Is this the way to fight Gülen?

Is this the way to fight Gülen?

Both the Turkish government and the opposition parties want to find out the dynamics behind the bloody coup attempt of July 15. Both the government and the opposition parties accuse the secret network of U.S.-based Islamist scholar Fethullah Gülen of masterminding the coup attempt.

President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government see Gülen and his network as an existential threat, along with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its acts of terror.

The government has formally asked the U.S. to extradite Gülen, who lives on a ranch in Pennsylvania, to Turkey for trial as the leader of what it calls the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ).” 

However, the government’s methods in its fight against Gülen and his network, (which is also an ideological threat among the grassroots of the AK Parti, unlike the threat from the PKK), has caused criticism among political parties as well as foreign governments.

Those criticisms can be grouped as follows:

A commission has been formed in parliament by all four parties in order to search for the dynamics behind the coup attempt, starting work on Oct. 4, almost three months after July 15. Aytun Çıray, a member of the commission from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) list, has noted that two of the MPs assigned by the AK Party, one of them Reşat Petek as the commission chairman, used to praise Gülen in the past and attack those who tried to draw attention to the possible threat posed by Gülen and Gülenists within the state apparatus. Çıray said this cast a shadow over the AK Parti’s sincerity about the parliamentary research.

The prosecutions to find those involved in the coup attempt and clear Gülenists from the state apparatus under the State of Emergency (SoE), imposed a week after July 15, have turned into a “campaign to silence all opposition voices,” according to CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Some 11,000 leftist teachers have been suspended with SoE decrees - not over links to Gülen but on suspicion that they were under PKK manipulation when they took part in a one-day boycott in December 2015. 

The media is shrinking with more closures of companies by the government, on accusation of being a tool of terrorist propaganda. Alongside Gülenist media outlets, pro-Kurdish, leftist and pro-Alevi radio stations and TV channels have also been closed down. Some 125 journalists, writers and editors (18 of them convicted before July 15) are now in jail. The Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) announced on Oct. 4 that nearly a third of workers in the media sector became unemployed in 2016. The diversity of news is reducing every day with the reduction in the diversity of the media.

The AK Parti is keen to keep its members out of the anti-Gülen prosecutions, at least its higher ranks. President Erdoğan has himself expressed regret for his “mistake” on Gülen, as it was under the AK Parti that Gülen’s followers have consolidated their positions in the state and climbed the ladder up. Still, Prime Minister Yıldırım claimed on Oct. 4 that efforts to identify names within the party who helped the Gülenists were “biased.” Opposition parties, on the other hand, say the AK Parti - as the party that received half of all votes in the last election - should start its own in-house cleaning before giving advice to them. As this defensive position continues and Gülenists’ political connections are not touched on, the anti-Gülen prosecutions are likely to lose their credibility.

The government’s international diplomacy regarding Gülen and the Gülenists has so far not been very successful. The main reason is that it was Foreign Ministry diplomats who, acting on the government’s orders, promoted Gülen-linked schools and Gülenist trade networks in various countries. Now the same Turkish diplomats, again acting on government orders, are trying to convince other governments to shut these institutions down and declare FETÖ a terrorist organization. (So far only Azerbaijan has cooperated.) With such a background, in addition to the Turkish government’s attempt to interfere in the judicial mechanisms of other countries, especially the U.S. -from where Gülen runs a network of schools and trade over nearly 170 countries - could be counterproductive.

FETÖ is actually a name that Turkish prosecutors and the National Security Board (MGK) have started to call the Gülen network. It has been adopted by the government as it sounded like “Feto,” used for years by leftists and secularists in Turkey to mock Gülen. But there is no terrorist organization in the world that labels itself a terror organization. The PKK, al-Qaeda and ISIL are all names those groups call themselves, and they have all been declared terror organizations by the U.S. and the EU. 

Gülenists often call themselves the “Hizmet” (Service) movement, disguising themselves as a pacifist group in favor of education and cultural exchange under different names - from the Rumi Foundation, to the Foundation of Writers and Journalists, to their trade network TUSKON. (Gülenist special forces security members who tried to capture President Erdoğan during the coup attempt reportedly asked themselves in the helicopter “We’re all Hizmet, aren’t we?” They did not know each other but they were acting on centralized orders.) As a result, the authorities’ use of a name like FETÖ for the Gülen movement makes little logical sense.