The anatomy of a parallel state: Gülen’s FETÖ

The anatomy of a parallel state: Gülen’s FETÖ

The “parallel state” concept entered Turkish political literature in late 2013. Since then it has become a useful tool to comprehend recent developments in Turkey - various terrorist attacks, assassinations, civil unrest and even coup plots. From a theoretical concept to practical evidence, the “parallel state” has gradually replaced the idea of the “deep state,” once very popular in Turkey especially in the 1990s.

The concept may seem new to Turkish people, but it is not. An American historian, Robert Paxton, who dedicated his entire life to study worldwide fascist movements, is actually considered the owner of the “parallel state” concept. In one of his studies, “The Anatomy of Fascism” (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2004), Paxton refers for the first time to “Parallel Organizations.” Elucidating the concept, Paxton gives examples of paramilitary organizations in Fascist Italy (with the “Black Shirts”) and Nazi Germany (with the “SA”).

According to Paxton, these organizations were parallel organizations to ruling parties, competing for power with others (the bureaucracy, the army, party cadres, etc.) in order to gain maximal leeway. 

Later on, American anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin, whose name is best known by anti-terror forces in Turkey due its association with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), elaborated a similar concept to Paxton’s but in a quite different fashion. According to Bookchin, municipalities were destined to rule out centralized state power and form autonomous entities – that is to say “parallel powers” – in order to destroy nation-states.

Turkey witnessed both versions of the “parallel state”: Paxton’s “parallel organizations” through FETÖ and Bookchin’s “parallel powers” through the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).

Indeed, history shows great similarities between Gülen’s FETÖ and Ernst Röhm’s SA.
Röhm was the head of paramilitary organization Sturmabteilung (SA) from 1921 to mid-1934. Hitler rose to power with Röhm’s assistance and incredible propaganda abilities. But when it came to eliminating Hitler’s opponents after the Reichstag fire, Röhm was on frontline. Nevertheless, his SA was growing in number and capacity. In the summer of 1934, the SA counted more than 2 million armed men, ready to replace Germany’s traditional army, the Reichwehr. Röhm also started to express his discontent vis-à-vis Hitler’s positive attitude towards traditional elites, and called for a continuation of the revolution to achieve social purification throughout Germany.

As Röhm’s will to pursue the national revolution became more and more obvious, Hitler feared a military coup. He was right. Röhm and other SA leaders were plotting a coup, destined to overthrow Hitler and replace him with the left-wing nationalist Gregor Strasser, in order to realize next steps of the so-called “German Revolution.” However, Hitler took the initiative first and – in the infamous “Night of the Long Knives” - jailed all SA plotters including Röhm. This was the first example of an “aborted parallel coup” in modern history.
Now of course Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not Hitler and any comparison of this sort would be completely absurd. Even if FETÖ partisans compare the president to Hitler with their venomous propaganda, all citizens with a minimum national conscience know that this cannot be true. On the other side, Röhm and his SA machine reflect - as history shows, with a surprising accuracy - a tradition of “parallelism” represented nowadays by Gülen and his terrorist organization FETÖ.

At least Röhm had the decency at that time to publicly share his divergences with Hitler and his wishes for the future of Germany. Even if this honesty ultimately led to his death, he managed to preserve his personal pride. But as details of his occult and cryptic methods continue to emerge, Gülen continues to hide behind his walls of shame. He thus falls below the level of Röhm - of one his “parallel ancestors” and one of the most brutal figures in history.

All parallel organizations are destined to fall, no matter how strong they seem to be. The question is rather whether they fall in decency or in falsehood. Gülen, unlike Röhm, seems to have chosen the second path.