Tag Archives: Gülen movement

Turkey : Turning mayoral elections into Armageddon rehearsal

The battle between Turkish jedis is raging in the midst of pastoral Turkish life. To those who know nothing about Gülen and Erdoğan garlands of blue and orange flags of the two major parties in the streets may seem like decorations for a city festival.

On March 30, such a common affair as local elections in Turkey will turn into a battle between two iconic characters of the XXI century – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen.

None of them will be running that day, but Turkey’s future as well as the future of the whole Middle East – the place where the world’s destiny is determined, no matter how stilted it may sound – depends on how many of Erdoğan’s candidates win elections.

By force of circumstances two Turks turned into symbols for whom one country is too small.

Islamism versus Americanism

Erdoğan, a NATO country leader, took the path of the Political Islam, which is called Islamism in the West and is considered to be violating rules of democracy which ordains that religion must be separated from politics. NATO and the US are fighting against this Islamism in Afghanistan and Iraq and they have been planning to fight against it in Iran for a long time.

Erdoğan strongly supported Palestinians’ struggle and intentionally and publicly damaged his relations with Israel. After 70 years of a strict ban he rebuilt the Mosques, destroyed by the Turkish reformer Kemal. He restored the forbidden azan (calling for prayer) and the right for Turkish women to wear hijab in schools, colleges and government institutions. It was during his time that Islamic organizations emerged in Turkey, filling in the void left by secularization and spreading Islamic teachings.

Gülen is a living denial of Political Islam. He is a retired imam, a son of imam, a writer and a preacher, the founder of the Hizmet movement, which is opening Turkish secular schools all over the world. Generation after generation those schools produce loyal disciples ready to work for the common cause of enlightenment and better life.

Gülen’s followers are present in all social groups; they can be found among government officials, policemen, prosecutors, journalists and sportsmen. They are also quite numerous among Erdoğan’s people. This is not a party or a religious order, they don’t have membership cards, but they are headed towards rational pragmatism, acceptance of the world and peaceful coexistence with all the things of this world.

Gülen used to support Erdoğan. But after the episode with the “Freedom Flotilla” he stopped supporting him, and lately their relations turned into a direct confrontation.

Gülen has been living in the US since 1999. He has strong political ties there. Gülen supports NATO, the USA and Israel. Shortly before the elections he cursed Erdoğan though he never mentioned his name in his address. And, according to many of Erdoğan’s followers, he is responsible for all the anti-Erdoğan scandals and media leaks before the elections.
Erdoğan called Gülen’s followers “a parallel state” and promised to close all their schools in Turkey.

In March, two former US ambassadors to Turkey Morton Abramowits and Eric Edelman published a report which sounds more like a threat. In their report they predicted that Turkey and Erdoğan will collapse and a coup will happen, if Erdoğan continues to persecute Gülen’s followers.

There is no doubt that these threats, coming from people close to neocons, are not just an emotional reaction from disgruntled officials. Turkey is flooded with Syrian refugees and militants, many of whom are directly linked to US intelligence agencies.

As one of Erdogan’s followers pointed out, groups of Syrian militants have been increasingly active inside Turkey, inciting conflict.

For example, on Thursday, March 27, members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) opened fire on police in Ümraniye, leaving three officers wounded. ISIL is one of the groups fighting against both Assad and rebels in Syria.

The relationship between Erdogan and Putin, on the other hand, seems to be developing in a totally different vein. In 2012, Erdogan thanked Putin for supporting Palestine in its bid for observer status in the UN.

In March alone, Erdogan and Putin talked twice because of the Ukrainian events, including one time on the day of the Crimean referendum. Erdogan asked Putin to take care of Crimean Tatars along with ethnic Russians in Crimea. Moscow responded by promising that the Tatars’ rights won’t be infringed. In April Turkish Airlines plans to renew regular flights to Crimea.

Rehearsal for disorder?

In 2008, Foreign Policy called Gülen the world’s most powerful intellectual of the year. In 2013, Time included him into the top 100 most influential persons.

The global media appear to have chosen to side with Gülen, and in doing so they basically follow Gülen’s own rhetoric. Erdoğan is presented as a “dictator” and is denounced for trying to cut off public access to Twitter and Youtube. At the same time, the media have devoted much less attention to General Sisi who has sentenced to death 529 people in Egypt. The intensity of the media coverage looks to suggest that choosing from these two, cutting off Twitter is a sure sign of a tyrant.

“Erdoğan needs 38% to win, and he will make it, he is supported by half the country, by all rural residents,” – says a bright 22-year-old from İskenderun. This young man sleeps 2 hours a day, he’s been working since he was 12, he is currently in college, learning English, and dreaming of making it to a university. He is one of Erdoğan’s new active and pro-education generation.

“Erdoğan will win. I support him, and all my friends and classmates too, he has fresh ideas and people understand him,” – these are the main messages voiced by many.

All sorts of public polls surface in the media, but I haven’t seen 38% mentioned anywhere.

You could say that the more figures make it to the public domain in Turkey, the more unreliable they start to look.

Erdoğan’s supporters in the media believe that 45% will secure his win.

Rehearsal for disorder?

In 2008, Foreign Policy called Gülen the world’s most powerful intellectual of the year. In 2013, Time included him into the top 100 most influential persons.

The global media appear to have chosen to side with Gülen, and in doing so they basically follow Gülen’s own rhetoric. Erdoğan is presented as a “dictator” and is denounced for trying to cut off public access to Twitter and Youtube. At the same time, the media have devoted much less attention to General Sisi who has sentenced to death 529 people in Egypt. The intensity of the media coverage looks to suggest that choosing from these two, cutting off Twitter is a sure sign of a tyrant.

“Erdoğan needs 38% to win, and he will make it, he is supported by half the country, by all rural residents,” – says a bright 22-year-old from İskenderun. This young man sleeps 2 hours a day, he’s been working since he was 12, he is currently in college, learning English, and dreaming of making it to a university. He is one of Erdoğan’s new active and pro-education generation.

“Erdoğan will win. I support him, and all my friends and classmates too, he has fresh ideas and people understand him,” – these are the main messages voiced by many.

All sorts of public polls surface in the media, but I haven’t seen 38% mentioned anywhere.

You could say that the more figures make it to the public domain in Turkey, the more unreliable they start to look.

Erdoğan’s supporters in the media believe that 45% will secure his win.

Sarıgül is making a promise to build a monument to the “martyrs of democracy” i.e. the victims of the police crackdown on the protests in 2013.

Different sources place Topbaş 7% to 9% ahead of Sarıgül. However, the media keeps predicting a failure for Erdoğan in Istanbul. And it is known that whoever loses the Istanbul election loses the nation-wide election…

Two Turkish men from Anatolia, one young and one old, seem to be equally displeased with the prime minister: “We never voted for Erdoğan, and we hate him. When he started out he had nothing, and now he’s got it too sweet.”

Some of the Erdoğan opponents try to give a more detailed argument.

A 46-year-old Kurd from nearby Diyarbakir who had been to the Gezi Park protests together with his son, says: “Erdoğan is telling everyone that the Gezi Park protests were all staged and orchestrated, but I went there of my own will, no one had asked me to. Erdoğan owns 9 TV channels and most of the newspapers, so journalists cannot write anything against him unless they want to lose a job.”

A shop owner from Edirne, 39:

“Erdoğan will go, his time is over, he’s up to his ears in dirty business. It makes me furious when he dares say the name of Allah and then talks about money. I am a Muslim, but I do not want the rule of the Sharia law. If we had the rule of the Sharia law in place, Erdoğan would have had both his hands cut off. If Kemal had been alive he would have destroyed Erdoğan physically, not just politically.”

“I am no fan of Gülen either, he is even more of a fundamentalist. I want a secular state; Turkey needs the government to make domestic issues a priority over foreign relations. Look what he did – he’s trying to engage in the Syrian crisis, all the while there are loads of unsolved problems at home. That’s no way to do it,” – says a taxi driver, 49, a native of Izmir.

Soon the people will make their choice and we will know what they consider the lesser evil, legalized invasion of privacy or no access to Twitter.

RT Op-Edge.

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Lale Akgün : ‘Erdogan’s days are numbered’

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Turkey’s corruption scandal has put the prime minister’s party under severe pressure. Lale Akgun, a German Social Democrat (SPD) politician with Turkish roots, says Erdogan fatally underestimated the Gulen movement.

Lale Akgün

DW: What effect are the latest developments having on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

Lale Akgun: He’s never been as insecure as he is right now. In the past few months, Erdogan thought that, little by little, he would be able to extend his power – that he was invulnerable. I think that after the riots in Gezi Park and with the corruption accusations that have now come to light, he’s more than just vulnerable: His days are numbered.

How closely does the corruption scandal touch him personally?

Very closely indeed. His son Bilal has been summoned to appear before the public prosecutor on January 2 – not as a witness, but as a suspect, on charges of corruption and money-laundering. It’s a ticking time-bomb in Erdogan’s house.

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Two ministers have already had to step down because their sons appear to have been involved in the corruption scandal. What does this mean, then, for Erdogan?

The analogy would be that Erdogan would also have to step down. But he’s already talking about how, once again, it’s all on account of these evil forces from abroad, who are now targeting his son in order to get at him. This means that Erdogan is going to try to cling to power for a while yet. But increasingly the judiciary is defying him because he’s also trying to undermine the separation of powers. Erdogan said a week ago that, if it weren’t for them, he could govern as he sees fit. On top of all this, more and more people are abandoning the sinking ship of the AKP.

The fact that the judiciary is now investigating the allegations of corruption in Turkish government circles – does that really come down to the followers of the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen?

Yes, I think so. But Gulen’s followers didn’t invent the corruption cases. People in Turkey have been saying for years that Erdogan and his immediate circle have made themselves phenomenally rich. It’s an open secret. Like most observers, I believe that Gulen’s followers have gone on the offensive now because they’re aggrieved that the movement’s schools have been closed down.

It used to be said that Erdogan’s AKP was like a bus with lots of very different people sitting in it. To begin with, there were intellectuals and leftists in there – people who believed the party would bring more democracy to Turkey. Now, though, more and more people are leaving the bus. The only ones still on board are the Milli Gorus people, and the followers of Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan thought: ‘I’ll chuck the Gulen lot off the bus myself.’ But he underestimated the power of these people. Some of them occupy key positions – and were appointed with Erdogan’s blessing.

We’re seeing a new wave of anti-Erdogan demonstrations now. The Gulen movement isn’t behind those. How strong is this sector of society, which belongs to neither of the two conservative camps?

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The third force in Turkey – as in, civil society – which genuinely does want more democracy and openness, really needs to form an organization now. But in the summer, I heard for myself how young people were saying that they didn’t see themselves as a political force: ‘We don’t want to form a party; we just want to be ‘anti.” But that’s not enough. This force – which has a lot of sympathizers – must be politically organized. If there were elections in Turkey, it would easily pass the 10-percent hurdle.

The Gezi movement is named after a park in Istanbul where citizens gathered last summer to protest against the government’s controversial construction plans. We saw at the time that all kinds of people, very different people, had taken to the streets, just as they have again over the past few days: young and old, women and men, a whole cross-section of society. Are they sufficiently in agreement to be able to found a party?

No – they’re only actually agreed on one thing: Erdogan has to go! That’s like the common denominator. And this will hold them together until Erdogan goes. My fear is that then Fethulah Gulen will present himself as a knight in shining armor and be celebrated by everyone because people think he’s the lesser evil.

The European Union has been negotiating with Turkey over EU entry for decades. How should it respond to the current situation?

The EU could be very helpful right now, in particular by supporting civil society with projects and programs, helping these people to organize so that they can become a force in politics.

Is there something the new German foreign minister, the SPD’s Frank Walter Steinmeier, could, or should, be doing?

He should – diplomatically, as befits a foreign minister – express his opinion. Because it’s not acceptable that we, as a democratic state, should just look on while the prime minister of another country – albeit, admittedly, an elected prime minister – is behaving increasingly like an autocrat.

Social Democrat Lale Akgün served as a member of the German parliament from 2002 to 2009. She was born in Istanbul.

Interview by Arnd Riekmann / cc

Akgun: ‘Erdogan’s days are numbered’ | World | DW.DE | 28.12.2013.

Turkish leader’s turmoil may stem from a former ally

Faced with a deepening political crisis, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his allies have been squaring off with courts, police and prosecutors. But behind it all, Erdogan’s government largely sees the hand of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic religious leader and former ally of the prime minister who lives in self-imposed exile in the Poconos.

From his Pennsylvania compound, the 72-year-old Gulen is the spiritual force behind a global movement that has drawn millions of passionate adherents to his teachings of tolerance and peace.

In the United States, he has been the inspiration behind a rapidly growing network of public charter schools, including a school scheduled to open in the District in August. His movement has also built ties to local and national political leaders, lauding them with awards and sending them on trips to Turkey.

Gulen’s split with Erdogan erupted after the government announced a plan to shutter private schools — many owned by the Gulen movement — that help Turkish students prepare for college entrance exams. In a sprawling corruption investigation that has touched businessmen with close ties to Erdogan, many of the prime minister’s backers see a conspiracy led by Gulen’s allies, who are said to hold important positions in the police force and the courts.

Gulen’s critics, wary of his deep reach into Turkish society, have been careful not to mention him by name but frequently suggest the investigation is being carried out by his supporters. In a recent statement, Gulen has denied any link to the investigation. Gulen’s office did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.

The religious leader’s reclusive life makes it easy for critics to blame him for their troubles, said Joshua Hendrick, a sociology professor at Loyola University Maryland and author of a book about the Gulen movement. At the same time, by mostly staying out of sight and communicating through a Web site, Gulen “becomes something far more than what he is. He becomes the superhuman that his followers believe him to be,” Hendrick said.

Emre Celik, president of the Rumi Forum, a Gulen-inspired center in Washington, said that as a young man in Australia, he was attracted to the way Gulen spoke about fighting “poverty, disunity, and ignorance.”

“These are social ills for the whole world, and it’s incumbent on Muslims to help alleviate these ills, no matter who is suffering,” said Celik, who volunteered in the movement until becoming a computer science teacher at a Sydney high school.

The Rumi Forum organized four trips to Turkey in May and June 2013 for think tank and university scholars, nonprofit group representatives, and government employees, Celik said. The group also hosts dinners during Ramadan and this year invited officials from the departments of State, Justice and Education, as well as Washington embassy and religious groups.

In 2011, Joshua DuBois, then the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, was a recipient of one of the annual Rumi Peace and Dialogue awards. Former secretaries of state Madeleine K. Albright and James Baker have given speeches at the Gulen Institute, a similar group based in Houston.

Since the start of 2011, another Houston-based group, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, has paid for 10 trips for members of Congress to Turkey and Azerbaijan. The group’s president, Kemal Oksuz, is the former executive director of the Niagara Foundation in Chicago, whose honorary president is Gulen. In the same period, at least four other members of Congress made trips to Turkey sponsored by ­Gulen-associated groups.

“It’s important to introduce people to our Muslim society and to introduce them to their counterparts in Turkey,” Celik said.

Fethullah Gulen

Fethullah Gulen

Gulen’s movement has schools in some 150 countries. The U.S. schools, operated under different “brand” names such as Harmony and Concept, total more than 120 in two dozen states, with an academic emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, or “STEM” skills. Islam is not taught in the schools.

By and large, the schools are regarded as academically successful. While leaders of some of the schools say they have been influenced by Gulen, others, including Harmony Public Schools, say they have no formal connection.

The schools have sparked some controversy.

In 2012, the Texas state education agency found Harmony, the largest charter operator in the state, failed to properly document its use of $186,000 in federal funds, or about one-third of the dollars auditors examined for the fiscal year ending August 2010. Harmony repaid the money, according to the state, but school officials maintained they did nothing wrong. Harmony schools have also drawn scrutiny for their reliance on visas to bring Turkish staff to the United States. A spokeswoman said fewer than 10 percent of Harmony’s 2,617 employees hold H-1B visas.

In Philadelphia, an English teacher at a Gulen-linked Truebright Science Academy Charter School sued the school this year, claiming that it had hired and promoted less-qualified Turkish nationals and paid them more than U.S.-born educators who were certified and more experienced. The civil rights complaint was settled for an undisclosed amount.

In Chicago, a Gulen-connected school, Concept Schools Inc., lost a bid last year to open two new schools. Concept Schools appealed to the state charter school commission, which was created in 2011 by lawmakers including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Madigan had visited Turkey four times in the past four years at the expense of the Niagara Foundation and the Chicago Turkish American Chamber of Commerce, according to disclosure reports. The state commission reversed the earlier decision and gave the green light to Concept Schools to open two new schools.

Gulen arrived in the United States in the late 1990s seeking treatment for diabetes and stayed after he was charged with trying to overthrow the secular government. He was acquitted of that charge and is free to return to Turkey.

Both Gulen and Erdogan are religious conservatives, and the two men joined forces for years to bring Turkey’s powerful military under civilian control.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Gulen’s movement draws inspiration from a Sufi Islamic tradition that seeks to combine modernity and Islam, instead of advocating an Islamization of society as some Muslim Brotherhood groups do. For that reason, he said, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party “was never completely comfortable with the Gulen movement.”

Turkish leader’s turmoil may stem from a former ally – The Washington Post.

Turkish PM, cleric in war of words over graft scandal

Turkish riot police use water cannons against protesters during a demonstration against Turkey's ruling Ak Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, in Istanbul

(Reuters) – A war of words escalated on Monday between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and a cleric with powerful influence in the police and judiciary, worsening political turmoil unleashed by a corruption scandal.

Turkey has been increasingly polarized since the arrest on graft charges last week of the head of state-run lender Halkbank and the sons of two government ministers.

Erdogan answered the arrests by sacking or reassigning the Istanbul police chief and some 70 other police officers.

The scandal and the government’s response have added to a febrile political atmosphere in the country, which saw unprecedented mass protests against Erdogan’s rule earlier this year.

Leftist protesters demonstrate against Turkey's ruling Ak Party and Prime Minister Erdogan in Ankara

The public has been riveted by the case, with news channels showing police footage of shoeboxes stuffed with millions of euros in cash allegedly found in homes of corruption suspects.

The lira currency hovered near a record low on Monday, hammered by the domestic political tension as well as the U.S. Federal Reserve‘s decision to cut back monetary stimulus.

In the latest rift, the government attracted unprecedented, open condemnation from Fethullah Gulen, whose Hizmet movement claims at least a million followers, including senior police and judges, and runs schools and charities across Turkey and abroad.

Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, lashed out against the government on Friday by praying that “God bring fire to their houses”. Erdogan shot back on Sunday with remarks that, while not naming Gulen directly, accused unnamed outsiders of “setting wicked and dark traps in our country, using their local pawns to disrupt Turkey’s unity and integrity.”

“We will go into (their) lairs and … expose those organizations within the state,” Erdogan said.

On Monday Gulen made clear he saw the prime minister’s remarks as an attack on his movement.

“Those who call Muslims ‘gangs’, ‘bandits’, ‘network’ and see them as gorillas, monkeys that have taken shelter in lairs – these are nothing but a reflection of decayed thinking and no wrong can be made right with them,” Gulen said in an audio recording posted on the Internet. “God sees who is in a lair.”

FIERY RHETORIC

Erdogan has won three elections in a row and has transformed Turkey by curbing the power of the secularist military establishment. Turkey has thrived economically under his leadership, but this year’s protests also revealed dissatisfaction among many Turks with what some see as an authoritarian streak. A decisive break with Gulen, a former ally, adds to the array of figures lined up against him.

College students march during a demonstration against Turkey's ruling Ak Party and PM Erdogan in Ankara

Cemal Usak, vice president of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, a group close to Gulen, described the movement’s actions as “a civil initiative that is strongly using its right to oppose some of the measures taken by the political authority, something unseen in Turkey in recent times.”

“I think the hardening of the prime minister’s language is unsound. I find it inappropriate that for the first time in our political history an opinion leader has been targeted,” he said.

After years of taking on top figures in the army, Erdogan’s response to the corruption scandal puts him at odds with the police and the judiciary.

At the weekend the government changed regulations for police, requiring officers to report evidence, investigations, arrests and complaints to commanding officers and prosecutors.

Halkbank has drawn criticism from Western governments in the past for enabling Turkish and Indian business with Iran, which is under U.S. and EU sanctions that Erdogan disapproves of.

The bank said on Monday its conduct had been entirely lawful. In the past it had helped facilitate purchases of Iranian natural gas in return for shipments of Turkish gold, but it said it halted that practice in June, before measures that would have barred that trade took effect.

“The source of the funds used in these transactions and the parties to this trade are open, transparent and traceable in the system,” Halkbank said in a stock exchange filing.

The row has weighed on the Turkish assets as investors fret the authorities could loosen fiscal policy to weather the political storm. Shares in Halkbank have lost about 20 percent of their value since news of the scandal broke on December 17.

Erdogan late on Sunday accused “enemies of Turkey” of trying to sabotage Halkbank, the second-biggest government bank.

“Who are you helping to benefit by damaging this bank? The money that Halkbank has lost because of these incidents is money lost by this country,” he said.