AKP, Gulen movement in “mother of all battles”

Developing Just Leadership

Ahmet Aslan

Rabi' al-Awwal 01, 1435 2014-01-02

News & Analysis

by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1435)

The “corruption scandal” in Turkey is not so much about corruption per se as it is about power struggle between the ruling AKP and the Gulenists that are working in tandem with the CIA and Zionist Israel.

Following Turkish politics is perhaps one of the most thrilling engagements for experts and journalists alike. Occasionally one might get the impression that the country is stable and under the tight control of the ruling AKP and its charismatic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan but a sudden turn of events can take aback even the most seasoned observers. Large scale conspiracies, plots and unceasing power struggles between different factions often remind people that the political landscape of Turkey is far from stable. Instead, it is very volatile, almost equivalent in intensity and intrigue to the HBO serial Game of Thrones.

On December 17, in a well-orchestrated operation on the orders of one of the prosecutors in Istanbul, the police raided several addresses in Ankara and arrested some 50 people. These related to corruption and bribery charges. When the identity of the suspects was released it became apparent that this was not a random operation. The suspects included the sons of three cabinet ministers: interior, economics, and environment and city-planning.

Further, the head of the state-controlled Halkbank, the mayor of Fatih district of Istanbul, and famous businessmen Ali Agaoglu, Osman Agca and Emrullah Turanli and some bureaucrats and civil servants were also arrested.

Aside from the identity of the suspects the nature of the raids was unusual. Later in the day, it became clear that the government had no knowledge of the raids, even the police chiefs in Istanbul did not know anything about the raids, learning about the arrests from news on television. After a yearlong investigation that involved tapping the phone conversations of suspects and recording their alleged crimes, a prosecutor from Istanbul authorized the raids.

The investigation was carried out in great secrecy as well as the raids that followed. According to Turkish media reports, the police in Istanbul used tapping facilities in the city of Bursa so that nobody else would find out about the investigation. Also the police in Istanbul carried out investigations in Ankara without informing the authorities there. They even went to Ankara and made the arrests themselves and on the day of the arrests when they sought permission of the governor of Ankara, they did not reveal the identities of the suspects.

This appeared to be a well planned and executed operation that was carried out by police officers that wanted to avoid intervention of politicians in a corruption and bribery case. Yet, there is much evidence pointing to the fact that the operation was far from being merely a police investigation.

There has been on-going conflict between the ruling AKP and the Gulen movement in Turkey. The Gulen movement is one of the most enigmatic and influential political movements in Turkey. It was led and founded by Fethullah Gulen who has been conferred the honorific title of Hocaefendi (Khoja Effendi) by his followers. Since the 1960s he has formed and expanded his movement on the teachings of Sheikh Said Nursi’s interpretation of Islam.

To outsiders, the movement gives the impression that it is a social movement that tries to produce “moderate” and patriotic Muslims. This outward impression helped them to grow rapidly in a political environment when communism and Soviet influence were perceived to be the greatest threats. Turkey was not immune to such threats and the Gulen movement seemed a perfect panacea to prevent the spread of communism. Therefore, they were often supported by the state, of course with the blessings of the US that liked the idea of “moderate Islam” as being the anti-dote to communism.

With the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the movement became even more important for the state and the US in order to prevent the influence of the Islamic Revolution spreading into Turkey. The Gulen movement seized the opportunity and offered itself as a bulwark against communism as well as political Islam. It adopted harsh rhetoric both against communism and Shi‘ism, which was projected as being the driving force behind the Islamic Revolution. It flourished for two decades: established prep-schools, university student houses, social institutions, companies, newspapers, TV stations, and informal local groups that recruited members and raised money for the movement. The prep schools were particularly important since they enrolled millions of students for universities that amounted to bringing in millions of dollars in revenue. But even more important, it brought fresh recruits to the movement. They recruited the brightest youth from prep schools and nurtured them to take up important posts in the government.

In reality, the movement’s aim has always been to gain power and influence and finally control the government. This will be done by controlling important posts in the bureaucracy as well as by promoting its own members in politics. The Gulenists have infiltrated almost all important government posts including the police, secret service and the army. Turkey’s rulers soon realized the danger they posed. Consequently, during the February 28, 1997 military coup against the government of Prime Minister Necmeddin Erbakan, Islamic groups as well as the Gulen movement were targeted by the military.

The movement generally avoids crackdowns by distancing itself from other Islamic groups and pledging unwavering support to the military. In the face of the headscarf ban, the leader of the movement Fethullah Gulen went so far as to issue a fatwa that considered wearing the headscarf as not wajib. Scholars’ interpretation of Islamic issues is a matter of their understanding but this decision was not merely a scholarly opinion; it was meant to lend legitimacy to the army’s policies against practising Muslims. It was also reported that a senior figure from the movement visited the army headquarters and offered full submission to the army by stating that they were ready to hand over everything to the state including their prep-schools that were very dear to them.

The movement’s surrender to the army paid off. Fethullah Gulen agreed to leave the country and the army said it would not touch the movement’s assets. Gulen happily accepted the offer and in 1999, he left Turkey and settled in Philadelphia (USA).

From there, he has continued to lead the movement. With the AKP’s rise to power, Gulen’s movement became a formidable political force in Turkish politics. In 2007, when the army issued an ultimatum to the AKP government, the Gulen movement sided with the AKP and together they took on the military and Turkey’s old guard. Thanks to important posts occupied by the Gulenists and strong political will of the AKP they managed to bring down the rule of secular elites in Turkey by 2011.

This, however, was not the end but rather the beginning of a major battle: since both groups contributed to victory over the secularists, each thought it was “the most powerful” and the other should accept it. Although it was wrong for either group to make such claims, the AKP had the clear edge since it has been elected to office by securing a clear majority in successive elections since 2002. The Gulen movement can make no such claim to legitimacy to rule. Besides, its followers do not exceed a couple of million. But this has not prevented its from interfering in state policies.

The Gulen movement’s first move came when the AKP wanted to negotiate with the armed Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). With Erdogan’s authorization, the Turkish Intelligence Service engaged in negotiations with representatives of the PKK in Norway. After a long bloody conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives on both sides, Erdogan showed willingness to end the conflict by peaceful means.

The Gulen Movement, however, has a different agenda: it strongly opposes such a move for various reasons but perhaps most importantly the de facto war has helped it to recruit people from Kurdish religious groups. Many families living in the region that do not want their children to be part of the conflict willingly handed their children to the movement that pretends to be apolitical.

In September 2011, the public was shocked to hear recordings of secret meetings released to the media. The recordings included conversations between the head of Turkish intelligence service (MIT) Hakan Fidan and PKK representatives. More dramatically in February 2012, Hakan was summoned to the office of Public Prosecution. The summons was part of an on-going investigation against the PKK that included the intelligence chief as a suspect. According to media reports, had he gone to the office of public prosecution, he would have been arrested on treason charges.

Fidan ignored the summons and instead went straight to Erdogan to inform him of the conspiracy hatched by the Gulen movement. Its members that control key positions in the police and the judiciary were trying to sabotage government plans to negotiate with the PKK. Since they could not influence Hakan Fidan directly, they decided to eliminate him. Erdogan was outraged by the attempted arrest of Fidan, his right hand man. He immediately took necessary measures to change the law so that without prior government approval, no member of the MIT could be prosecuted.

Since Erdogan realized the Gulenists’ threat to his government, he has started to distance himself from the movement. There were other incidents also in which members of the movement in the police and the judiciary plotted against some journalists and retired civil servants that were critical of the movement. This was done without knowledge of the government but Ankara had to bear the burden and responsibility because imprisonment of journalists left Turkey in a difficult situation in the world.

Erdogan realized that he needed to finally confront the Gulen movement and the best way to bring them to their knees was to shut down the prep schools. A few months ago the government announced plans to shut down all the prep schools. The Gulen movement took this as a declaration of war and launched a counter attack.

The events of December 17 show that the Gulenists have been preparing well for this showdown as they launched a shock attack that directly targeted the government. Four cabinet ministers were involved in the investigation and their sons are in police custody. As a result of the raids, the AKP government’s reputation has been tarnished. This is particularly critical in view of the forthcoming local elections.

The effects of the operation, however, are not limited to internal politics. One of the places the police raided was the headquarters of the state owned Halkbank. It has been under scrutiny for “violating” US sanctions against Iran. The bank has allegedly been circumventing US sanctions against Iran by transferring Iran’s oil money through other channels.

This was the main allegation against the bank and according to the police, the bank has so far transferred around 75 million euro to Iran. This indicates that the Gulenists were not alone in their war against Erdogan. Gulen has the support of powerful allies such as the US Zionist lobby that fingered the Halkbank in circumventing sanctions. This is perhaps why immediately after the raids, US Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen visited Turkey to discuss the activities of the Halkbank.

So far Fethullah Gulen has denied his movement’s involvement in the operation, yet neither he nor the movement’s media has explained how details of the investigation ended up in their hands so quickly or why they have been so aggressively attacking the government following the raids. The government has made it clear that it was a conspiracy hatched by the Gulen movement and its “dark allies.”

Now everyone in Turkey, especially the Gulenists, is waiting for Erdogan’s response that is expected to be strong.

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