The Turkish Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of plotting a failed coup two months ago denounced the repression of his supporters on Thursday, calling the crackdown “dark pages in world history.”
The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, said the arrests, purges and dismissals undertaken by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a former ally, reflected the behavior of a man seeking to “acquire sovereignty unconditionally for himself.”
Mr. Gulen accused the government of subjecting his followers to “oppression and tyranny.”
“My heart is aching,” he said.
Mr. Erdogan and his subordinates have blamed Mr. Gulen for the coup attempt, which left at least 271 people dead. Mr. Gulen is the overseer of a religious movement that runs schools, charities and other enterprises in a number of countries, but that the Turkish government considers a terrorist organization.
Mr. Gulen, 75, who has repeatedly denied involvement in the coup attempt, made his remarks in Turkish in a recorded video address to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, which streamed the address and provided a simultaneous translation.
It was Mr. Gulen’s first public comment about the coup attempt and its aftermath since Turkey, a United States ally, formally requested that the American authorities arrest him while Turkish prosecutors seek to have him extradited. Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency said Tuesday that the Justice Ministry had demanded his arrest on charges of “ordering and commanding the attempted coup.”
Mr. Gulen did not address the extradition issue. But his principal deputy, Y. Alp Aslandogan, who spoke to the World Affairs Council after the video was shown, said Mr. Gulen had no plans to leave the United States.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong,” Mr. Aslandogan said. “It’s not possible for the Turkish government to satisfy conditions for extradition. He’s not worried about it.”
The Obama administration has said it is taking the extradition request seriously. While Turkish officials have acknowledged that the process could take months, many are angry at the United States for what they view as lenient treatment of Mr. Gulen.
The severity of the crackdown in Turkey has raised concerns in the United States and Europe that Mr. Erdogan has used the failed coup as a pretext to eradicate political rivals and groups he deems a threat to his power. Mr. Erdogan and his subordinates have rejected those concerns.
Mr. Gulen said he believed that Mr. Erdogan had been caught off guard by the international response to the crackdown, saying the Turkish leader and his associates “did not realize how this would be perceived.”
Published on The New York Times, 15 September 2016, Thursday