Adonis Diaries

Blamed as Coup Mastermind of Turkey? Fethullah Gulen

Posted on: July 22, 2016

Blamed as Coup Mastermind? Fethullah Gulen

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says that a mild-mannered Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania was pulling the strings of a coup attempt last week that almost succeeded in taking over the state, and killing Mr. Erdogan himself.

Now, Mr. Erdogan says that many thousands of Turkish citizens — soldiers, policemen, bureaucrats, teachers, judges, lawyers and many more professions — are all part of the cleric’s movement and must be punished.

Tens of thousands of people have already been arrested or suspended from their jobs in the four days since the coup failed, after a night of violence that plunged the country into chaos.

Mr. Erdogan and the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, have been adversaries in recent years, and Turkey has said that Mr. Gulen must be extradited by the United States. Now, though, Mr. Erdogan appears determined to get him back, a matter that threatens to aggravate relations between the two NATO allies.

But who is Mr. Gulen? And is it possible he is behind such a vast conspiracy?

James F. Jeffrey, a former American ambassador to Turkey now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called the organization a “cultlike” movement, and said no one really had solid information about its size and aims.

But many experts on Turkey, Mr. Jeffrey included, say the followers of Mr. Gulen have sought to gain power within Turkey by infiltrating state institutions, most successfully the judiciary and the police.

“They are a state within a state,” he said. “They have infiltrated many places.”

In the past, Mr. Gulen has been embraced by American officials as a moderate Islamic leader: someone who promotes interfaith dialogue, leads a worldwide network of charities and secular schools, favors good relations with Israel and opposes harder-line Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. (He is the Turkish Moslem Brotherhood leader)

In Turkey, his supporters have long filled the ranks of the police, judiciary and, to a lesser extent, the military, something Mr. Gulen has encouraged in speeches.

Having fled the country in 1999 as Turkey’s old secular elite charged him with trying to overthrow the state, he landed in the United States, where a former C.I.A. official helped him get a green card.

The darker suspicions of his movement have emerged as a central plotline in the aftermath of the failed military coup in Turkey, with Mr. Erdogan accusing him of being the mastermind of the conspiracy.

Turkish officials on Tuesday, including Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, raised the pressure on the United States to hand over Mr. Gulen, promising to send dossiers of evidence of his role in the plot.

The White House said on Tuesday that it received an electronic file from Turkey on the matter, though it was unclear that it was a formal extradition request.

“The Department of Justice and the Department of State will review those materials consistent with the requirements of the extradition treaty between the United States and Turkey that’s been on the books for more than 30 years now,” Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Obama spoke by telephone, with Mr. Obama offering help to investigate the coup, but giving no indication in a statement by the White House of a willingness to promptly send Mr. Gulen back.

Mr. Yildirim said Turkey was intent on destroying the Gulen movement “by its roots.” And the government has moved quickly, raising concerns it is more interested in silencing all opposition than rooting out those behind the coup.

Nearly 35,000 members of the military, police and judiciary have either been arrested or dismissed.

On Tuesday, the government suspended more than 15,000 members of the Education Ministry, forced more than 1,500 university deans to resign and revoked the licenses of 21,000 private schoolteachers.

All of them, officials said, are suspected of having some link to Mr. Gulen.

The Turkish military, in a statement, blamed the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” for the coup plot, and said the plotters had held at gunpoint the military’s chief of staff, demanding that he sign a document supporting the coup, which he refused to do.

nytimes.com|By Tim Arango and Ben Hubbard

Mr. Gulen, a mystic preacher of the Sufi branch of Islam who lives in a secluded compound in the Poconos, in Pennsylvania, has become a central point of tension between the United States and Turkey.

One Turkish official said he believed the United States played a role in the coup, an accusation Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed on Sunday as “irresponsible.” Still, in a front-page column on Tuesday, the editor in chief of a pro-government newspaper wrote, “The U.S. Tried to Assassinate Erdogan!”

At the very least, the prospect of a contentious extradition process is likely to complicate relations between the allies at a time when the United States is relying on Turkey as a crucial partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

Referring to the United States, Mr. Yildirim said, “we would be disappointed if our friends told us to present proof even though members of the assassin organization are trying to destroy an elected government under the directions of that person.” He added, “At this stage there could even be a questioning of our friendship.”

Mr. Kerry has said Turkey, as part of the extradition process, must provide evidence that withstands scrutiny in an American court — something analysts say Turkey does not have.

On Tuesday, Mr. Gulen again denied any involvement. “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today once again demonstrated he will go to any length necessary to solidify his power and persecute his critics,” Mr. Gulen said in a statement. “It is ridiculous, irresponsible and false to suggest I had anything to do with the horrific failed coup. I urge the U.S. government to reject any effort to abuse the extradition process to carry out political vendettas.”

Turkish officials may be certain about Mr. Gulen’s actions and motives, but the nature of his movement has long confounded analysts and diplomats in Turkey, partly because the organization is opaque and individuals do not openly declare allegiance to it.

Mr. Jeffrey said it would have been hard for Gulen followers, as Islamists, to infiltrate the armed forces, which have been a stronghold of secularism in Turkey.

In diplomatic cable written in 2009, and made public by WikiLeaks, Mr. Jeffrey detailed how Mr. Gulen came to exile in the United States.

He left Turkey in 1999 after being charged with plotting to overthrow the state. The charges, Mr. Jeffrey wrote, were based on a sermon Mr. Gulen had given in which he said, “our friends, who have positions in legislative and administrative bodies, should learn its details and be vigilant all the time so they can transform it and be more fruitful on behalf of Islam in order to create a nationwide restoration.”

Mr. Gulen was later acquitted, in absentia, on all charges.

Jenny White, a professor at the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies who has studied the Gulen movement, said it is centered on a worldwide network of secular schools. The goal, she said, is to create a “golden generation of young people who are educated in science, but have Muslim ethics.”

The group is socially conservative, but religious texts do not play a large role for the movement. While women are active in the movement, they are not included in decision making.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Gulen were once Islamist allies, at war with Turkey’s old secular elite.

After Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party came to power more than a decade ago, they teamed up to tame the military, which overthrew four elected governments last century.

A series of sensational trials, which were overseen by Gulen-affiliated judges and prosecutors and were later determined to have relied, in part, on fabricated evidence, sent hundreds of officers to prison and seemed to have secured civilian control over the military.

But three years ago, the two men had a bitter falling out as Mr. Gulen opposed the leader’s increasingly autocratic tendencies. Mr. Erdogan accused Mr. Gulen of orchestrating a corruption inquiry of top officials close to Mr. Erdogan, using the same prosecutors who had targeted the military.

Ever since, they have been enemies, and this week the government accelerated its efforts to purge the state of anyone it believes is affiliated with Mr. Gulen, or directly involved in the coup.

Ibrahim Kalin, Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman, said on Tuesday that the United States should turn him over to Turkey.

“Why hold him?” he said. “Send him to Turkey to let him go through the judicial process here and if he can prove that he is not guilty, then he can go back.”

Turks have long suspected that Mr. Gulen was an American agent, and inflaming the conspiracy theories is the fact that Graham E. Fuller, a former C.I.A. official who was once stationed in Istanbul, wrote a letter to support Mr. Gulen’s application for a green card.

Mr. Fuller, in an interview with The New York Times in 2014, said he did so on his own, not on behalf of the American government. (Funny)

In the letter, he said he wrote, to the effect, “of all the movements I’ve studied, this one is probably least likely to be a security threat.”

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