Kemal Gülen is a well-known Turkish journalist, anchor and lawyer who has for many years made a name for himself in the world of broadcast media, especially as a newscaster. Not a single a day passed without him on the Samanyolu TV screens and viewers not inclining their ears at his delivery of the most critical news. Although he is prominently known as Fethullah Gulen Hodjaefendi‘s nephew, Kemal Gülen has been appreciated for his successful journalism and works in media.
In the wake of the July 15 bloody coup attempt, Kemal Gülen’s life, like everyone else’s, changed completely as he was compelled to live in exile and expulsion in his homeland. While he was at home with his family, unknown assailants tried to arson his residence, and mounted attacks on their lives if they ever had the opportunity. Being a participant of the Hizmet Movement and a nephew of Fethullah Gülen, who was wanted by the government for execution back then, jeopardized Kemal Gülen’s situation even more. After a spell of temporary jobs in Canada, where he settled, he utilized an opportunity and returned to the media business, which he has known best. Although he is a victim himself, he endeavors to be the voice, breath and hope of other victims in the protracted aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt.
We talked to him about the victimized people carrying the surname ‘Gülen’, his relatives and more in this interview, and asked him what kind of a responsibility it is to carry this surname in such an agonizing period.
Now, I leave you, our esteemed readers, with this article:
Mr. Kemal Gülen, thank you for consenting to give an interview to Politurco. The severe human rights violations and the grievances originating from the collapse of the rule of law in Turkey have been among the most discussed issues during the last six years. Numerous people and social groups from all walks of life have been victimized during this process. Many affectees – such as the cadets, the public personnel dismissed via the Decree Laws, and imprisoned journalists – make the news and occupy frequent discussions…. Yet another group seems not to be on the agenda much. There is hardly anyone in Turkey who carry the surname ‘Gülen’ and has not been arrested. We would like to talk to you about this.
Kemal Gulen as a TV journalist and Fethullah Gulen’s nephew
Can you introduce yourself before we move on to our interview? What is your kinship with Mr. Gülen?
I was born in Erzurum in 1969. I am the son of the late Sıbgatullah Gülen. He is a younger brother of Fethullah Gülen Hodjaefendi. I and Hodjaefendi cherish an uncle-nephew relationship. In 1980, I moved from Erzurum to Izmir. I moved to Istanbul in 1987, and enrolled in the Istanbul University School of Law in 1988. After graduating from the university, I applied for a media position in the up-and-coming Samanyolu TV. Until its closure, I worked in different positions in the Samanyolu Broadcasting Corporation. I anchored in the prime-time news bulletin for seventeen years. I also worked in other divisions, such as documentaries and radio programs… During that phase, I assumed production and management duties.
After the forceful closure of the Samanyolu TV and its subsidiaries, I reverted to my original profession and practiced law. Soon after the closure, when the vicious July 15 coup attempt struck, I could not stay in my own house for a while because they tried to torch it. The authorities placed us on wanted lists. There was almost nowhere left to hide.
I arrived in Canada three months after the dastardly incident. I have been in Canada ever since.
Soon after my arrival here, I worked as an Uber driver. I also painted and whitewashed buildings, indoors and outdoors. I’ve been back in television for the last two years. We had first prepared programs on the Raindrops TV. I recently started presenting the prime-time news bulletin on the MC TV. Besides these, I also host the programs of several non-governmental organizations on YouTube.
This is how I continue my services and life.
They tried to burn our house down
If I’m not mistaken, you’ve just said your house was set on fire…?
Yes. After the July 15 incident, on the night connecting July 15 to 16, I was at home with my family. We were deeply worried due to the events and were thinking, “What will happen next?”. Suddenly, the neighbors phoned and said, “Smoke’s rising from your lawn!” It was 12 midnight. When we went downstairs, we saw the building had been set on fire from the first floor. Our residence was on the third floor. You may guess our condition back then. We thought, ‘If we call the police and if they arrive, they will interrogate us, not the one who torched our place’. It was such a situation that had we called the fire brigade, they could have simply shrugged and said, ‘Oh, you’re right there! Burn on, then!’ This being the case, we teamed with the kids and extinguished the fire by our own means, spraying it with garden hoses. We eventually realized we were no longer safe in our own house. I had to move to some place and my family to another safe place.
You said you couldn’t even call the police or the fire brigade while arson is a severe offense in an ordinary country. Do you think they tried to torch your house because you are a well-known person? Could you get any information by your own means about the arsonists?
Honestly, I haven’t looked into this subject in great detail. Yet, I can say this: Our neighbors knew us well. We would have iftar dinners and midnight meals together. I think no one in our neighborhood would commit such a disgrace. Thankfully, the neighbors themselves informed us that our house was on fire. Back then, many prominent citizens’ houses and shops were torched and looted. In the first week after the coup attempt, vengeful mobs either smashed the windows or looted the shops of several well-known citizens. This was why we could not avert that. I don’t know the arsonists… When the rule of law will be restored, we will settle the case through legal means or else we will settle accounts with the perpetrators in the Hereafter. We couldn’t go to the police and say, ‘They set fire to our house’. Had we done that, the officers would have said, “Oh, we were just looking for you,” and would have arrested us there and then without even caring about the house on fires. You know, a dark period in the contemporary Turkish history was marked with target killings and unsolved murders, and an unknown arsonist attempted to set our house on fire. I say this because the incident has never been entered in any police record. Fortunately, we had installed a CCTV camera at home. We saw a man escaping after setting the building on fire. That’s how we got a footage of the arsonist. When President Erdogan made a baseless and unwarranted claim right in the first minutes of the coup attempt without referring to any legitimate or judicial investigation, saying, “Members of such-and-such community carried out the coup attempt!” I was convinced they had pre-planned every part of that dastardly attempt. I mean, who could turn so hostile to Kemal Gülen or anyone else within a single day for setting their house on fire? Clearly, the perpetrators had paved a psychological groundwork, and the triggermen who would commit all those murders and crimes had also been indoctrinated and guided. While these are my opinions, it was later revealed, through the records and documents revealed by journalist friends and valuable colleagues like you, how the weapons had been distributed before the attempt among the perpetrators who had known about the coup beforehand and carried out preparations.
During that blood-curdling milieu across the country, it is admirable your neighbors phoned and warned that your house was on fire.
I have never complained about my neighbors. I do not complain about them today. We had very cordial relations. We haven’t seen one another for a long time, but I still remember those neighbors with beautiful memories.
Hodjaefendi‘s relations with his relatives
Before we talk about the people with the surname ‘Gülen’, I would like to ask you this: We have observed and know that Mr. Gülen has always been solemn about his relatives and has adopted a principled stance towards not favoring any of them. From this viewpoint, what would you like to say about Mr. Gülen’s relatives and his relations with them?
Now, I may briefly tackle this under two headings: First, Hodjaefendi is very meticulous about these values, commanded by our religion and advocated by humanity as ‘respecting the rights of kinship’. When it comes to the rights of the kith and kin – for instance, our ancestors arrived in Erzurum from Ahlat two or three hundred years ago – Hodjaefendi always used to say, “Please go out and check if we have any of our relatives there?” I mean, if there were people like grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He used to say, “If there are some in need; host them, take care of them, and take care of their children,” and in this respect, I have never seen someone who observed the rights of kins more than him. He puts forth an effort beyond all appreciation. He has always encouraged us. He used to say, “There are some who migrated to different cities in Turkey during the mobilizations ordered in the World War 1 and World War 2. Make sure to contact them. Maybe they need to keep in touch.” Let me also point out, ‘meeting their needs’ does not mean ‘taking some money from an institution of the Hizmet Movement to them or registering plots or buildings in their names, or doing this or that’. Everyone is already standing on their own two feet. What this meant was ‘allot some of your own means and establish contacts with such distant relatives. Let them get acquainted with the institutions of the Hizmet Movement, and if they have children unable to attend any school, let’s help them receive education. Let them grow up in the residences established by the Hizmet Movement and come forth as a generation with good morals.” This is how, besides all his commitments, he considered it a duty to take care of everyone.
Besides his relatives – he had, for example, siblings, six boys and two girls – none have been top-ranked, well-paid or highly-regarded in any institution founded by the Hizmet Movement. So, you cannot see next to Hodjaefendi one of his brothers chairing a unit of the Hizmet Movement. You see none of his relatives. A few, for example, my older brother, who is imprisoned nowadays, was the director of the Yamanlar College. When we, as relatives, convened to proclaim ‘Let’s protect Hodjaefendi’ following the anti-corruption and anti-graft operations on December 17-25, 2013 and the critical events that ensued, we were around 1000-1200 as his relatives in those meetings. 3 or 5 among those rose to a position in some institutions by dedicated effort. Hodjaefendi has never adopted the way of gratifying his relatives through distribution of jobs, positions or moneys.
In his own words, Hodjaefendi would say, “I am an Umari“. Saying ‘I am an Umari‘ is this: Illustrious Caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) did not even recognize his grandson when it came to state affairs. He always kept his relatives away from the state institutions. He introduced such an administrative system. Likewise, Hodjaefendi facilitated his relatives’ religiosity, devotion and education by spending from his own money, and there was never a thing like “Induct these people to the Hizmet institutions and give them jobs”. They can show no one as a witness saying, “Hodjaefendi demanded such a thing”. He is this much meticulous. He used to say, “Hizmet is so innocent and pure that it does not bear to carry even the slightest stain. Such an act casts a shadow on a Movement favored by multitudes.” He once said, “You may be working in an institution by a twist of fate, and some people may work and rise to a position; you know, this is due to the nature of the job. Yet, you can obtain a position by ten times more working for one. Otherwise, your situation may be misunderstood.”
The core values of the Hizmet Movement are not based on nepotism. The deserving persons are assigned as much scholarship or authority as they deserve. For example, I was staying in a Hizmet-affiliated dormitory in the 80s. Sometimes the money my father sent for my expenses would not meet my dorm fees. Hodjaefendi would ask, “Did you pay for the dorm?” I would reply, “No, I could not pay it in full,” and he would give me 50 liras. I would take that and hand it to the dorm management. The dorm managers could have said, “These are Hodjaefendi‘s nephews”. They could have said, “These can stay for free”. Yet, they didn’t. In no institution… My brothers and cousins attended the Hizmet-affiliated private schools and tutoring centers, and none of us attended for free. No influence or reference would work either. Whatever process everyone was subjected to, we too were subjected to the same. I educated my children in the Hizmet-affiliated colleges and while that was so, no one said “You are Kemal Gülen. You are Hodjaefendi‘s nephew. Let’s educate your children in this school for free.” No, that never happened. Since the managers of the institutions knew Hodjaefendi‘s meticulousness so well, they would respect us, but they would also hand us the monthly tuition bills, saying “You owe this much.” No one can beat Hodjaefendi in this respect. I mean, it is hard to show a second person who takes care of his relatives but keeps them away from preference and nepotism.
Here, you have generally expressed his stance, his expectations from you and his understanding on this matter. What kind of relationship is this? Could you elaborate a little more with examples?
Hodjaefendi takes care of his relatives as much as he can. He asks the people I have mentioned about their conditions well-being, without considering they are near or far relatives. He frequently sent greetings to the families and children of these relatives. At times, he offered a treat to them. I mean, he touched their lives. The relative of a relative or the grandson of a son-in-law, he tried to reach them all indiscriminately. You know, we need to look at it this way as well: Besides respecting the sanctity of kinship, this should also be considered from the viewpoint of the care for the human resource. Here’s a human resource and they need to be contacted. If this connection can be established through respect for kinship, that should be done so. If there’s a way to reach in another manner, doing that so … Relatives are human too. Amidst his busy schedule in writing, conversations, books, seminars, conferences, sermons, and so on, he would contact them as much as he could.
All these people, who may be considered his brothers, nephews and grandchildren, are pleased with Hodjaefendi. So, did they get extra compliments? No, they were not complimented. You know, we have relatives from the village, some of whom consider themselves relatives… There are his uncle’s children, their children and even their children. Perhaps half of these relatives have never seen Hodjaefendi in person. Yet, Hodjaefendi somehow touched their lives with a smile and he touched them with greetings, and they said, “Hodjaefendi leads us for he is the eldest of our family” and they agreed, saying, “No matter if something will happen to us because of our allegiance to him or the thorns along this path”. This is because they have trusted Hodjaefendi. They know Hodjaefendi does not get involved in anything evil, commits nothing evil and does not allow it to be committed. He thinks of only goodness. And all of relatives are satisfied with these aspects. At least, the people I know. I am over fifty, I had contact with most relatives, and there was no one who said, “Hodjaefendi makes me uneasy just the way a rose does” or anyone who said “Hodjaefendi harmed me in such-and-such way” or “he neglected me”. I have not seen or heard of a relative say so. Today, despite all the years passed since the coup and even with nearly seventy or eighty relatives in prison, they do not say to him, “It is you who have inflicted us with such conditions. We have been in prison like this for three years or four years”. Even in confinement, they pray for Hodjaefendi saying, “O Allah! Bestow him good health, vigor and well-being”.
This affection and love is the outcome of the relations Hodjaefendi established with his relatives.
Carrying the surname ‘Gülen’ in Turkey
As you mentioned and we follow in the media, why do you think people with the surname ‘Gülen’ are in the crosshairs? Do you think this is mostly due to the pressures the Hizmet Movement has suffered in recent years, or is it because of the surname and because they are related to Mr. Gülen? Or both?
I had just arrived in Izmir when the 1980 coup took place. It was hard to be a participant of the Hizmet Movement back then. Naturally, being a relative of his was also hard. The authorities asked about him in those days. I still remember, there was my uncle’s house where my late grandmother lived; The police would enter with their shoes and ask her, “Where is your son?” and they would interrogate her. How often that happened, I lost count. Honestly, my grandmother didn’t know either. Even while he was wanted, Hodjaefendi would come to visit his mother, kiss her hand, receive her prayer and blessings and leave incognito somehow. He paid great attention to the rights of his mother as well. He was wanted by the law enforcement; the police and the gendarmerie frequently called, but he carved opportunities, saying, “Let me go kiss my mother’s hand and receive her prayers”. This is very valuable.
In the past, it was tough in this sense. I still remember it from my childhood. There were pictures of Hodjaefendi on wanted posters. For example, they printed his photo side by side with terrorists on posters at bus stops, they blamed him for a crime like reactionary activities, which I did not know what that was. Sometimes we used to worry while looking at the posters, “I wonder if I should look intently? If someone sees me looking at Hodjaefendi, will they notice and do something to me?” I used to hesitate so. Being a relative of a wanted person is tough. Don’t they say today, “If they are wanted, that means they sure have committed a crime”? Come on! If someone is guilty, what would his or her relatives have to do with a personal offense? Yet, out of the ordinary, this is not the case. It is possible to see today’s photo on that day in the past: “If someone is guilty, all their relatives are also guilty!”
Relatives suffer the same thing today. They suffer because they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with and support the Hizmet Movement and because they did not sell Hodjaefendi and not hurl bad words behind him despite all the grievances. This is how we had to shutter our homes, because the authorities used him as an excuse to punish us. Our children had to go abroad; some are already in prisons. Although they put each one of them in prisons in the most remote corners of the country, thinking ‘How more can we do harm to these people?’ and dragged the women and children among prisons saying, ‘One week they will be in this city, the next week they will be transferred to another city, then in another city’, no one from our relatives rebelled and did or say anything against public order. They face such a challenge because they are participants of the Hizmet Movement and they lend their shoulders to carry it. Those who inflict these hardships and cruelties do so with an extra effort to torture Hodjaefendi in particular.
You have just stated there is no one of his first-degree relatives in Turkey who is not in prison today. My brother served five years and just got out of prison. He came out, but there is still a Court of Appeals process or something. Did they commit any crime? No. No one is guilty of any crime, but these relatives of Hodjaefendi who are not released even though they served their sentences or those who were released and detained once again after the prosecutor’s objection a week later, are oppressed this way to torture Hodjaefendi. “If we do this, he will be shattered.” They try to torture Hodjaefendi by arresting these people, not releasing them after their sentence, releasing them only to arrest them days later, and prosecuting them with hefty sentences. Relatives suffer such hardships.
Other inmates in the same situation as them may be released, but since these people carry the surname ‘Gülen’ – and often their surnames may be different, for example, sons-in-law – those who are related to him and have different surnames are not released. For example, my brother-in-law’s sister is still behind the bars. What does she have to do with this? Here she is still imprisoned because of being the sister of a member of the Gülen family. I can tell you this, this lady has nothing to do with anything. She is a tailor. She neither studied nor worked in Hizmet-affiliated schools. With such oppression, the authorities think “If we persecute his relatives, we will torture Hodjaefendi’.
Of course, Hodjaefendi is sad; he grieves and weeps … He does everything he can, but he never says, “They torture my relatives; my nephews and brothers; I should bow down to these oppressors.” About the path he had assumed, his siblings already said to him at the beginning, ‘Walk on! Yours is the path and we are behind you!”
Support given by Hodjaefendi‘s relatives
As the Gülen family, you made a collective statement after the December 17-25, 2003 anti-corruption operations and the subsequent incidents. Can you talk about this?
In the 90s, Hizmet was a shining star in Turkey. It was so natural for almost everyone, including all ruling and opposition parties, to attend any function organized by the Hizmet Movement! For example, Hodjaefendi met the prime ministers Mr. Turgut Özal, Mrs. Tansu Çiller and Mr. Bülent Ecevit back then. Ministers, businessmen… I mean, people who visited the United States to meet with Hodjaefendi or fit in the same snapshot frame next to his friends in his mission valued that so much. Back then, being from his family was not such an obvious cause of grievance. I mean, we all believe in Allah, what else can we claim? Back then, we encountered many people who visited the prominent representatives of the Hizmet Movement and said, ‘Please convey our greetings and respects to Hodjaefendi. If he orders us anything, just let us know,” or something of this sort. Hodjaefendi would not disrespect this trust. If someone conveyed a greeting, he would respond with a gift and say, “You take such-and-such gift from us to them”.
The tension, gradually rose right from the phase of post-December 17-25 operations in 2013 and even before that due to the incumbent government’s political pressure on the Hizmet Movement, also showed its effects on the relatives. Since then, among relatives, there are people who were dismissed from their jobs, who were not promoted, and teachers who were displaced from their homes and home country. For example, two female students staying in a Hizmet-affiliated dormitory in a city were arrested because they were related to Hodjaefendi. They’re still in prison since then.
The provincial authorities know Hodjaefendi‘s relatives. Politicians knew them too. Everyone knows his relatives when one visits Korucuk village or Erzurum or other cities. How? These people served together for seven or eight years. There were Turkish Olympiads, relatives attended the galas held with the participation of politicians and bureaucrats. There, these relatives were introduced to those officials by someone saying, “Look, let’s introduce you to Hodjaefendi‘s relatives, brothers, etc.”. Allow me to also say this: None of our relatives sought a means to benefit from such acquaintances. They did not say, “I met the mayor. People like him favor everyone. Let me make a benefit out of my relationship with Hodjaefendi.” For example, my aunt, Hodjaefendi‘s sister, lived in a rented house for most her life. My father and uncle lived in their respective modest rented houses, and passed away there.
What happened? After the December 17-25, 2013 phase, the powers that be increasingly abused such acquaintances. Doing so, they desired to render Hodjaefendi into a public target. Hodjaefendi‘s brothers, two brothers, used to work in the Çağlayan Printing House. One of them, Uncle Kutbettin, has been in solitary confinement for years. He got sick, was released shortly, had an operation two or three months ago, and was taken away again to be placed in solitary confinement. No matter if he needs to be constant cared and supervised… However, the majority of people like him should be assigned to prison wards after some time. Did this happen? No. The officials engage in atrocity saying, “We will keep you here because of your brother and torture him spiritually! You should be uneasy about this too!”
Hodjaefendi had a brother who passed away. For Allah’s sake, someone took care of his funeral service and buried him. This uncle of mine did not go to prison, but he died while hiding incognito. The officials would have tortured him had they caught him otherwise … He contracted cancer twice. He had several ailments. While he was treatment for those ailments, we heard he had passed away. Someone took care of his funeral and buried him on our behalf. Meanwhile, you cannot visit and say anything to anyone in state institutions even for reasons such as exercising the deceased’s constitutional rights, which are normally restricted, or because of your concerns to report the dear departed – although the officials have their duties to address these issues. If we visit the state departments now, the death report for someone with the surname Gülen and Hodjaefendi‘s brother may not be issued, even if requested. Such a milieu of rancor and anger in the society makes us worried to think “Let alone issuing a death certificate, will they even dare the confiscate the mortal remains?”. Because the officials did such things and there are examples. You have to bury your dead incognito and you are worried they may detain the deceased. When this is the case with the death of our uncle – I have been far away, may Allah bestow him an elevated place in Paradise – I also do not know where he was buried.
Yet Hodjaefendi does not proclaim this to the world and say, ‘Here is what they have been doing to us!’ even when his relatives are tortured. Hodjaefendi suffers this experience profoundly. However, just as he does not pave the way for his relatives in economic matters, he does not make such grievances an extra agenda – I am saying my own interpretation here; I have heard nothing like that from Hodjaefendi, but – as I understand it, not to lead his cohorts say “Well, he’s more upset with his relatives” or “He wept the most for his relatives”, he is careful and composed as far as I can gather. Yet, he has always been sad and he has been weeping; he has been scorched more than any of us.
After December 17-25, 2013, this phase affected many relatives. For example, a retired person, they imprisoned him too. There were children of one of his uncles who were teachers somewhere – in a private college or tutoring center, they imprisoned them. Why? ‘These are of Gülen kind. These are his relatives, so we have to detain them!” I don’t know what kind of revenge this is.
For example, they have also been subjected to segregation in mosques, especially after December 17-25, 2013. My late father would regularly attend the mosque, the same as the electorates of the ruling party and the opposition CHP, but my father always said people tried to stay away from him in prayer ranks. These were people who would earlier ask him for a loan for their children and saying, “Can you help me?” If my father died, it was because of these people. My father used to fume at these things. I mean, he did not die just from work. You go out into the street; everyone knows my father, because he is Hodjaefendi‘s brother. This applies to my uncles the same. Suddenly they were portrayed as unknown and hostile people. I mean, it is a tough situation to live, and those who can live are now either in prison or abroad.
Here is an Islamic scholar received by the world through his knowledge, guidance, action and services. He is respected by the adherents of various faiths and is even studied academically, and some of his works are taught as textbooks in universities. Hodjaefendi was targeted during the December 17-25 phase. Here is a person pelted with stones as if he was the devil himself, and on the other side are his relatives. While almost everyone applauded him until that day, saying “Let’s make an appointment with this Respected Teacher,” and they did this either with the expectation of success or maybe with good intentions, one day came and they pelted him.
Now stop, crowds! Once you were ready to be a slave and attendant at this man’s doorstep. Why do you do this to a person you once ran after saying, “Let’s queue at his door and receive his blessings”? Hodjaefendi is not incapable of countering or responding the stones thrown at him; yet, his kindness, perhaps the mission of service he has set for himself, prevents him from saying anything to people. Someone in this situation needed someone else to defend him. We said, ‘Writers can do this, lawyers can do this, but we, as his relatives, have to do something.’ Hodjaefendi is the eldest of our family, but everyone out there cursed him every day with unspeakable insults and curses. As if this was not hurting enough, he was constantly slandered as a “false prophet” and many more. These are things he strongly rejects. People curse and slander him so viciously.
We came together as his family and relatives, and said, “At least, we should proclaim we are there for him”. In our statement, we said, “If you are going to do something to him, you must first trample our corpses before moving forth.” We said, “You must first brace our dignity and selves, but don’t do this to Hodjaefendi, a Turkish Muslim scholar who is our elder family member and a world-renowned Turkish scholar.” Thankfully, our relatives in both Istanbul and Erzurum responded positively to our invitation, and even people from other cities attended this meeting by saying, “We are also Hodjaefendi‘s relatives.” Some were, for example, the daughter-in-law of a relative of Hodjaefendi or the grandson of a son-in-law. I am always proud of each relative, including those with whom we have smaller kinship ties. I offer my gratitude. We went out and made a statement like this together.
We thought maybe the public opinion or the media would say, “Yes, they are telling the truth”. You know, we wished to ascertain our side, We said strongly we were with Hodjaefendi and we would not sell him short. I’m not saying it much knowingly, but I wonder what did the officers offer to some from the relatives, you know, they might have made offers like, “Go out and say so and so against Hodjaefendi‘. Yet, the relatives have kept their word they gave that day. They still stand by Hodjaefendi. They were and are imprisoned for this stance. These people, regardless of whether they were women, children, sick or elderly, were arrested and imprisoned. Nowadays, about 70 near or distant relatives are in prisons. If we count those who served their sentences, there are more than 100 relatives affected by the victimization.
There are elderly people among these. For example, they imprisoned 80-year-old Uncle M.T., my aunt’s son-in-law who had difficulty walking, regardless of his innocence, old age and ailments. Finally, when he almost completely could not walk, they released him. Yet, none of the relatives rescinded their kinship because of the persecution.
Hodjaefendi has 80 relatives in prison
You said nearly 80 relatives of Mr. Gülen are in prison. Are there any other examples you can provide?
For example, among Hodjaefendi’s siblings and their children, I have a physically-challenged brother who has not been detained in Turkey, and almost everyone else is either in prison, hiding incognito or are abroad. I do not know the whereabouts of those who have been incognito. Some served three or four years before their release.
Again, the story of my uncle Kutbettin and his son is agonizing. Just after the coup, my uncle’s son who was about to graduate from the university was taken into custody during a raid on his friend’s house he was visiting in Gaziantep. This cousin of mine has neither worked in a Hizmet-affiliated institution nor held a position. Even so, it’s not a crime, but he was arrested on charges of his friends who claimed they had tea together during their university years. He is still in prison. I mean, on what grounds can a university student be arrested? Hard to understand. For six or seven years… His father was also arrested during a visit he made in Izmir around the same time, by raiding the house he was visiting.
For example, my uncle Kazım is 80-90 percent disabled. One of his legs is missing from the waist down. He lives with a prosthetic foot. Since I opened my eyes to this world, I have observed my uncle Kazim wearing a prosthetic leg. He is the son of my father’s and also Hodjaefendi‘s aunt. Being a theologian and a man of letters, most of today’s politicians know him well. They imprisoned him, he remained in prison for 4 years. He has a disability report of 80%, this man barely makes a living with his own means; how can he survive alone in a cell? How can he spend his life? Under normal circumstances had it been an ordinary criminal, the officials would have let him go. He is disabled, I mean. Since he is Hodjaefendi‘s relative, in my opinion, they persistently try to torture Hodjaefendi by keeping him behind bars.
‘Gülen’ surname-holders are not given legal rights
Are these people with the surname ‘Gülen’ given the opportunity to exercise all their rights in the legal sense? Do you think there are cases of fair trial?
This is one of the most important issues. Many may have had difficulty in retaining a lawyer, especially in cases related to the Hizmet Movement, and the lawyers may have demanded high fees. There certainly is a market for this. This is a tough ordeal for us three or five degrees more. I have witnessed so many examples: Lawyers look intently when my close relatives with their surname ‘Gülen’ file their applications. If the usual retainer is ten thousand Turkish liras, the price after the surname suddenly goes up to forty thousand liras. Why? A very risky surname! Is the risk only for you? So what? What do you call risky? Will they imprison you? When the last name is Gülen, the lawyers immediately double the prices. Often, family members had such a hard time retaining lawyers! Sometimes they could find no one because lawyers were afraid, and sometimes they could retain no one because the lawyers wanted high retainers.
My wife too was put on trial. Just imagine! The lawyers started the price ‘negotiations’ from $100,000 to $120,000. They later dropped to $20,000, but these are still huge sums. You know what Nasreddin Hodja said about such issues, “Brother, you either do not know how to count or you have never been beaten!’ What is all that money? They think the Gülen family – in their own words, of course – “swept the coffers clean and we, as lawyers, will milk the money from them”. Well, consider the places where these people live. The money in their bank accounts is obvious. It’s obvious how much monthly salaries they receive. How can they give all that money? We couldn’t pay, of course…
My brother Selahaddin was abducted from Kenya and illegally deported to Turkey. We could not retain a lawyer for him in Turkey. The ones we found started by asking retainers like $40,000. I mean, this boy is not guilty. We said, “At least, attend the first hearing.” They immediately say “No!” Fortunately, a lawyer agreed and we settled on a reasonable retainer. Finding and retaining a lawyer is so difficult.
What other grievances are in the overall judicial system?
I don’t think the judges who see the Gülen surname are impartial. It was said to my sister in court: “You have nothing in your file to be prosecuted, but I have to retain you in prison for some more.” Why do you keep someone inside if you have nothing against them? Sure, none of the imprisoned Hizmet participants has, but why do you place people in prisons for nothing? Whenever a member of the Gülen family is released, the media – who needs to be branded as sinful here and I will grab them by the collar in the Hereafter; I have colleagues and friends among them, I will settle accounts with them in the Hereafter – makes big print headlines: “Gülen’s Nephew Released!” I mean, they are questioning the courts, “How dare do you release them?” You are a journalist, does this stance suit you? Look closely, what’s wrong with the man you are incriminating? Why is he kept in prison, right? The court releases him because they found him not guilty. When the journalists of the regime-tutored media and the well-known pro-regime journalists write these, the politicians and bureaucrats reading those papers get into the mood of “Let’s transfer the judge and the prosecutor!” fearing “Something will happen to them and they will be berated by the chief resident of the Presidential Palace.”
When this is the case, the judges and prosecutors are afraid and, who knows, what else they think but “Let the dust settle no matter if an innocent person remains detained for longer”. Maybe they think the people they’ve sent back to prisons will forgive them! I mean, I do not think judges and prosecutors are free. They decide not through what Atatürk says “with a free mind and with a free conscience”. They continue to do many things, including torture, out of fear. I mean, this will not warrant their salvation and forgiveness in the eyes of Allah and in the eyes of His oppressed servants. Just as lawyers are afraid to take these cases, I can clearly say judges and prosecutors too are afraid. They fear acquitting and releasing the members of the Gülen family. Let them fear God! What crime do kids aged 15-20 have that you put them to trial and demand five or ten years of imprisonment? They worked as teachers somewhere, so what? When the surname is Gülen, the already tough conditions become even tougher.
In the name of hardship, these people have been in prison alone for years. For example, my older brother was confined in a cell for three years. What happens if a person is incarcerated for three years? If not torture, what else is this called? During open visits, there have been cases such as not leaving these people alone, placing guards near them and noting the contents of what is spoken between the inmates and their visitors. The inmates’ privacy is violated throughout. Three children of one relative are imprisoned. The authorities also place each in a prison in a different part of the country, with the urge “How more can we torture these people?” Now which child should this relative visit? This is torture to both the family and the inmates. For such reasons, there is very limited communication with the imprisoned. This leads everyone to experience things in private. Even on the phone, they fear the prospect of phones being tapped and cannot talk at ease. Naturally, even on phone, people cannot share their problems. We have relatives whom we couldn’t talk on the phone for years. They too are worried because eventually the authorities place the transcripts of their phone conversations in front of them and ask, “Why did you say such-and-such things to so-and-so?”
My brother Selahaddin was abducted from Kenya
Here I would like to ask you about your brother Selahaddin Gülen. He was abducted from Kenya and forcefully deported to Turkey last year. The world media announced this incident as breaking news, highlighting to their subscribers that Erdogan’s Turkey was engaged in such acts as abduction, with Gülen’s nephew being a recent victim. How did this happen in Kenya? What exactly happened? Can you explain?
My brother was engaged. Due to the current troubles and travel problems, he needed a place where he could get married. He and his bride-to-be could not go to Turkey and marry there, for the reasons I have just mentioned. They had chosen Kenya as the country where they could meet. On his arrival in Kenya, he learnt he was wanted with a Red Notice.
There was a case in Erzurum. A lawsuit filed in 2007 for alleged harassment. A case including 83 people, including Selahaddin and two other relatives carrying the surname ‘Gülen’, on charges of sexually abusing a mentally-challenged girl. My brother was 15 years old back then and his name was shoehorned into the case in the fifth of seven statements. This was a lawsuit filed by the Ergenekonists in 2007 to have Hodjaefendi convicted over his brothers and nephew. The prosecutor, who examined this file that day, decided non-prosecution. The prosecutor said, “There can be no such indictment. There is not even an accusation here!” and this decision was given. It’s obviously a gimmick. A file where names are amassed with the idea “Let’s march on Gülen through his relatives”.
Actually, in the harassment case of the girl who alleged she had been abused, all 83 accused – from her 7-year-old relative to her 70-year-old relative, and even her father and mother – were acquitted. In 2016, they reopened this case. They put forth absurd justifications such as ‘The police obscured the evidence back then’ and ‘New evidence has emerged’. Truth be told, they reopened this case as a bitter fruit of the July 15 coup attempt. Through this they got a Red Notice issued. When Selahaddin reached Kenya, his passport was therefore seized.
Immediately afterwards, we moved the Kenyan judicial authorities and the legal process started. The Kenyan authorities also imposed him to sign and get his attendance marked, which he routinely did at a police station. The Turkish operatives abducted Selahaddin two days before the Kenyan Constitutional Court’s final verdict. Selahaddin had gone to put his signature at a police station with a friend. When they get out of the station and got into their vehicle, they were intercepted by three or four black cars. Both were removed from their vehicle, blindfolded, put in a black vehicle, and driven to an undisclosed place. His friend was released shortly later. After this incident, we could not hear from Selahaddin for 28 days. We didn’t know whether dead or alive. We asked the Kenyan authorities and the court, nobody knew anything. The court verdict announced two days later was also in Selahaddin’s favor. I mean, the verdict read “Selahaddin Gülen cannot be extradited on grounds of inadequate evidence provided by the Turkish government”. This final decision was given but he had been abducted beforehand.
28 days later, we heard someone from the Ankara Provincial Directorate of the Police phoned and said, “Selahaddin Gülen is in our department”. So how did this man ended up in the Security Directorate all the way from Kenya? No reply. Meanwhile, while Erdoğan was giving spoilers with statements like, “We will bring in someone important from abroad,” some journalists like Cem Küçük proudly confessed to their international crimes, saying, “MIT – Turkish National Intelligence Organization – did this and that,” about these abduction operations. Recently my brother had his court hearing and was sentenced. Daily Cumhuriyet spoke the regime discourse. The heading of the news report read, “Gülen’s Nephew Packaged and Flown in from Kenya”. Dear journalist friend, what are you bragging about? Don’t you have any shame? How come journalists can be proud of this?
The police officers who received him in Turkey also said, “Oh, never mind that Erzurum case, nothing will come of it! We utilized it as an excuse.” The case in Ankara is significant; they sentenced him to three years from that. There, a few of his university friends testified, “Selahaddin used to take us to tea and offer us meals”. Unfortunately, he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment because of the lawsuit based on such an empty file.
Pressure continues on the relatives abroad
How do you see the oppression and persecution of people carrying the surname ‘Gülen’ around the world after this incident and these incidents? Do you think people carrying the surname ‘Gülen’ are no longer safe outside Turkey as well?
Now, the government legally demand the extradition of family members from abroad, and they even wanted to have Hodjaefendi extradited from the United States. The U.S. judiciary said, “You don’t have enough evidence,” and rejected the extradition request. If our extraditions are requested by legal means, there is no justification for extradition and the demand is void. However, through some illegal means – especially in the developing countries, Balkan countries and some Asian and African countries – the Hizmet-inspired people are targeted. Just like my brother. There are assignments given by Turkish operatives to such illegal groups. Recently, our journalist colleague Ahmet Dönmez became a victim of such an incident. Journalists like Ekrem Dumanlı and Adem Yavuz Arslan, whom everyone knows in the United States, were also attacked by such groups.
This being the case, even though family members in Western countries experience this uneasiness lesser, the danger exists in other countries, for sure. Again, they do this to demoralize Hodjaefendi and to torture him. This is how they think they will win. There is always this rush and anxiety. Imagine, in the United States, some fanatic types showed up outside the compound where Hodjaefendi is staying, and protested him with insults. Among them were people in journalistic guise. For these reasons; yes, we are concerned. But does this hinder our services? No. Everyone continues to serve.
Considering the grievances experienced by people carrying the surname ‘Gülen’, it can be seen a group of people have been consciously and deliberately suppressed and deprived of their rights to life. Although nothing can be achieved legally in Turkey, collectively or individually, have you had any legal initiatives elsewhere about this issue?
We made no extra attempts. Unlike the overall grievances experienced, such a thought never emerged. Maybe it would help to launch a byline, not in the sense of “We are victims more than the rest”. Yet, if this was an opportunity, it could have been explained with a strong byline to explain the overall grievances affecting the participants of the Hizmet Movement.
We observed that the international community also showed great interest in Mr. Selahaddin’s abduction. All international news agencies conveyed this incident as breaking news, saying, “Gülen’s nephew has been abducted”…
Yes, there is a solemn interest but we did not dwell on the traditional idea of “Can there be a situation which may be misunderstood if a group is separated from the overall victims of the oppression?” But as I mentioned earlier, it would be nice if this was done.
Finally, what would you like to say?
It is an honor to be related to Hodjaefendi and it is difficult to bear it in such a trying period. Yet, I think the relatives passed this test with flying colors. They did not succumb to all that oppression, they did not sell Hodjaefendi. May Allah be pleased with them all.
Mr. Kemal Gülen, thank you for your earnest and candid answers to our questions.