The other villain: Fethullah Gülen – the Economist

Turkey’s Gülen Movement was the decisive force enabling Turkish President Erdoğan and his party in his quest to seize the full power, said the Economist in its Aug. 15 edition. 

By effectively attempting to undermine the Turkish strongman in the 2010s however, Gülenists overplayed their hands, said Ahval contributor and expert on the movement, Gökhan Bacık.

“They overreached by trying to torpedo peace talks with Kurdish insurgents, going after Turkey’s intelligence chief in 2012, and implicating Mr Erdoğan in a corruption scandal the year after. Turkey’s strongman responded by declaring war on the Cemaat, and removing its loyalists from the bureaucracy. The purges went into overdrive after the coup attempt.”

Nearly 600,000 people, most of them suspected Gülenists, have been investigated since the coup; nearly 100,000 have been arrested. Most had only tenuous links to the movement, such as having an account at a Gülenist bank. Some appear to have been tortured in custody, the Economist said. Even though many of these people might have little links to Gülenists, and appear to be victimized by a brutal crackdown, there is still no sympathy for the group or for its leader due to their past record, it said. What is more, the most, even Erdoğan’s bitter foes see Erdoğan as the lesser evil, as “no one helped Erdoğan cripple Turkey’s democracy more than Gülen and his sect.”

Erdoğan’s government has accused Gülenists of orchestrating the coup attempt which killed over 250 people. There were several Gülen-connected figures caught in the proximity of the Akıncı air base, where the coup was executed, on the morning after. Out of five leading Gülenist figures caught in the vicinity, Adil Öksüz was known as the coup coordination’s top Gülenist figure, but he was released under the fog of coup morning. Öksüz’s whereabouts are still unknown to this day. Known as a long time Gülen fellow, Öksüz was in the United States along with another leading Gülenist, likely visiting Gülen himself, mere days before the attempt.

According to the Economist, Gülenists took over the entirety of some Turkish state institutions, with Erdoğan’s encouragement. “By one estimate, Gülenists held 30% of top jobs in the judiciary and 50% in the police,” the U.K.-based magazine said.

The Economist wrote that the group, with Gülen’s approval, “orchestrated the arrests of thousands of Kurdish activists, army officers, secular types and journalists.” Security analyst Gareth Jenkins told the Economist’s Charlemagne that “Gülenists played a decisive role in enabling Erdoğan to consolidate power.”

“No one, however, is worse placed to preach about the dangers of Gülenism than Mr Erdoğan, whose government was once joined at the hip with the movement. By locking up everyone linked to it, including lawyers, teachers and charity workers, Mr Erdoğan has ditched the rule of law in favour of a vendetta. He has not helped his case by accusing nearly all of his other opponents of treason or terror. “People [in America] might be more receptive to Erdoğan’s side of the story if he had more credibility,” says Gönül Tol of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think-tank. “But he has none.”