Tag Archives: Gulen

Turkish president, at odds with Erdogan, dismisses foreign plot

Turkish President Abdullah Gul addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013.

(Reuters) – President Abdullah Gul has dismissed suggestions that outside forces are conspiring against Turkey, openly contradicting Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan‘s assertions that a corruption scandal is part of a foreign-backed plot to undermine him.

The graft inquiry swirling around Erdogan’s government has grown into the biggest challenge of his 11-year-rule. He has repeatedly cast it as a scheme by political enemies at home and abroad to damage him ahead of March 30 local elections.

“I don’t accept allegations about foreign powers and I don’t find them right … I don’t believe in these conspiracy theories as if there are some people trying to destroy Turkey,” the Hurriyet newspaper quoted Gul as telling reporters during a visit to Denmark.

“Of course Turkey has its long-standing opponents in the world. Certain groups have praised our work for the past 10 years… Now that they are criticising us, why is this an issue? These types of comments are for third world countries,” he said.

Turkey’s rapid growth into a major emerging market has largely been based on the stability brought by Erdogan’s firm rule over the last decade. But the past several months of political uncertainty have unnerved investors, helping send the lira currency down sharply.

Gul co-founded the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party with Erdogan and has remained a close ally. But he is viewed as a more conciliatory figure than the combative prime minister and their relations have at times appeared strained.

“The political atmosphere we are in is not making any of us happy. It doesn’t make me happy. I am both troubled and saddened by the things we are going through,” Gul was quoted as saying.

Gul has been under growing pressure from both within and outside Turkey to calm tensions generated by the graft scandal and is seen as a potential successor to Erdogan as prime minister and head of the AK Party, should Erdogan decide to run for the presidency in an August vote.

He and Erdogan had appeared to have closed ranks since the graft scandal erupted in December, with Gul approving controversial laws tightening Internet controls and giving the government greater influence over the judiciary – moves seen by Erdogan’s critics as an authoritarian response to the probe.

ELECTION IMPACT

The long-running investigation became public on December 17 when police detained the sons of three cabinet ministers and businessmen close to Erdogan. The three ministers resigned a week later, while others were removed in a cabinet reshuffle.

Parliament, currently in recess for the local election campaign period, will reconvene for an extraordinary session on Wednesday, demanded by the opposition, to hear prosecutors’ files on the allegations against four of the former ministers.

Last week, a Twitter account behind a string of leaks in the scandal posted what it presented as prosecutors’ files accusing the former ministers of involvement with an Iranian businessman in a bribery and smuggling racket.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the documents and the former ministers have denied any wrongdoing.

Erdogan says his former ally, U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, orchestrated the corruption investigation through a “parallel state” of his supporters in the judiciary and police. Gulen denies the allegations.

Erdogan has responded by reassigning thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors, and driving through the legislation approved by Gul tightening controls of the judiciary and Internet.

Members of parliament have immunity from prosecution, but opposition parties are expected to call on Wednesday for the former ministers to face trial. Rival MPs have previously come to blows over the corruption allegations.

The impact of the graft probe on Turkey’s electorate remains unclear, according to widely diverging opinion polls prepared in the run-up to the March 30 elections.

Analysts say the AK Party’s core support has held up and that it is on course to remain the biggest party, although its predicted share of the vote ranges from 30 to 50 percent.

The latest survey from one pollster, Konsensus, showed the AK Party would narrowly win the mayoral race in Istanbul but cede control of the capital Ankara to the main opposition CHP for the first time since coming to power in 2002.

SONAR, another pollster, forecast the AK Party would keep control of both of Turkey’s largest cities but fail to seize control of the western city of Izmir, a stronghold of the CHP.

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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.