Turkey and West do not see eye to eye on Gulen threat
Istanbul - Many in Turkey are increasingly frustrated about the reluctance of their Western allies to show solidarity after a failed coup attempt in which at least 265 people died and more than 2,000 were injured.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) blamed Western governments for shielding US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of being the mastermind behind the coup attempt. International critics, however, say the investigation into possible coup plotters has turned into a witch hunt.
Since the failed takeover on July 15th, the Turkish government has launched a ferocious purge of state institutions, private businesses and the media in which Gulen and his followers are said to have exercised strong influence for decades.
More than 60,000 soldiers, police officers, judges, prosecutors, teachers and other civil servants with alleged links to the Gulen network have been detained or dismissed from their jobs. Private schools, media companies, charities and health institutions were shut down and dozens of journalists have been arrested. Gulen denies having any role in the attempted coup.
Turkey’s Western allies have shown reluctance in taking Turkish accusations against the Gulen network at face value and human rights groups expressed concern over the purges. In Turkey, however, both supporters and critics of the AKP said they are frustrated about the West’s unwillingness to take the perceived threat posed by the Gulen network seriously.
“The Gulenists did an excellent job at convincing the West of their good intentions. They have an immense international network, are well-spoken and well-educated,” said Ismail Saymaz, a journalist who has researched the US-based cleric’s network.
“For ten years we have suffered at the hands of a criminal gang that presented itself to the outside world as a movement for peace and interfaith dialogue, while ruthlessly moving against its opponents inside Turkey.”
It has long been assumed in Turkey that Gulen’s vast network had infiltrated the judiciary and the security apparatus but those who dared to speak up or criticise the cleric were swiftly punished. Some journalists, such as Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, who investigated how Gulenists took over Turkey’s police force, went to jail for reporting on the issue. That, however, was when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Gulen were allies.
Since the coup attempt, things have changed. More people are openly saying they have fallen victim to Gulenist efforts to infiltrate crucial state institutions.
Mehmet Koc, formerly a cadet at one of Turkey’s prestigious military academies, spoke as a member of the Platform of Dismissed and Discharged Students from the Turkish Armed Forces, an association formed in 2006 to draw attention to the violence and what Koc calls “psychological and physical torture” by Gulenist commanders against cadets deemed “unwanted” by the network.
For Koc, things became bad after he entered the military academy in Ankara in 2009. “They put us ‘unwanted’ students into so-called shock teams of ten cadets each,” he recalled, adding that he had been categorised as “Kemalist”, and hence not Gulen material, because of a book he had borrowed from a school library while in high school.
“They tortured us. We were deprived of sleep, of food, of water. We had to crawl everywhere, even on asphalt. My skin was raw and bleeding constantly,” he said.
“They humiliated us. They made us jump into rubbish bins with our mouths open, told us that we were not better than garbage and not worthy of becoming officers in the Turkish army. They did everything they could to make us leave to make room for their own students.”
Of the 470 cadets who entered the academy at the beginning of the academic year, only 250 were left at the end of the 42-day orientation period, Koc said. He left on day 20. It was not just a matter of a ruined career. For cadets, dropping out of the free military education without going on to serve in the armed forces meant paying substantial fines of more than $33,500 to the state.
“Some families were ruined by this,” Koc said.
He stressed that the government long ignored — and even actively encouraged — the infiltration of the Turkish military by the Gulenists. The AKP’s domination of Turkish politics for more than a decade was supported by Erdogan’s close alliance with Gulen’s organisation, his money and international influence, Koc said.
It is for that reason that Tamer Akgokce, a judge and board member of Yarsav, an association of judges and prosecutors, harshly criticised the government’s efforts to describe itself solely as the victim. For him, Erdogan’s recent public plea to “the people and god” to forgive him for letting Gulen fool him, rings hollow.
“The Gulenists took over the judiciary with the aid of the AKP government and they did great harm,” he said speaking on behalf of Yarsav. “The rule of law is in tatters in Turkey. Judges and prosecutors were dismissed, moved to far-away posts. Careers were destroyed. With the help of the Gulenists inside the judiciary, the AKP passed all the laws they wanted and needed. They got rid of opponents.”
Akgokce warned that the purges of judges and prosecutors run counter to legal rules and principles and he said a number of those arrested had had no dealings with Gulen.
“It is time for the government to realise that two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said.