by FPC Editors
Concepts & Thoughts
Toronto–The botched military coup on Friday July 15 against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) shook the Middle East and the global geopolitics. In the immediate aftermath of the coup and its subsequent descent into a failed enterprise, Erdogan emerged as a victorious sultan with a strong mandate to crush the opposition, mostly likely with minimal dissent. Erdogan was quick to put the blame on supporters in the army of Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish spiritual leader living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, United States
The $64000 Question
Now, the proverbial $64,000 question in serious need of response is about the timing of the coup. Why did it take place now?
Turkish military supreme council holds annual review of the army, a three-day session that reviews military personnel’s competency and allegiance to the Turkish State. This year’s annual session, to be held in early August, was widely expected (as still is) to purge supporters and sympathizers of Gülen.
In the meantime, talks of an impending coup against Erdogan were long reverberating among analysts and observers of Turkish politics with the expectation that a large-scale purge of Gülenist officers was in the offing.
The attempted coup in a sense could be interpreted as a preemptive attempt by the army, particularly the die-hard Gülenists, to not only prevent the coming purge from happening, but also bring Erdogan’s rule to a closure.
A Brief Look at Hizmet
Gülen’s movement has a six-decade history in Turkey. It is also known as Hizmet, which means ‘service’, referring to the services it offers to the society. With a bottom-up approach to socio-political influence, the movement has had no official membership structure and operates as loosely formed various networks with no visible leadership. Throughout its existence, Hizmet has spread Gülen’s message by establishing hundreds of foundations and charities, publishing houses, media outlets, and thousands of colleges that prepare high-school students for university entrance exams. Its operations in Turkey have an estimated wealth valued at between US$25 and $30 billion. Many students that were educated at Hizmet schools and colleges later rose to key positions across state institutions. Today they find themselves at the center of the ongoing purges by the Erdogan government.
The reach of Hizmet’s networks has gone as far places as Central Asia, the Caucasus, Pakistan, the Balkans, and North Africa. Throughout the 1970s and 80’s Gülen maintained good relationship with the country’s secular parties while distancing himself from the army. Under the premiership of Turgut Ozal (1983-89) and his presidency (1983-93) Gülen obtained official protection from the government.
The ideology of Gülenists is derived from the political history of the Ottoman Empire and the Noor (Light), a Sufi movement founded by Said Nursi (1877-1960) a Turkish Islamic reformist. Gülen incorporated traditional Islamic values with Turkish nationalism, opposed Ataturk’s secularist ideology, and promoted multiculturalism and tolerance of other religions.
In the 1990s from the ashes of Refah Party—an Islamist party later banned by the military—Reccep Tayyip Erdogan (current President), Abdullah Gul (foreign minister and later president), Ahmet Davutoglu (foreign minister and later prime minister), and Bulent Arinc, (vice-prime minister) launched the AKP party. To the surprise of many in the West today, AKP renounced political Islam and called for nurturing of what it called a ‘conservative democracy’.
With the rise of AKP in Turkish politics, Gülen found in Erdogan an ideological bedfellow whom he could leverage for greater influence in Turkish politics. The two men saw their ideologies converge around two key strategic goals: to purge the Turkish state of secularists and weaken the military. In fact, the Hizmet movement was instrumental in the now famous and high-profile Ergenekon trials, in which nearly 300 military officers, secular journalists, and opposition lawmakers were accused of clandestinely plotting the overthrow the AKP government.
Gülen’s role in the Ergenekon trials was significant as he used his close ties with CIA’s Turkish desk to tap phone conversations of the accused and use them in the court against them.
Fall from Grace
Gülenists’ growing power and influence in all aspects of Turkish political and economic life worried Erdogan while their differences gradually became public. Fethullah Gülen grew increasingly critical of Erdogan’s expanding ties with Iran and his deteriorating relations with Israel, which hit its lowest point following the 2010 Gaza Flotilla incident in which several Turkish nationals were killed during a raid by the Israeli navy on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, carrying food supplies and construction material to Gaza.
Following the Mavi Marmara incident, Gülen, who has managed in exile to cultivate close ties with the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States, harshly criticized Erdogan, advised him not to cut ties with Israel, and asked him to keep a distance from Iran. With the 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations and revelations by Gülenists of widespread corruption inside Erdogan’s government, relations between Erdogan and Gülen worsened to the point of full-fledged enmity.
Last Friday’s failed coup attempt nearly three weeks before the convening of the military supreme council is significant and deserves great attention. President Erdogan has built an army of enemies from elite groups of professionals and intellectuals who exert influence over Turkish society and politics. Thanks largely to Erdogan’s misguided policies, the Turkish economy continues its downward spiral and Turkish foreign policy can be simply described as a shipwreck. With uncertainty gripping every aspect of Turkish socio-political life, President Erdogan and his tightly knit clique are destined to face significant challenges ahead.