In response to European accusations of McCarthyism following the failed July coup, Ankara is spreading the message that the West has little understanding about the movement of US-self-exiled cleric Fetullah Gülen, which it calls a terrorist organisation.
Elmar Brok (CDU), a key German MEP close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, recently said that he had taken a different view on Gülen-related issues, following a visit to Turkey on 23-25 August. Speaking about the Gülenist organisation, which was previously called Hizmet, but is now referred to by the Turkish authorities as Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), he said that the group had developed as a secret alliance over the decades and has infiltrated the state and security apparatus.
Both the ruling AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the three opposition parties CHP, HDP and MHP, have condemned the coup attempt, calling it an attack on the country’s parliamentary system.
Turkey has purged its army and civil service of Gülenists, prompting accusations of “McCarthysm” in European liberal circles.
“With regards to the [infiltration] situation within various ministries and the army, I think the numbers are much more serious than we realized,” the German MEP said.
Turkish sources told EURACTIV that Gülen and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is now the President of Turkey, have been allies until 2011, and that Erdoğan’s AKP party has recruited many Gülenists in the country’s civil services. The reason why the authorities had lists of people to be purged after the coup is that AKP knew precisely who the Gülenists were, a source said.
Brok said that “the Gülen movement has been built up quite systematically from an educational level to instruct young people and has created interactive movement over many decades”.
During his time of friendship with Gülen, Erdoğan is reported to have been very happy to purge secular civil servants and to replace them with Gülenists, at a time when his own AKP party didn’t have enough people with the necessary skills.
In 1999, Gülen emigrated to the United States, ostensibly for medical treatment. He was issued a green card, granting him residency, in 2011.
Supported by the CIA?
Recently speaking at a public event held in Brussels under Chatham house rules, a Turkish speaker said Gülen might have had the support of the CIA, as a US court document attests. Or at least, he argued that ordinary Turks believed so.
The speaker, who is not close to the Turkish government, said that Gülen had once been refused a Green Card, and obtained it on a second attempt, after he received reference letters from the CIA.
These facts are public information. Two of the letters come from long-time CIA employees, George Fidas and Graham Fuller, and the third from a former US ambassador to Turkey, Morton Abramowitz.
“Why were those people reference letters to Gülen to stay in the US?” the speaker asked, rhetorically.
He elaborated further that Washington was confused about the concept of ‘Moderate Islam’, which was invented in the US some 15 years ago, after the 9/11 attacks. Gülen is hardly a moderate Islamist, he claimed, giving as an example his attitude to women. Gülen is reported to have said he was going home only when it was dark, because he didn’t want to see girls in the street. And he apparently didn’t want to include women in his inner circle.
The speaker made reference to videos on the internet which have become very popular. According to them, followers of Gülen believe that after Prophet Mohamed, tere would be 14 wise men in different centuries, and that Gülen is the 14th of them and the last Imam. In some of those videos, there are stories about Gülen meeting Prophet Mohmaned in his dreams and discussing issues. Gülen has claimed that Sultan Murad woke up up every morning, so he can pray. (Sultan Murad died in 1451.)
The speaker said this showed that the religious element in the Gülen movement was very strong, comparing it to Opus Dei., the most controversial group in the Catholic Church today.
The understanding about the Gülenists in the West has been quite naïve, he insisted.
If someone comes to the West and criticises Erdoğan and his AKP party, this doesn’t mean that the person is democratic and liberal, he said, adding: “But this was the perception in the EU: If you criticise, you are good.”
Regarding the US-Turkey relations, the speaker anticipated “big tensions” over the issue of the request by Ankara that Gülen should be extradited. Regarding the role of the US, he said it was far-fetched to think there was a US involvement.
But he stressed that there were two airbases involved in the failed coup. One was near Ankara, and the other one is Incirlik near the Syria border, which is a joint Turkey-EU base hosting US nuclear weapons.
“If US knew about [the coup] and didn’t warn Erdogan, this is worrying. But if US didn’t know about it, it is also very worrying. Because if some people are organising a coup in one of your military bases, where you host your nuclear weapons, that is also very worrying.”
Regarding possible extraditions of Gülenists by EU countries, the speaker said that as long as judicial system in Turkey is not working well, and the EU is not sure about a fair trial in Turkey, it would be impossible for Western countries to extradite them.
Gülenists are well ensconced in many EU countries, including Belgium. Since the coup, many are reported to be worried about their prospects.
The Belgian press recently reported that Anne Van Roste, an intern at the Belgian edition of the Zaman, was approached by what appears to be a Turkish spy, to obtain a list of the Belgian subscribers of the (pro-Gülen) newspaper.
Bulgaria, an EU member, has already extradited to Turkey an alleged Gülenist.