ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Erdogan-Gülen, de l’idylle religieuse à la "trahison"
by Pierre Barbancey
Translated Monday 22 August 2016, by
Erdogan accuses the Gülen Brotherhood, but then goes all-out to repress
democrats, Kurds, and office-holders.
From our special correspondent in Istanbul
The Turkish president never stops designating the Gülen Brotherhood as
responsible for the failed coup d’état.
What were the links between Erdogan and Gülen that could explain an
attempted putsch? What happened in the army?
We attempt an explanation.
Photo: Agence France Presse
One month after the coup attempt in Turkey, many questions are still pending. After giving the impression that he was losing control, the Turkish president was very soon back in the saddle, and has since been ordering thousands of arrests with every appearance of wanting to administer a great purge to the administration, the judiciary, the police and the army so as to ensure full control over them. As though he was driven by some desperate, authoritarian impulse, because he feared yet another, and this time successful, coup.
That AKP leaders should immediately lay the blame on the movement of Fethullah Gülen suggests that the relations between Erdogan and Gülen are well worth investigating, notably their common Islamism and anti-communism. Not that the role of the army should be neglected: long considered a stronghold of nationalism, yet most certainly infiltrated by Gulenists, the army has always had its own agenda.
On November 24th, 2014,Abdullah Ôcalan, leader of the Kurdistan’s Workers’ Party (PKK), received a delegation of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on the island of Imrali, off Istanbul, where he was serving a life sentence. What he said to his visitors in substance was that if the ongoing peace process and negotiations were broken off, then a coup would inevitably follow. This was not a premonition, but an accurate analysis of what was and may be going on in Turkey. In June 2015, the votes in the general elections failed to give Erdogan the majority he needed and expected, in view of his successful record so far, in order to turn the parliamentary into a presidential régime. Worse still, the HDP, under Selahattin Demirtas’ leadership, reaped close to 13% of the vote. So it was that on July 24, 2015, the first bombs were dropped on the Kandil mountain in Iraq’s Kurdistan, the general quarters of the HPG, PKK’s military branch.
And soon enough military operations got the upper hand in Turkey itself. The army’s role kept increasing in parallel with the growing intensity of the fighting in the towns of Cizre, Sirnak, Nusaybin. And not just for the military operations. “Some inside information suggests the army’s command agreed to replace the civil administration on condition that it could set the end of the operations and enjoy full legal impunity,” Celal Baslangiç, a Turkish investigative journalist, revealed. He now writes mostly on internet sites since the reviews to which he contributed have been closing over the last years. He also notes that “whereas a vote of Parliament made it possible to lift parliamentary immunity, on July 14th Erdogan signed a decree that instituted the principle of military immunity. And it was the very next day that the coup took place. Which proves Ôcalan right. Those who bombed Kandil are the same that bombed Parliament.”
The real political goals are obfuscated by a series of cascading affairs.
Most political observers in Istanbul note that several weeks before the failed coup, fear prevailed among the governing circles, and Erdogan himself, usually omnipresent on the media, for once kept a low profile. A putsch was brewing but when would it strike? Another disquieting matter was that Hakan Fidan, the head of MIT (intelligence services), though informed of the coup, did not inform Erdogan about it until six hours after the coup. Stranger still, if he was duly reprimanded, it did not cost him his post! Besides, it is quite probable that Western intelligence services knew about the attempt planned against Erdogan: they did not support it because there was no viable political alternative, but did not try to prevent it either.
What remains true, nevertheless, is that Erdogan hastened to swoop down on the sole Gülen movement as being the instigator and executor of the putsch. Gülen is the name of a predicator that was long the president’s road companion. Could the Turkish army, a legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his epic, be contaminated by Gulenism? Some army officers are sure to be members of the brotherhood. Infiltration was made easier in the 2000’s following the first purge in the army that especially targeted Kemalists. This led to the Ergenekon trial, after the name of an alleged association described as a terrorist organization within the State.
And so it soon became clear, despite the endless affairs that cloud the real political ambitions, that Kemalist partisans have been the main target, including within the army‘s high command. ”The opposition is now suspecting a network of police officers and judges that lean to the Gülen brotherhood, of rigging those trials with the result that fear has been spreading diffusely, notably among those that have in one way or another publicly shown their opposition to the government,” explains Ahmet Insel in his book la Nouvelle Turquie d’Erdogan (Erdogan’s new Turkey, La Découverte).
And so it was that, with Erdogan’s blessing (if blessing is the right word), for Erdogan was prime minister at the time and turned a blind eye on this strategy despite the fact that it flaunted the Law and the Constitution – the “brotherhood” struck roots in the army. Now there is one point on which Kemalists and Gulenists see eye to eye, and that is the Kurdish question and their stark opposition to negotiation on this issue. Erdogan came to understand the advantage he could take in negotiating with the Kurds, provided he succeeded in setting up organizations he could keep under his boot. But try as he might, and despite the usual crack-down on the progressive and democratic Kurdish forces, Erdogan simply failed to achieve this goal.
And what drew Erdogan and Gulen together was that they saw eye to eye on many issues. Being both die-hard Islamists, they grew up in a distinctly anti-communist sphere. Indeed, anti-communism has been Fethullah Gulen’s obsession. So much so that in 1980 when, as an imam on the run, he was hunted because of his Islamist activities in connection with extremist networks, he espoused the cause of the putschists, with the result that all charges against him were dropped. Now that is a very important point. “I have done a lot of research into Islamist violence in the early nineties,” insists Mehmet Güc, a journalist. “About thirty journalists and intellectuals had been murdered by Islamists. I studied their judicial files and realized that all the authors of those murders had connections with State institutions and the army. So I investigated all the illegal movements and their legal front organizations, Fethullah Gülen’s included. And found that the charges against him were dropped thanks to a colonel connected to the 1980 junta.”
Dissension set in as early as 2011
Gülen’s brotherhood expanded all the more significantly since, following the 1980 putsch, “most centre-right political parties welcomed in Islamist groups that were thus integrated into mainstream politics,” Mehmet Güç explains. Gülen then set up an unrivaled network of schools, charities, media channels… The first scandal broke in the late 1990’s when test items for candidates to the military academies were stolen. What better stratagem could be devised to ensure that his own officers found their way into this so-far very exclusive institution? On August 3rd last, speaking before an assembly of religious dignitaries, Erdogan said “how sad he was that he could not discover in due time the true face of this treacherous organization.” A rather short statement this. “When Erdogan came into office, his own party; AKP, had a shortage of experienced cadres. It was Gülen who provided them,” remembers Celal Baslangiç.
To begin with, the idyll between Erdogan and Gülen was perfect, despite the fact that the latter settled in the United States in 1999. In May 2013, the Turkish president still considered the prospect of meeting the old predicator as ‘a “divine blessing”. In actual fact, dissension had already set in between the two. “In the 2011 general election, Gülen demanded 120 deputies and got only 15,” Cell Baslangiç explains. “That was how purging of the Gülenists and Islamist diversification in order to weaken the brotherhood started, with a view to weakening the brotherhood. Retaliation was not long in coming: corruption files were brought to light. Ministers were targeted, including Erdogan’s own son. In short, the war had broken out.”
Will the Gülenist network drain off so very fast?
So everything pointed forward to a possible putsch. And all were getting ready for it. All except the putschists themselves! Indeed their lack of preparation, their amateurism are simply confounding - not to mention a number of troubling coincidences. “Nobody confessed to being of Gülen’s party and claimed responsibility for the coup, and was willing to take the consequences. A Brigadier-General who had tried to hem Erdogan in when he was in Marmara said he was a nationalist, that he supported the coup, and was ready to take the consequences. But it may well be supposed that a number of factors prevented the putchists from coordinating their actions.”
But for Erdogan it was a near miss indeed. Which may be why there were so many arrests after July 15th. So that 38,000 prisoners, who had been sentenced for crimes that had taken place before July 1rst, so before the mid-July failed putsch, were released under judicial supervision, apparently to reduce prison congestion! Parallel to this, the government nevertheless signed two decrees to dismiss 2,000 policemen and hundreds of army men and members of the State authority for information and communication technologies (BTK). In addition to the tens of thousands of State civil servants and employees dismissed or suspended, over 35,000 people were held up, about half of whom were officially arrested and remanded in custody.
Will the Gülenist network soon be drained of its forces? That is not so sure. Especially as the network outstrips Turkey’s borders and spreads out into dozens of countries. Reçep Erdogan has partially regained control and strengthened his power, at least apparently. The reason why he was careful to bring the army under his foot was that he is fully aware of the role it can still play. And so, by eliminating Gülenist cadres, he is boosting the influence of the nationalist command and hampering a re-opening of the dialogue with the Kurds. That is no doubt why he needs two opposition parties, the MHP (the nationalist far-right) and the CHP (the social democrats) that have always been cooperative. “When all’s told, Erdogan’s most precious asset is the MHP’s and CHP’s leadership!,” concludes Celal Baslangiç jokingly – but is it merely a joke?