoğan, who was then a Prime Minister, that the changes could end up in Gülenists taking over the whole judiciary, Erdoğan said that would be of no harm since they “shared the same qibla,” meaning they were also true believers of Islam.

Perhaps that is the reason why Erdoğan, after the 2016 coup attempt, said the AK Parti was “deceived” by Gülenists who had ulterior motives, adding, “May Allah and the nation forgive” them, which was something AK Parti opponents have been warning for years.

The relations started to turn sour when prosecutors - now either in jail or on the run - attempted to interrogate Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), in February 2012 for being in contact with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It was later understood that the MİT chief was trying to establish a dialogue with the PKK for a political solution to the Kurdish problem upon Erdoğan’s orders.

The graft probes of December 2013 and the intervention in Turkey’s Syria policy in January and March 2014 was when relations severed and Gülen was declared a public enemy and his network a terrorist organization.

Neither Erdoğan, nor the soldiers and opposition parties had a clue that Gülenists have been so deeply infiltrated into the military until the July 2016 coup attempt, which was defeated by the resistance of the government, the opposition, soldiers loyal to the system and people who took to the streets.

So the “frying pan” that Ünal described was perhaps not so democratic, but the secular-republican system and the “fire” was the system that Gülen is accused of trying to bring through a military coup.

“In previous coups, putschists would change the political actors and go to elections. Had this coup been successful, neither our independence, freedom nor our democratic republic would have survived. We would have turned into a colony,” Ünal said. 

Ünal has a point to which opposition parties also agree. All parties in parliament agreed from different viewpoints that Gülenists must be fought against in the special session to mark the first anniversary of the coup attempt. They differ in how this fight should be carried out.

On the contrary, the restriction of rights and freedoms under the state of emergency does not help improve the quality of democracy in Turkey. A political face off against the situation, not only through court cases, could be a better way in order not to face the same awful situation again.