Turkey-US ties face another test over Gülen after coup attempt

Turkey-US ties face another test over Gülen after coup attempt

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
Turkey-US ties face another test over Gülen after coup attempt

AFP photo

The foiled coup attempt which shook Turkey for less than a day over the weekend will likely introduce yet another source of tension between Ankara and Washington, as the former named U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen as the mastermind of the mutiny, with calls to its key ally for his extradition. 

As usual it was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who appeared as the most outspoken in making the call to the U.S., in a statement on July 16. 

“I am calling on the U.S. and Mr. President [Barack Obama]. Hand over that person [Gülen] in Pennsylvania after this coup attempt,” Erdoğan said, while addressing a crowd in front of his residence in Istanbul. “If we are strategic and model partners, please meet this demand of your partner,” he added.

Gülen has been living in Pennsylvania since 1999 after some of his televised remarks sparked court cases against him on charges of promoting the formation of an Islamic state based on sharia. Although he was away, the Gülenist organization and his media lent enormous support to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the first two Erdoğan governments, until a massive corruption and fraud operation against top government officials was launched by members of the judiciary and police loyal to Gülen. The AKP government described the Gülenist organization and its members within the state as a terror organization and began a process for Gülen’s extradition from the U.S. 

“I do not see any country that would stand behind this man, this leader of the terrorist gang, especially after last night. A country that would stand behind this man is no friend to Turkey. It would even be a hostile act against Turkey,” Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım told reporters on July 16.

Both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced in the early hours of the coup attempt that the U.S. supported Turkey’s democratically-elected government, making clear they were standing with the Turkish government.

The two countries had already been in a long dispute over the role of Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with Turkey criticizing its main ally for cooperating with an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria. Tension between the two parties has often been reflected through public statements from Turkish leaders, particularly Erdoğan. 

Soylu: US behind coup attempt

The critical tone in Ankara against the U.S. reached another dimension on late July 16, as Labor Minister Süleyman Soylu openly accused Washington of being behind the coup attempt. 

“America is behind the coup. Some magazines published there were involved [in staging the coup] for the last couple of months,” Soylu told private broadcaster Habertürk, without specifying what publications they were.   
Apart from being a member of the government, Soylu is also known as a close associate of Erdoğan. 

Kerry-Çavuşoğlu conversation 

A phone conversation between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Kerry also took place, most likely after Soylu made his statement, as Kerry raised the issue during the talk. 

According to State Department spokesperson John Kirby, Kerry made clear the U.S. would be willing to provide assistance to Turkish authorities conducting the investigation “but that public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations.”

Çavuşoğlu, on the other hand, updated Kerry on the latest developments and repeated the Turkish request for Gülen’s extradition from the U.S. 

Earlier on July 16, Kerry, speaking to reporters during a visit to Luxembourg, said they had not received any request with respect to Gülen. “We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gülen. And obviously we would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately.” 

“I’m confident there will be some discussion about that,” Kerry added.

Bozdağ: Request will be updated

The Justice Ministry has long been working on a dossier on Gülen to send to the U.S. and there were reports last week that it was fully prepared and ready to be dispatched to Washington through diplomatic channels. 
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, however, stressed on July 17 that the dossier would be updated with the coup attempt organized by the Gülenist group before being sent to Washington for his extradition. 

“I am not of the opinion that the U.S. will continue to harbor a person who acts against Turkey any longer after this point,” Bozdağ said. “That would cause huge harm to its credibility.”