In the night of July 15th, Turkey has gone through the most catastrophic tragedy of its recent history as a result of the attempted military coup. The events of that night could be called as a serious terror coup.
Turkish people from all walks of life who thought that the era of military coup was over, showed solidarity against the coup and on the side of democracy. While the coup attempt was in progress I condemned it in the strongest terms.
Twenty minutes after the military coup attempt surfaced, before the real actors were known, President Erdogan hastily blamed me. It is troubling that a guilty label was issued without waiting for the details of the event and the motives of the perpetrators to emerge. As someone who has suffered four coups in the last 50 years, this is especially insulting to be associated with a coup attempt. I categorically reject such accusations.
I have been living a reclusive life in self-exile in a small village in the USA for the last 17 years. The claim that I convinced the 8th biggest army in the world from 6000 miles away against its own government is an incredible slander and has not found resonance in the world opinion.
If there are any officers among the coup plotters who consider themselves as a sympathizer of Hizmet movement, in my opinion those people committed treason against the unity of their country by taking part in an event where their own citizens lost their lives. They have also violated the values that I have cherished throughout my life and caused hundreds of thousands of innocent people to suffer under oppressive treatment.
If there are those who acted under the influence of an interventionist culture that affects a part the military and have put these interventionist reflexes before Hizmet values, which I believe is not likely, a whole movement cannot be blamed for their wrongdoings. I leave them to God’s judgement.
Nobody is above the rule of law, including me. I would like those who are responsible for this coup attempt, regardless of their identities, to receive the punishment they deserve after a fair trial. Turkish justice system has been brought under political control of the government since 2014, therefore possibility of a fair trial is very small. For this reason, I have advocated several times for the establishment of an international commission and I expressed my commitment to abide by the findings of such a commission.
The participants of Hizmet movement have never been involved in even a single violent incident throughout its 50 years of history. They haven’t even gone out to streets and confronted the security forces even though they have been suffering a ‘witch hunt’, as Erdoğan clearly stated, for the last three years.
Despite being subjected to a smear campaign and suffering under state oppression for the last three years by the state’s law enforcement and judiciary, Hizmet movement participants had complied with the law, opposed injustices through legitimate means and only defended their rights within the legal framework.
Turkey’s legal and law enforcement agencies have been mobilized for the last three years to investigate and reveal an alleged ‘paralel state’ which they claim that I run.
The administration called the public corruption probe in 2013 as an organized attempt by Hizmet sympathizers in bureaucracy to bring down the government. Despite detaining 4000 people, purging tens of thousands of government employees, taking over hundreds of NGOs and private businesses unlawfully they were not able to find a single piece of credible evidence to prove their claims.
Despite calling an opportunity to meet with me a “heaven-sent” in May 2013, after the public corruption probe emerged in December 2013 Turkey’s prime minister at the time began to use hate language such as “assassins” and “blood sucking vampires” to refer to movement participants.
After the treasonous coup attempt of July 15th, these attacks have become unbearable. Turkish government officials began referring to me and people sympathetic to my views as ‘virus’ and ‘cancer cells that needs to be wiped out’. Hundreds of thousands of people, who have supported the institutions and organizations affiliated with the movement in one way or another are dehumanized.
Their private properties are confiscated, bank accounts taken over, and their freedom of travel is taken away by cancelling their passports. Hundreds of thousands of families are living through a humanitarian tragedy due this ongoing witch hunt. News media reported that nearly 90,000 individuals have been purged from their jobs and the teaching licenses of 21,000 teachers have been revoked.
Is the Turkish government forcing these families to starve to death by preventing them from doing their jobs and prohibiting them from leaving the country? What is this treatment and the pre-genocide practices in European history?
I’ve witnessed every single military coup in Turkey and have suffered in each like many other Turkish citizens. I was imprisoned by the order of junta administration after March 12, 1971 coup. After the coup of September 12, 1980 a detention warrant was issued against me and I lived as a fugitive for 6 years.
Right after February 28, 1997 post-modern military coup, a lawsuit asking the capital punishment was filed against me with the charge of “an unarmed terrorist organization consisting of one person”.
During all these oppressive military-dominated administrations, three cases with the accusation of “leading a terror organization” were opened against me and in each case I was cleared of those charges. I was targeted by the authoritarian military administrations back then, now I am facing the very same accusations in even more unlawful manner by a civilian autocratic regime.
I had friendly relations with leaders from various political affiliations such as Mr. Turgut Ozal, Mr. Suleyman Demirel, and Mr. Bulent Ecevit and sincerely supported their policies that I found to be beneficial. I was treated with respect by them especially for Hizmet activities that contribute to social peace and education.
Even though I kept a distance with the idea of Political Islam, I praised the democratic reforms undertaken by Mr. Erdogan and AKP leaders during their first term in power.
But throughout my life I have stood against military coups and intervention in domestic politics. When I declared twenty years ago that; “there is no turning back from democracy and secularism of the state”, I was accused and insulted by the same political Islamists who are close to today’s administration. I still stand behind my words. More than seventy books that are based on my articles and sermons of forty years are publicly available. Not only there is not a single expression that legitimizes the idea of a coup in these works but, to the contrary, they discuss universal human values that are the foundation of a democracy.
Emancipation of Turkey from the vicious cycle of authoritarianism is possible only through internalization of a democratic culture, and a merit based administration. Neither a military coup nor civilian autocracy is a solution.
Unfortunately, in a country where independent media outlets are shut down or taken under government’s custody, a significant portion of Turkish citizens were made to believe by continuous propaganda that I am the actor behind the July 15 coup. However, world opinion, which is shaped by objective information, clearly sees that what is going on is a power grab by the administration behind the excuse of a witch hunt.
Of course, what matters is not majority opinion but the truths that will emerge through a fair trial process. Tens of thousands of people, including myself, who have been the target of such a gross accusation, would like to clear our names through a fair judicial process. We do not want to live with this suspicion that was cast on us. Unfortunately, the government’s exerting political control over the judiciary since 2014, took away the opportunity for the Hizmet sympathizers to clear their names from these accusations.
I openly call on the Turkish Government to allow for an international commission to investigate this coup attempt, and promise full cooperation in this matter. If I they found one tenth of the accusations against me to be justified, I am ready to go back to Turkey and receive the harshest punishment.
The participants of this movement have been overseen by hundreds of governments, intelligence agencies, researchers or independent civil society organizations for 25 years and have never been found to be involved in illegal activity. For this reason, many countries do not take the accusations of Turkish government seriously.
The most important characteristic of Hizmet movement is to not to seek political power, instead to seek solutions for the problems threatening the future of their societies which require a long term effort. At a time when the Muslim-majority societies make the news by terror, blood shed, and underdevelopment, Hizmet participants have been focusing on raising educated generations who are open to dialog and actively contributing to their society.
Since I have always believed that the biggest problems facing these societies are ignorance, intolerance-driven conflicts and poverty, I always encouraged people who would listen to me to start schools instead of mosques or Quran tutoring centers.
Hizmet participants are active in areas of education, medical care, and humanitarian aid not only in Turkey but also in over 160 countries around the world. The most significant characteristic of these activities is that they serve people of all religions and ethnic backgrounds not just Muslims.
Movement participants opened schools for girls in the most difficult areas of Pakistan and continued to provide education in Central African Republic during the civil war. While Boko Haram took girls as hostage in Nigeria, Hizmet participants opened schools that educated girls. In France and the French-speaking world, I encouraged people who share the same ideas with me to fight against groups that embrace radical Islamic thoughts and to support the authorities in this struggle. In these countries, I struggled to help Muslims to be recognized as free and contributing members of the society, and becoming part of the solution rather being associated with problems.
Despite receiving threats, I categorically condemned the terrorist groups such as Al Qaida and ISIS who taint the bright face of Islam numerous times. However, Turkish government is trying to set the governments around the world against the schools opened by the individuals who did not take part in July 15 attempt and who always categorically rejected violence. My appeal to the world governments is not to take their claims seriously and reject their irrational demands.
Indeed, Turkish government’s political decision to declared Hizmet movement as a terrorist organization resulted in the shutting down of institutions such as schools, hospitals, and relief organizations. Those who have been jailed are teachers, entrepreneurs, doctors, academicians, and journalists. Against the hundreds of thousands of their witch hunt, they did not produce any evidence to show that they supported the coup or that they were associated with any violence.
It is not possible to justify actions such as burning down a cultural center in Paris, detaining family members of wanted individuals as hostages, denying journalists access to medical while in detention, shutting down 35 hospitals and Kimse Yok Mu humanitarian relief organization, or forcing 1500 Academicians to resign as part of a post-coup investigation.
It appears that, by presenting the recent purges as only targeting Hizmet participants, Turkish government is actually removing anyone from bureaucracy who are not loyalists of the ruling party and also intimidating civil society organizations. It is dreadful to see human rights violations including torture detailed in the reports by Amnesty International. This is a human tragedy.
The fact that the July 15 coup attempt, which was an anti-democratic intervention against an elected government was foiled with the support of Turkish public is historically significant. However, the prevention of the coup does not guarantee a victory for Democracy. Neither the domination of a minority group nor the domination of a majority and their oppressing the minority, nor the rule of an elected autocrat is a true democracy.
There cannot be a mention of democracy without upholding the rule of law, separation of powers, and protection of essential human rights and freedoms, especially the freedom of expression. True victory for Turkish democracy is only possible by reviving these core values.
Published [in French] on Le Monde, 11 August 2016, Thursday
English version retrieved from http://afsv.org/gulen-le-monde-oped-in-english/