August 5, 2016

Turkey targets unlikely suspects in Gulen purge

History professor Candan Badem this week became an unlikely target of a government purge of followers of a US-based Islamic cleric blamed for an attempted coup in Turkey last month.

On Monday, he was told by the administration of Tunceli University, a state institution in the Eastern Anatolia region, that he was being suspended for three months. They accused him of being member of the secretive religious movement led by Fethullah Gulen.
    Two days later, he was arrested and held for a day for having a book written by Mr Gulen in his office.

    "My university office, home and cellphone were searched. After a day in custody I was released under judicial supervision with an international travel ban," Mr Badem tweeted after being released.
    Mr Badem, 46, told The National he was astonished by the action against him as he is a staunch atheist and Marxist who has publicly criticised the Gulen movement. In a tweet last year he pointed out to Mr Gulen’s western sympathisers that a passage from one of the cleric’s books advocated death for apostates.

    "As you can see from my tweets I am very openly atheist," he said, adding that he had even a filed a lawsuit to have his daughter exempted from mandatory religion classes.

    Mr Baden was arrested hours after he spoke to The National on Wednesday. Under the emergency rule imposed by the government last month he could have been held for up to 30 days without being charged.

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the government insist that Mr Gulen and his supporters were behind the failed coup on July 15 that claimed the lives of at least 250 people.

    Since then, more than 60,000 people have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation, in an effort to dismantle what the government describes as a "parallel state" formed by the Gulenists, who are thought to include members the military, judiciary, police force and state bureaucracy.
    On Friday, industry minister Faruk Ozlu announced the dismissals of 167 staff at the Scientific and Technological Research Council.

    Like Mr Badem, many others caught up in the purge seem highly unlikely to have any connection with the cleric and his followers, whom the government refers to as the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation.

    Among them is Bulent Mumay, one of dozens of journalists for whom detention warrants were issued late last month on suspicion of links to the group. While most of the journalists were employed by media outlets close to Mr Gulen, Mumay has long maintained a critical stance against the cleric’s movement. He was arrested on July 26 and released several days later.

    "It’s like accusing the pope of being an atheist. I was surprised and so angry," Mumay told The National.

    "It’s a very bad message to the rest of the media. Even if you don’t have links to the Gulenists, they can still arrest you."

    On Tuesday, Ari Hergel, a Turkish-Armenian guitar instructor, was removed from his position with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Artistic and Vocational Courses for alleged connections to the Gulen movement. Mr Hergel told the Agos newspaper that he was informed of the decision via text message. Though just one of thousands booted from their jobs, Mr Hergel’s sacking made news because of the improbability of an Armenian being a part of an Islamic movement with Turkish nationalist overtones.

    In Mr Badem’s case, he admitted it was possible his detention was because he was a thorn in the side of the government and his employer.

    "I am a well known opponent in Dersim [the historic name of Tunceli province] of the government and the university administration," he said.

    "I have a lawsuit against the university administration and against president Erdogan."

    On July 20 Mr Badem was removed from his position as department head because he was being investigated over a petition he signed earlier this year to demand an end to military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the Kurdish majority south-east because civilians were being affected.

    The petition infuriated president Erdogan, who said it was pro-PKK, and investigations were launched against the more than 1,000 academics who signed it.

    Mr Badem and three other academics are now suing Mr Erdogan for insulting them in his reaction to the petition.

    He believes that purges of those with no connection to the Gulen movement will continue.

    "Anything is possible," he said.

    Published on The National, 5 August 2016, Friday