Vocal Europe: What sort of link does Alliance for Shared Values have with the movement in general and with Mr Gulen in particular?
Alp Aslandogan: Alliance for Shared Values (AFSV) has six regional partner organizations and AFSV serves as a loose umbrella for these organizations. They focus on interfaith and intercultural dialogue, helping new immigrants better integrate to American society and they collaborate with relief agencies by raising funds for humanitarian relief projects. The founders and donors of our regional partners include Hizmet sympathizers and participants. Mr. Gulen is the honorary chairman for our partner Rumi Forum based in Washington, DC. At AFSV we promote Mr. Gulen’s works as an example of Muslim discourse that integrates the Muslim tradition with modernity, hence helping reduce false stereotypes, fear and hatred. We also promote his literature, along with literature from other Muslim scholars, as a means of combatting violent extremism on religious grounds.
VE: What is your take on the recent failed coup attempt against democratically elected Turkish government? How do you see the reactions given by Turkish public against this attempt?
AA: The failed coup attempt was an anti-democratic intervention in politics that aimed to remove an elected government. We condemned the attempt as it was underway in Turkey. Turkish people stood by democracy and against a military intervention. Despite the fact that half of Turkish population did not vote for the ruling party, they made it clear that they do not want the government to change through force. Unfortunately, Erdogan government took advantage of this stance and abused it, by forcing everybody to condemn Hizmet movement, despite the fact that no connection was established between Hizmet sympathizers and the coup attempt through a court trial. Singer Sila, who condemned the coup but did not join AKP’s rally was subjected to a media smear campaign and her contracts cancelled. So now it is not sufficient to simply condemn the coup in Turkey. If someone does not blame the Hizmet movement and Mr. Gulen, they are depicted as collaborators with the coup.
VE: Many both in Turkey and in the West are extremely concerned with the draconian measures taken by Turkish government against not only those who staged the coup attempt but also against the members of civil society, academics, journalists and civilians particularly those linked to the Gulen movement. Why is that, do you think, such a purge is taking place?
AA: Such a wide scale purge cannot be explained rationally and cannot happen in any country that upholds the rule of law. Such draconian measures appear to be a result of some of type of rage or wrath. What is going on is the collective punishment of tens of thousands of people. If the arrested journalists, teachers, judges were asked whether they supported the coup, they would say no and they absolutely condemn the coup. No links between them and the coup perpetrator officers can be shown. So why are these civilians targeted? Simply because a whole social movement is blamed for the coup and anybody associated with the movement is targeted. This is simply guilt by association. This resembles the scapegoating of certain groups by fascist regimes in history in order to divert people’s attention from real problems and channel their frustration. Everything is blamed on one person or one group. As to why Hizmet movement was chosen as the scapegoat, that is a question that should be posed to those in power. Whether it is Mr. Gulen’s refusal to support Mr. Erdogan’s presidency bid, or Mr. Erdogan’s holding Hizmet sympathizers responsible for exposing the alleged corruption in December 2013, or teaching other civic groups a lesson by punishing this one group which resisted his domination, I can’t speculate. What is more important is the expansion of his power while accusations and collective punishment is going on. After the corruption probe of 2013 and the blaming of Hizmet sympathizers, Turkish judiciary was brought under political control. After this failed coup attempt, Turkish military is being brought under Mr. Erdogan’s control. Media has been brought under his control through a gradual process of acquisitions and intimidation. So, behind the blaming of Hizmet movement and collective punishment, there is a power grab going on.
VE: When asked, Mr Gulen – during an interview, said that there might be people in military who are sympathizers of the movement but also may have taken a part in the failed coup attempt. How should we evaluate these remarks?
AA: Mr. Gulen categorically condemned the coup and denied any accusations that attempt to link him to the attempt. However, in the case of individual officers who are accused of participation, there are multiple possible ways through which an officer might be involved. They might be threatened, they might think that the military is taking this action with its chain in command with the purpose of restoring democracy and human rights against Erdogan’s authoritarianism, they might have been misled by being told that this is an exercise. If you followed the news about the officers who were in charge of a helicopter and sought asylum in Greece you will see one example. The helicopter crew was accused of being part of the coup attempt. But in their testimony reported by media their commander said that they were called for a rescue operation for wounded people, and when they approached the location they began receiving fire from police officers. Thinking that they were framed and would be falsely blamed, they decided to seek asylum in Greece. Unfortunately we will not learn the truth of this matter because a fair trial appears highly unlikely. Pictures of tortured soldiers emerged, Amnesty international reported inhumane treatment including rape and even people’s family members have been threatened and detained.
But Mr. Gulen simply said that if among the participants in the coup attempt there are individuals who appear to be his sympathizers, they betray his teachings and values. And he referred them to God. Again the term “appear to be” is important because the information reported by the government is unreliable. Only an international investigation that guarantees the safety of the accused officers can reveal the truths.
VE: President Erdogan and the governing party kicked off a new debate regarding death penalty in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. Are you concerned that this step might be utilized against followers of Gulen movement in the coming days and months?
AA: European Union leaders made it clear that reinstating the death penalty would essentially end Turkey’s accession process into EU. So if Turkey’s leaders reinstate the death penalty despite knowing this they would make it clear that they are not interested in EU membership.
On the other hand, it is impossible to sustain the charges against thousands of people who were arrested in the aftermath of the coup in a fair trial. The accused would have the right to appeal their case all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights. So in reality, I don’t think that the death penalty might actually be applied as long as Turkey continues to abide by the rulings of ECHR. If they disregard even the rulings of ECHR then they would face the condemnation of EU countries and the world. Is it possible? In today’s Turkey nothing can be ruled out.
VE: From the first moments when coup attempt happened, Turkish government argued that Mr Gulen is the mastermind of this attempt. What is the perception of the US Administration on Gulen Movement and the accusation made by Turkish government that Gulen movement is behind the recent coup attempt in Turkey, what would you say about that?
AA: Mr. Erdogan made this claim in the middle of the night of July 15 as the coup attempt was in progress. This was before any details of the attempt emerged and roughly three hours before the group behind the coup issued a statement from the office of the military chief of staff. So it was very clear to the observers that Mr. Erdogan has already made up his mind before finding any facts about the attempt and therefore his claims were not credible.
The director of U.S. Intelligence Mr. James Clapper commented early on that the accusation against Mr. Gulen was not supported by evidence in their intelligence. Other U.S. officials commented that they did not receive evidence from Turkish government establishing this link that would stand the scrutiny of U.S. justice system. According to the news stories the formal request that Turkish government is claiming to have submitted is actually related to former charges and not the coup attempt.
Also remember that Mr. Gulen was not the only one charged by Turkish officials. Wilson Institute scholar Henri Barkey who happened to be in Turkey at the time and U.S. Army General J.F. Campbell were also accused of being behind the coup. I think such wild accusations further diminish any credibility of claims by Erdogan government or their proxies.
VE: Since movement is facing an existential threat both in Turkey and abroad, what is the movement’s strategy to survive and run its activities in the coming years?
AA: The movement participants began founding institutions outside of Turkey starting in early 1990s. Since then the presence of movement participants and NGOs around the world continued in a fast pace. Within Turkey the movement participants have so far defended themselves through non-violent and legal means. Turkish governments’ raiding law offices and detaining lawyers is making legal representation increasingly difficult. Mr. Gulen urged his sympathizers to continue to act in peaceful and legal ways. At this time there is no option but to accelerate going transnational for the movement. Mr. Erdogan nearly completed shutting down all institutional presence of the movement in Turkey. The harassment and intimidation against sympathizers is aimed at eliminating even informal gatherings and spiritual conversations. This is a humanitarian tragedy.
VE: As you know there are a number of US officials arguing that Mr Gulen is becoming a liability on US – Turkish relations. How likely, do you think, that Mr Gulen might be extradited based on the claims by Turkish government?
AA: The United States has a strong tradition of upholding the rule of law and a reputation around the world for doing so. The extradition process is mostly legal and partly political. The extradition treaty between Turkey and the U.S. has conditions such as the charges being of non-political nature, establishing the connection between the individual and the alleged crime with evidence that will stand the scrutiny of U.S. justice system, Turkish government’s not having intentions to charge the accused person with other crimes if he is extradited and the accused person getting a fair trial if he is extradited. It is very unlikely that these conditions can be satisfied. It is technically possible for the matter to be decided under the heavy weight of U.S. interests. However, this would seriously taint that reputation of the U.S. around the world and U.S. officials gave no signals that they would ignore the legal process.
*Y. Alp Aslandogan is Executive Director of Alliance for Shared Values, New York, NY, USA.
Published on Vocal Europe, 22 August 2016, Monday