The Kemalist viewpoint in Turkey perceives the Gulen movement as a menace that had served as an instrument of President Tayyip Erdogan’s quest for power. This outlook suggests that if it weren’t for Gulenists’ aid, Erdogan would have faded out a long time ago.
The aforementioned talking point has found its way to the columns of acclaimed global media outlets.
Recently, The Economist published an article that exhibits the same bias.
The Gulen Movement is not the only group in Turkey that had incurred the wrath of the Kemalist nationalism.
The country’s liberals, who supported Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) in the past when they seemed committed to upholding democracy, had their fair share of vilification.
It’s a fact that the Gulen movement has endorsed AKP’s policies for a long time. However, it’s crucial to take the AKP’s stance during this support into account before sitting in judgment. Having it the other way around would be distorting the facts.
The Gulen movement’s open support for the AKP entails a period from 2002, the year it came to power, to 2011. Then-US President Barack Obama paid his first visit overseas to Turkey in the same period.
Then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of Turkey’s most vocal supporters in its EU membership path.
European Union, together with all its entities, supported the Erdogan government.
The core supporter of the AKP was Turkey’s intelligentsia.
Democrats, many Kurds, the representatives of Armenian and Jewish minorities also supported it. Even some members of those minorities served as AKP members of the parliament.
Setting the EU criteria as goals to be met, for the most of AKP’s first decade, it enjoyed the support of a broad coalition of different ideas and factions. The Gulen movement and some other camps in the country supported it for the sake of the vision of promoting democratic values.
Prominent people from different political and social fractions took part in the AKP’s rule as a coalition of democracy supporters.
Reform bills voted in the parliament implementing the regulations to make Turkey closer to the EU membership were supported widely by democratic countries.
However, Erdogan took a step towards authoritarianism after the constitutional referendum of 2010 when he had more than %50 support for the first time.
Instead of considering that he obtained this massive support with the help of democrats, Gulen movement, liberals, and Kurdish people, Erdogan preferred reading the polls differently, thinking that he is not obliged to share power with the same stakeholders anymore.
Initially, he brushed aside people from different political backgrounds in his party. He chose Ahmet Davutoglu, a hard-core supporter of the idea of Neo-Ottomanism, as the key person in the party.
He implemented new regulations making the Turkish intelligence MIT as powerful as intelligence bodies of Baath regimes.
Dismissals of people from the state institutions started within the same period over affiliation with the Gulen movement.
AKP gradually alienated liberals and democrats, resulting in those social factions, including the Gulen movement withdrew their support from the party.
Eventually, all these factions have become “enemies” for Erdogan.
To sum up, the Gulen movement, liberals, democrats, and Kurds supported AKP when Erdogan’s government was heading towards the west and received full support from the western democracies.
It’s not the previous supporters of AKP when it had a democratic vision and practices to criticize but rather the supporters of Erdogan after he declared his one-man rule after 2011.
For example, Republican People’s Party (CHP) said “yes” to AKP’s constitutional amendment concerning the impunity of lawmakers, which led to the arrest of the pro-Kurdish party’s leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksedag along with many other deputies.
Demirtas’ arrest was one of the most significant breaking points in Turkish democracy in recent years. The main opposition Kemalist party CHP cooperated with Erdogan, who declared his one-man rule regime.
Opposition parties CHP and IYI supported all the bills in the parliament, authorizing Erdogan to use military force in Syria targeting Kurds.
Kemalists were the leading supporter of mass military operations in 2015, reducing the Kurdish-majority cities to rubble.
CHP did not even appeal to a higher court regarding a regulation giving impunity to public officers for their activities during the state of emergency and protecting the torturers. Therefore torture can not be tried in today’s Turkey.
CHP, nationalist parties IYI and MHP acted with AKP to implement all regulations aiming to oppress the Gulen movement and Kurds, closure of media outlets, appointing state-sponsored trustees to the municipalities run by Kurdish mayors, confiscating dissidents’ properties.
We need to question the support to AKP today after AKP turned out to be a one-man rule more than the support given when the party resembled a coalition of democrats before 2010.
Accusation: State institutions were under the control of the Gulen movement
Naturally, people close to the movement have their place in the state institutions just like any other Turkish citizen.
Setting up groups’ cadre in public offices or nepotism is undoubtedly unacceptable.
However, the Gulen movement’s existence is 95% based on civil society rather than the state institutions.
Many critics claiming the Gulen movement is not transparent has been bringing it forward by losing touch with Turkey’s reality.
Almost all people and groups excluded by the Turkish state from the list of “persona grata” have had to hide their backgrounds and affiliations.
The primary human source of the Gulen movement is the education segment. People working in this field are registered as employees at the schools, courses, and institutions that are known to be affiliated with the movement.
The majority of them were the members of a union close to the movement.
Therefore, they are all registered and transparent.
The very morning after the July 15 coup attempt, the Turkish government canceled the licenses of 20.000 teachers, subsequently dismissing some other 50.000 teachers from their posts.
Transparency has been a heavy toll for those targeted by the mass purge.
Ankara also closed down official schools, courses, educational institutions, and universities shut down and banned several publication houses, newspapers, magazines, tv stations over links to the movement.
The Turkish state played havoc with the Gulen movement from its “transparent” side. 500.000 people out of 600,000 who have been prosecuted are those in public life.
Around 100.000 people were dismissed from the public duties and prosecuted, which is 1/46 of 4 million 600 thousand public officers of Turkey. Thus, claiming that Gulenists took control of all the state institutions is nothing more than a false allegation.
On the other hand, it’s important to underline that the Gulen movement is one of the groups with the highest level of education in Turkey.
%99 of its followers have university degrees. Considering that half of Turkey’s population are primary school graduates, it’s understandable for a group with high education to be seen as more active in the public and private sectors.
Scapegoating the Gulenists for the arrest of Kemalist military officers
Some also claim that several Kemalist military officers and journalists were arrested before 2010 by judges close to the movement.
Kemalist soldiers have done all coups in Turkey’s history. Around 300 military officers faced trial over coup-planning charges before 2010. Considering Turkey’s coup history, it’s not odd that military officers arrested or faced trial were Kemalists.
Let alone those prosecuted soldiers’ coup plans have been proved with concrete shreds of evidence.
Erdogan government released these military officers and appointed some of them to sensitive positions not because they were proven innocent but to ally with them to destroy the Gulen movement.
The Economist article miscalculates the number of Gulen movement-affiliated people in the police by claiming that half of the police officers was Gulenists.
The number of personnel in the police is 293,000. Only 33,000 people have been dismissed from the police over alleged links to the movement, which is 10%.
1/3 of those have been acquitted. They proved that they had no connection to the movement, but the government has not reinstated them back to their duties.
No doubt, some wrongdoings took place in the trial procedures between 2006-2012. But at the same time, it should be kept in mind that those years when allegedly the Gulen group was effective in the judiciary was the period the European Union gave the highest numbers to the Turkish judiciary.
Another bias: All hate Gulenists in Turkey
Another bias about Turkey is all factions hate the Gulen movement in the country. The movement is a demonized group in today’s Turkey. People are aware of the consequences of being a Gulenist or sympathizing with any.
Torture, confiscation of properties, years of imprisonment, labeling, and preventing them from finding a job are some of the consequences.
Considering this, it is not possible in Turkey to say anything positive about the Gulen group.
Melek Cetinkaya, an activist, was arrested last month after she said on a TV show that she had some Gulenist neighbors, and they were good people.
Based on the consequences, no one can speak out anything positive about Gulenists without being persecuted in Erdogan’s Turkey.
The educational institutes affiliated with the Gulen movement were better-than-average and were educating hundreds of thousands of students each year. It’s out of the question that the group had a close connection with society.
In the past, the Turkish state demonized Armenians, Greeks, Alawites, and Kurds with the same methods; people had to hide their backgrounds and opinions for years.
Only 50 years after the oppression of Greeks, someone could say in public that they had Greek neighbors, and they were good people.
It’s quite unlikely that the same sentence could be said about the Gulen movement publicly in Turkey any sooner.