Three risks in Turkey’s anti-Gülen ops

Three risks in Turkey’s anti-Gülen ops

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) has reportedly canceled all local meetings and ceremonies with speakers other than party officials or heads of provincial party offices, according to media reports on Sept. 21. While elaborating on the decree, a provincial chairman said they could not be sure about the origins of the guest speakers that they invite.

This move might be an indication of two things in the political atmosphere within Turkey’s ruling party these days. First, it could mean that the party headquarters has started to suspect almost anyone in their social environment of conservative/pious circles could be a member of the covert network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher who is believed by most in Turkey to be behind the bloody coup attempt of July 15. Secondly, it could mean that an operation within the AK Parti to single out Gülenists - perhaps including some heavyweights of the party - could be near.

That is actually one of three major risks in Turkey’s anti-Gülen operations and probes, which have been going at full speed since the July 15 coup attempt. Crowds are piling up in front of the Prime Ministry in Ankara and provincial governor’s offices to register complaints about “unfair” suspensions or dismissals they have faced on suspicion of links to what the government and prosecutors’ indictments denounce as the “Fethullahist Terror Organization” (FETÖ). 

But more people have started to question Gülen’s connections in political parties, particularly the AK Parti. Gülen used to be a close ally of then Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, but their roads radically separated in late 2013, before Erdoğan was elected president in 2014. It was Erdoğan-led governments that opened the gates to ranking positions within the state to Gülenists, who had been trying to infiltrate for decades. The risk for the government is that if the probes do not include Gülenist political connections within the ranks of the AK Parti - while lower- and middle-ranking public employees are subject to operations and probes - it may lose its credibility in the eyes of the people. Moreover, the AK Parti may secure more right to ask the opposition parties to clear their ranks of Gülenists if it starts clearing out its own house first.

A second risk is that the seriousness of the current operations - which most people agree are necessary to clear Gülenists from public service - could become diluted if they spread to ever more people, leading to further examples of wrong detentions, arrests, suspensions or dismissals. 

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Sept. 20 that only a few thousand people with complaints have so far applied to the “crisis centers” established for this purpose. However, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said earlier that the number of complaints registered with his party on unfair dismissal was around 30,000. So far more than 80,000 public officials have been suspended from their jobs and half of them have already been dismissed. More than 3,000 are members of the military who were caught on July 15-16 on the grounds of being actively involved in the failed military coup.

The third risk is at the international level. Erdoğan allocated an important part of his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 20 to drawing attention to the “threat of FETÖ” in some 170 countries worldwide where the Gülen network is active through schools and trade institutions. But it was AK Parti governments of previous years that encouraged the governments of those countries to help Gülen’s followers back when they were still close allies. 

It is also a fact that it is not only the government, but also the opposition in Turkey that believes the Gülenist threat is still there for the system, which is currently under a state of emergency. However, it may backfire and turn into postive propaganda for the Gülenists if the Turkish president and government keep talking about them at every diplomatic event. Indeed, that could even end up showing them as more important and powerful than they actually are.