Erdoğan steps up fight against former ally Gülen

Erdoğan steps up fight against former ally Gülen

Turkey’s National Security Board (MGK) chaired by President Tayyip Erdoğan decided on April 29 that the measures would be stepped up to stop “structures within the state,” which would from now be regarded as a major threat to the country’s national security in the doctrinal “Red Book.” “Parallel structure” is a terminology used by Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to describe the sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen in the civil service and judiciary.

Gülen is a moderate Islamist ideologue who has been living in the U.S. for nearly two decades and running a national and international network of schools and charity organizations for more than three decades. Gülen had actually been the closest ally of Erdoğan’s AK Parti governments after they took power in 2002.

Erdoğan’s governments benefited from the presence of allegedly Gülenist security officers, educators, prosecutors and judges and media members a lot, especially while curbing the political enthusiasm of the military and the secularist establishment in academia and the judiciary through controversial probes and court cases up until late 2011 when things started to go sour. But openly from February 2012 on, when allegedly Gülenist prosecutors wanted to interrogate Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, the relations between them were problematic. And the relations were broken further following two major graft probes on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, involving members of the cabinet, the party and even Erdoğan’s family members.

Those police officers, prosecutors and judges who carried out the probes have already been removed from office through a series of changes in the judicial system and the cases were dropped by the newly appointed judges. Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have denounced those probes as a coup attempt by Gülenists. The government forced some 1100 police chiefs to retire last month and last week a decree was issued to reshuffle some 5,000 more to rather low profile positions, under the suspicion of being “parallel.”

Civil servants and scholars in almost all key positions of Turkey’s Scientific and Technological Research Institution (TÜBİTAK) were removed from office; some of them were arrested on the grounds of illegally eavesdropping on top government officials, including Erdoğan when he was still prime minister. Nowadays, a major probe is under way in the central public examination system (ÖSYM) over answer keys given to Gülen sympathizers in advance so they could pass the exams and get key government jobs.

Despite complaints by Erdoğan and Davutoğlu that they have been “cheated” by Gülenists for almost a decade, opposition parties and rights groups have been speaking of irregularities there all along. 

The fight has escalated further since last weekend, as the release of a number of formerly arrested Gülen sympathizers, including prominent media figure Hidayet Karaca, the director of Samanyolu TV, was ruled by an on-duty court. In an equally controversial move, the government locked the computer system of the justice mechanism to prevent the completion of the release procedure while an upper court ruled for them to be kept inside in the meantime.

As there were bitter statements from the government, Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of daily Zaman newspaper, revealed live on Samanyolu TV on April 28 evening that Davutoğlu had secretly visited Gülen in his farm house in Pennsylvania.

Davutoğlu confirmed that in an interview published by daily Milliyet on April 30 and said he was commissioned by president Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan (at that time) to visit Gülen during the United Nations assembly meetings in New York in September 2013 “as a last call for them [Gülenists] to stay in the limits of civil society and not interfere in government affairs.” Davutoğlu told Milliyet that when he asked Gülen to return to Turkey the answer was “Not now,” and in retrospect he understood that he was waiting for the success of the December 2013 “coup,” the graft probe in order to return to Turkey “like Khomeini” in Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979.

This is obviously a major split, almost a faction fight within the political Islamist elite in Turkey, perhaps for the first time and most probably because of the power which seemingly affected all involved.