So who authorized Davutoğlu’s Gülen visit?
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s 2013 visit to Pennsylvania to see Fethullah Gülen, the self-exiled Turkish preacher, is turning into an amusing “whodunit?” mystery. Gülen is being vilified by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for allegedly inciting the graft probes into government ministers and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal.
Davutoğlu claimed recently that he called on Gülen during the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York after having informed then president Abdullah Gül about this visit. Davutoğlu, who was foreign minister at the time, was accompanying Gül in New York.
Davutoğlu also claimed, while talking to reporters on May 3, that he had visited Gülen to urge him “to stay within legitimate boundaries and return to Turkey.”
Gül responded by saying Davutoğlu’s memory was not serving him right, since he only learned of the visit after it occurred, and did not approve of it.
Davutoğlu is, of course, insisting there is nothing wrong with his memory. This exchange shows that past contacts with Gülen, a one-time close ally of Erdoğan’s, and a preacher who was much respected by Turkish Islamists, can brand a person today if he happens to be a member of the AKP.
Visiting Gülen at that stage in 2013 would have been criticized by secularists, who have always seen him as the evil force behind the hounding of retired and active generals, and their Kemalist supporters, for allegedly planning a coup against the AKP government.
It would not have raised many eyebrows, however, among the AKP’s Islamist grassroots supporters.
Erdoğan, for his part, had stood firmly behind Gülen and backed his supporters in the judiciary who leveled charges against the generals, many of whom, including former Chief of the General Staff İlker Başbuğ, were sent to prison.
But circumstances changed radically after the material interests of Erdoğan and Gülen clashed, resulting in the open warfare we see between them today as the government is trying to have Gülen extradited from the U.S. to stand trial. He is accused of masterminding a failed coup against Erdoğan and the AKP by means of the graft probes initiated at the end of 2013.
It is the turn of the prosecutors, judges and policemen who had the generals jailed with support from Erdoğan to be suspended and face prison sentences today. This is how Turkish justice works. It has little to do with the rule of law and more to do with the settling of scores.
Aware of the unsavory politic implications of the dispute between Davutoğlu and Gül, Erdoğan stepped in on Tuesday, telling reporters that it was he who had actually authorized Davutoğlu to visit Gülen in 2013, adding he did not know if Gül was aware of this visit.
Instead of providing answers, Erdoğan’s intervention raises more questions. If what he says is true then why did he not come out before and prevent this embarrassing controversy for the AKP from growing? And why did Davutoğlu also not mention Erdoğan’s role before?
Erdoğan’s intervention also leaves Gül in a difficult situation since it means Davutoğlu, who was accompanying him in New York, went over his head at the behest of Erdoğan without his knowledge.
If, on the other hand, Davutoğlu is right then why does Gül feel the need to deny that he permitted the visit to Gülen? If Gül is right, then why does Davutoğlu feel the desperate need to convince the public that Gül knew about this visit?
The whole matter and all of these questions appear irrelevant today when the public has more important things to worry about. It is still amusing, though, to watch the panic that past contacts with Gülen can cause within the AKP ranks today, when these same contacts would have been occasions for jovial snapshots with the “great and honorable man” in the past for Islamists.
Such are the vagaries of Erdoğan and the AKP’s “New Turkey.”