Furious Erdogan hits at the Gulenists

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Ahmet Aslan

Rabi' al-Awwal 10, 1436 2015-01-01

News & Analysis

by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1436)

The imperialist and Zionist-linked Gulenist movement and its supporters are being weeded out from key institutions in Turkey.

One year after the most serious attempt to topple his AKP government, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now safely ensconced in the presidential palace, has hit back at the Gulenist movement with a massive blow. On December 14 (2014), the police detained 115 individuals who included police officers, and journalists and media workers who are allegedly members of the Gulen movement. The Istanbul Public Prosecutor charged them with “forming an armed terrorist organization and as part of the organization carrying out forgery, conspiracy and libel.”

The main accusation is related to a 2009 event in which Gulenist police officers carried out an operation against Mehmet Dogan, founder and leader of the Islamic group Tahsiyeciler (those who interpret the works of eminent scholar Said Nursi). Dogan who is also known as Molla Muhammad had vigorously challenged Fethullah Gulen’s views on religious pluralism and condemned him for perverting Islamic teachings in the name of religious dialog with the Christians and Jews.

Despite their peaceful discourse, soon after Dogan’s comments, the police arrested him and 132 members of his group for being part of al-Qaeda. During raids on the “suspects’’ homes, the police recovered weapon caches allegedly belonging to the group. As a result, they went through a traumatic ordeal and endured lengthy imprisonment. The court released Mehmet Dogan after 17 months of imprisonment due to health reasons. Yet they were not given a chance to clear their names of the serious charges.

The recent police operation targeted officers who were involved in the arrest of members of the Tahsiyeciler movement, as it has become clear that the arrests were part of a set-up job. According to the prosecution, members of the Gulen movement embedded in the police force acted at the behest of Fethullah Gulen to suppress the rival Muslim group that had explicitly challenged Gulen’s interpretation of Islam. The sequence of events that led to the arrest of members of the Tahsiyeciler movement substantiated the prosecutor’s claim. In response to the criticism, Fethullah Gulen delivered an angry speech through his official website and labelled Tahsiyeciler a terrorist organization. Further, just a week prior to the police operation, a popular TV show aired on Samanyolu TV Channel, which is owned by the Gulenists, targeted the Tahshiyeciler movement by mentioning their name in the context of religious extremism. In addition, the Gulenist newspaper Zaman also attacked the movement by labelling it terrorist.

The prosecutors argue that these events indicate the police operation against the Tahsiyeciler was directed by Gulen himself. He asked his followers in the police department to hatch a conspiracy against them to eliminate them as well as send a clear message to other rivals about the consequences of challenging him. He also asked the media under his control to launch a propaganda campaign against the group and thus prepare the public for their arrest.

The prosecution has important evidence to back its claims. First there is testimony of the imprisoned members of the Tahsiyeciler who have said that the Gulenist movement had threatened and warned them against criticizing Fethullah Gulen. Further, criminal investigations have revealed that the weapon caches that the police allegedly found in the houses of members of the group only contained fingerprints of the police officers who recovered them. There are also recordings of conversations between the scriptwriters of the TV shows that labelled the group “terrorist” and Fethullah Gulen in which he instructs the writers what to include in the scripts.

Although the government had already delivered a blow to the Gulen movement by arresting tens of Gulenist police officers involved in the widespread phone tapping scandal, the recent operation is much broader. Despite Erdogan’s promise that the government “would pursue them [the Gulenists] to their dens,” so far, it was unable to create any serious problems for the higher echelons of the Gulenists. Earlier government operations only frustrated low and mid-ranking Gulenist police officers. This time, however, the government has managed to target not only high ranking police officers but also the Gulenist media. More importantly, it has managed to level charges against Gulen himself. As part of the operation, the prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for Fethullah Gulen who was charged with being the leader of a terrorist organization that aims at overthrowing the government. The court also issued an international arrest warrant and it is expected that Turkish officials will ask the Americans to hand over the Pennsylvania-based conspirator.

It is highly unlikely that the US would comply as it is believed that Gulen launched the anti-Erdogan/AKP campaign with US blessings. It is reported that when Gulen launched the coup, then US Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone remarked in a private gathering that “the AKP would go” and “you are witnessing the collapse of an empire.” When Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek asked Ricciardone about these comments, the latter remained silent but did not deny them.

Whether the US extradites Gulen or not Erdogan has scored a majority victory against the group. Following the government’s purging of police, judiciary and other branches of the bureaucracy, the Gulenists have been greatly weakened and no longer pose a serious threat to Erdogan and the AKP. The government now wants to completely finish them off by targeting the civil wing of the movement, especially the Gulenist media. It seems the recent operation is aimed at this.

At this point, perhaps it may be better for Erdogan to let Gulen stay in the US and use him in the forthcoming elections. With his group paralyzed in the bureaucracy and the media, Gulen has already been branded an enemy and his power considerably diminished. The Turkish public has always been susceptible to the idea that foreign powers using local agents are interfering in the country’s affairs. Thus, Gulen residing in the US and Washington’s reluctance to extradite him will provide Erdogan a strong campaign tool to use in the forthcoming general elections to boost support for the AKP and Ahmet Davutoglu’s bid for re-election as prime minister.

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