Why was the National Security Council’s Gülen decision not implemented?
The work of the commission set up to investigate Turkey’s July 15, 2016 coup attempt reveals that state institutions considered the Gülen brotherhood a threat in the past and had made warnings. However, when it came to implementation the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government did not take these warnings seriously, allowing ample room for maneuver for the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
We can start with the written answer sent to the commission by Necdet Özel, who was Turkey’s chief of general staff from 2011 to 2015. With regard to the state’s evaluation of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ)/Parallel State Structure (PYD) threat, Özel divides the past into three periods.
The first period is the time up to 2010. During this period, all religious brotherhoods were considered a threat to national security by the state as they are seen as groups that abuse religious values. The Gülen brotherhood was seen as a threat within this framework. Özel says that of the 1,166 dismissed from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in those years, 400 were related to Fethullah Gülen.
In the second period that started after 2010, the state’s evaluation of the perceived threat had changed in its official documents and the Gülen movement’s activities were no longer seen as posing a security threat.
“To my recollection, no action was taken against suspected Gülenist personnel during that period,” says Özel.
Now let’s look at the statements at the commission from Özel’s successor, General Işık Koşaner. One of the issues that came to the agenda while he was answering deputies’ questions was the fact that the Gülen movement was taken out of the National Security Council’s policy document listing threat priorities (also called the “red book”). Answering a question on the date when the Gülen movement was excluded from the domestic security threat evaluation list, Koşaner said “2009, according to my recollection.”
Koşaner participated in the MGK meetings as commander of the land forces from 2009 to 2010 and as chief of general staff from 2010 to 2011. “The national security document is not made by the military. The document is prepared after the views of the military, the ministries, the prime ministry, etc. are taken into consideration by the MGK secretary general. It is finalized during the MGK meeting. Obviously, the military would not have said ‘take it out,’ but the final decision was made at the MGK,” Koşaner said.
The period 2010-13 was the time when no dismissal within the TSK had taken place, according to Özel. This is the same period when the Gülen brotherhood had made a serious purge in the TSK with the sham “Sledgehammer” coup plot case and the fake military spying case were underway, and when the high-level cadres at the TSK were replaced by Gülenist officers at the Supreme Military Board (YAŞ). The 2014 and 2015 YAŞ meetings were no different under this framework. A large majority of the generals and admirals promoted after 2011 are currently under arrest within the framework of the coup attempt.
Despite the Gülen organization’s move on Feb. 7, 2012 to try to arrest National İntelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, the fact that the Gülen organization still remained outside of the state’s security evaluation (for at least two years) until it mounted a huge direct challenge toward the government through the Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption cases needs an explanation.
The change Özel said had taken place in 2010 meant an important advisory decision taken in the MGK, which was not implemented anyway, had become obsolete. We find the most detailed evaluation about the MGK 2004 decision in the statement of General Hilmi Özkök (general chief of staff from 2002 to 2006) delivered to the parliament’s commission on Oct. 19, 2016.
“A lot of time was spent on that issue. In the MGK meeting of August 2004, we as the armed forces said this [Gülen] organization had acquired big capabilities. Capability forms over time but intentions can change in one night. This is exactly what we said, and we also said ‘let’s set up an action plan to monitor them.’ We informed the government that the situation is not good and a decision was made regarding the ‘action plan.’ The MGK obviously gives advice to the government. Although members of the government were there, we did not see any action taken. In each MGK meeting, we voiced the threat of these organizations,” said Özkök.
It can be understood the MİT made a similar presentation about the treat of the Gülen brotherhood. Recalling the 2004 decision to prepare an action plan against Gülen’s activities inside and outside Turkey, former Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ (2008-2010) said in his statement to the parliamentary commission the following: “The government did not take a step regarding this decision. Why? You need to ask the government.”
Ömer Dinçer, who was then the undersecretary of the prime ministry, said in an interview with daily Sabah on Dec. 1, 2013 that the MGK’s decision did not make it onto the cabinet’s agenda. “If an advisory decision taken at the MGK does not become a decision in the ministerial cabinet, no action would be taken. The 2004 meeting’s minutes about the Gülen brotherhood was sent to the prime ministry but it was put in the dossier without even being brought to the cabinet agenda,” Dinçer said.
Dinçer also mentions this issue in his book. “After the decision of the MGK was sent to the prime ministry I spoke with our prime minister. We decided to put the document in its dossier. This decision was not open for signatures in the cabinet. No action was taken. No one knew about it apart from the ministers present in the MGK. All the political and social risk was taken by the prime minister on behalf of the government and I assumed the legal risk,” he wrote.
Following the Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption probes, the Gülenists came back to being seen as a threat. Özel says the Gülen brotherhood was defined in the MGK meetings as an “illegal structure” in 2014 and then as a “parallel state structure.” It was also included again in the red book, which was renewed in 2015.
The brotherhood was given the name the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ)” after the July 2016 coup attempt, in which 249 people lost their lives.
As we can see, the state’s threat evaluation of the Gülen brotherhood has been through ups and downs over the years.