Turkey to further dig into Gülenists foreign links

Turkey to further dig into Gülenists foreign links

In his daily Hürriyet column on Aug. 7, journalist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently instructed his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials to prepare a substantial report on the foreign links of the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

The investigation will reportedly aim to reveal the “undercover foreign relations” of FETÖ members within the Turkish state’s most important institutions like the Armed Forces, the gendarmerie and the police department. But this work will differ from that of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), which submitted a report on FETÖ’s links with other countries and their secret services to parliament in May.

The MİT’s report cited some evidence on how FETÖ was able over the years to expand its influence and activities “under the umbrella of one or several intelligence services.” It described how FETÖ was generating enormous amounts of money from its educational institutions across the world, particularly through charter schools in the United States, which is largely how it sponsored its many activities.

Unlike the MİT report, the one demanded by Erdoğan will instead be focused on the ideological aspect of FETÖ-related groups and their foreign counterparts. 

The Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) recently penned its own report on how the group “abused the Islamic values and beliefs of the Turkish public.” However, Erdoğan publicly criticized former Diyanet head Mehmet Görmez for being too late in drafting such a report.

Erdoğan seems to be trying to push FETÖ discussions in the direction of its less-discussed aspect: The ideological misuse of Islam in the hands of Gülen, a primary school-graduate cleric who was somehow able to build a massive international structure that ultimately dared to stage a coup through its loyal military officers.

As Selvi recalled, Gülen’s religious bonds in the world include senior representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as prominent Jewish organizations. He even managed to meet the Pope in 1998 in the Vatican, which helped him spread his reputation as a pro-interfaith dialogue figure, especially after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Another objective of Erdoğan is to further convince conservative and pious members of the Turkish public that the ongoing struggle is not directed against an Islamic organization but rather against a terror gang disguised under the cover of religion. This will likely become one of the most important lines to be used in the course of upcoming election campaigns.

But these moves should also be considered part of the government’s efforts to globally fight against FETÖ members and their organization abroad. However, this struggle risks remaining unaccomplished unless the government finds adequate communication and political means to better explain to its allies the danger that FETÖ poses against Turkey.

The  AKP’s latest work should therefore also focus on this key aspect of the anti-FETÖ fight if it wants to avoid further crises and mend its ties with allies.