Turkey-US relations under the weight of Gülen

Turkey-US relations under the weight of Gülen

There was an unpleasant surprise waiting for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Washington before he stepped into the White House to meet U.S. President Donald Trump. The Washington Post, one of the U.S.’s most prestigious newspapers, had published an op-ed by guest writer Fethullah Gülen titled, “The Turkey I no longer know.” 

If you read this article without knowing how the Gülen movement secretly structured itself within the Turkish over at least the last 10 years, you could be moved by what he wrote. You would get the impression of a devoted democrat who was even committed to a kind of moderate secularism. 

Those who don’t know that Gülen’s close aide Adil Öksüz was at the coup command center of the Akıncı Base on the night of July 15, 2016 may come away impressed by how strongly Gülen opposes the July 2016 coup attempt. 

Likewise, those who are not aware of the operations carried out by pro-Gülen police officers to undermine the Kurdish peace process would see no reason to question the concerns of Gülen that Kurdish citizens in Turkey have been “pushed into desperation.”  

The overall situation reflects of the mentality that has long been fixed within a portion of decision-makers in the U.S. and among certain opinion leaders, which overlooks the activities of the Gülen movement in Turkey that cross the constitutional line. 

A number of factors play a role in this view. The first factor is a basic lack of knowledge of the issues. Some insist on not accepting the reality that Gülenist groups infiltrated state institutions and formed parallel networks in every unit of the state, despite plenty of proof. 

The second factor is that the Gülen movement, especially over the past 20 years, has taken advantage of loopholes in the U.S. system and has been able to effectively penetrate into this system. Certain think tanks have been funded in order to support the movement. By making legal donations to various election campaigns, a strong support platform has been created in the U.S. Congress. Even today the representatives of the Gülen movement in the U.S. have a considerable influence on the American media. 

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has not been able to curb this influence through propaganda wars in the U.S. There are a number of reasons generating from Turkey for this. Most important is the anti-Turkish government perception created in the West, particularly due to the widespread rights violations under the state of emergency since last year’s coup attempt. Even the most critical findings based on concrete facts regarding the Gülen movement therefore remain under the shadow of this negative perception.  

The legal aspect of the matter makes it worse. Just as the U.S. side fails to understand Turkey’s sentiments concerning the Gülen movement dossier, the Turkish side also does not understand the procedures of the U.S. law system when it comes to Gülen. If Gülen’s extradition was within President Trump’s jurisdiction, it would have been easy for a pragmatic, transactional person like Trump to put Gülen on a U.S. jet and hand him over to the Turkish authorities at Esenboğa Airport.   

In his Washington Post piece, Gülen described the U.S. as “the country I have called home for almost two decades.” This brings us neatly to the question of his relations with the U.S. The simple fact that he still lives in Pennsylvania today means that any negativity stemming from his movement is inevitably associated by many with the U.S., where it looks like he is being protected. This correlation affects the Turkish public’s view of the U.S. and damages Turkish-American relations.  

Unless a solution is found to this problem, it seems like the Gülen factor will continue to place a heavy weight on Turkish-American relations for a long time.