August 8, 2016

Monday Talk with Ramazan Guveli on Gulen Movement and Recent Coup Attempt in Turkey

Ramazan Guveli*

Vocal Europe: What sort of link does Intercultural Dialogue Platform have with the movement in general and with Mr Gulen in particular?

Ramazan Guveli: Intercultural Dialogue Platform (IDP) was established in 2000 by Belgian-Turkish people who has been inspired by Fethullah Gulen in order to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue in grass root level. IDP advocates for peaceful co-existence, social cohesion and intercultural understanding. However, IDP has evolved throughout the years and strived to become the voice of Hizmet (also known as Gulen Movement) as Mr Gulen has been the honorary president of IDP since 2009. More recently, we have also formally established partnership with similar Hizmet affiliated dialogue organizations in Europe to share the good works of partners to the stakeholders at European level.

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?

RG: I must underlined that from the first hours of the coup attempt, all of the Hizmet organizations and Fethullah Gulen released statements condemning attempt to throw an elected government by military coup.

Our Honorary President Gulen has consistently advocated for democracy and insisted “there is no return from the democracy” at every stage of his life. We have always denounced the military interventions and demonstrated the attitude for the peaceful coexistence, freedom and democracy. Although, Hizmet people have been persecuted in Turkey since the corruption scandal in December 2013, we had not hesitated to stand up for the government. People of Turkey showed such a great courage and put their lives at risk for the sake of Turkish democracy. Everyone around me have the grief for the loss of lives who stood against the tanks.

In the other hand, right from the beginning of the coup, in the Turkish media the prime minister, the president have blamed on Gulen Movement which has put us in a such a awkward situation. Strange enough, president Erdogan stated at the face time video appearance at CNN Turk, after 2 and hours of coup started, that he had no communication with his head of intelligence and the chief of army, but he was sure that this was an act of Gulenist faction in the army.

There is also questions about the intelligence, and the possibility to avoid the coup and the loss of lives. Turkish Intellegence Service been informed by a army member at 3pm about the coup plan. When President Erdogan was asked about when was he informed about the coup, he first said to Reuters it was 4.30pm and then to Al Jazeera he said it was 8pm and lastly he said it was 9.30pm. So which one shall we believe? Could it be avoided? Did they let it go ahead to be a “God sent”? These are the question in our minds…

VE: Many both in Turkey and in Europe 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?

RG: Yes, it is shocking to see the extend of the purge taking place in Turkey right after the coup attempt. At the night of 15th July, I wrote at the social media that “I hope the coup plotters who caused this terrible situation would be punished in the strongest terms “within the law”, but only those who have been involved” because I was worried that president Erdogan and his government would take this opportunity to punish anyone who do not bow to them, particularly Hizmet people. Unfortunately, I was right that about hundred of thousands of people been subject to the with-hunt and I must highlight that it will not stay at this point as the president Erdogan said recently “this is the tip of the iceberg” so more to come. My instinct says that it will even extend to his own people within the AKP, as any dicta regime would destroy their own children.

People who is subject to the purge are mostly linked with the Hizmet but we get the reports that Armenian teacher is fired with alleged link(!) with Gulen Movement or a well known atheist professor been detained because a book of Gulen was found in his office. So, the witch hunt is not limited to the Hizmet participants but the common thing about the victims will be the label of “being member of so-called Terror Organisation”.

In addition, it seems that with the black propaganda in Turkish media, most of the Turks find the purge legitimate action which is also alarming, but I think the cost of the purge will be felt by the public in the mid and long term. For example, replacing fifty thousands of teachers may seem easy for the government but it will cause so much distribution on the education of the pupils. Parents will then question “what was the guilt of these innocent teachers?” but it will be too late. The consequences of the purge will also lead a social trauma which may make Turkey to pay very high price.

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?

RG: Well, there are so many questions about the failed coup. We still don’t know who is the number 1 in this coup, top ranking generals, who are the political side of the coup? I don’t believe that this was staged by government or president Erdogan but when we look at the way it was planned it seems that it was meant to be failed. I personally feel closer to the explanation by senior political analyst that this was an attempt of Kemalist/Ataturkist generals, because the top generals are well know Kemalist, but when the intelligence found out the coup plan it lost the full back up amongst the high rank generals but still it has gone ahead.

Mr Gulen clearly stated that anyone who has sympathy to his ideals and follow his principals if they involved with the coup they have betrayed to his ideals. I must also stress that if someone who is inspired by Fethullah Gulen is in a state bureaucracy or in the army he is firstly a public servant or a soldier and he follows the orders or the rules wherever he is and he cannot act according to his faith or social background. Therefore, as most analysts say that the Gulen affiliated army officers are mid ranking level, so I think some of them may listen their chiefs who are coup plotters and take part in the coup. That means they are responsible for their own actions, and noone cannot punish whole community because of this. Corporate punishment is against the basic principles of law and human rights.

VE: What is your assessment on temporary suspension of European Convention of Human Rights by Turkish government?

RG: Countries may use the article 15 to suspend the ECHR but as the Commissioner for Human Rights Mr Muiznieks stated such derogations are not limitless. We have seen the video footages, pictures of torture on persons taken into custody. According to The Amnesty International’s report there are severe human rights violations, even rape to those been detained. These are alarming signs of where Turkey is heading but apart from some statements there is no such a convincing response from Europe to stop the violations. Thus, it seems to me that no one can help the victims at the moment and they are in the hand of Erdogan’s mercy. Finance minister Nihat Zeybekci said in his speech last week that “We will punish them (putchist) such a way so that they will beg us to die” and this clearly shows there is no mercy, no rule of law for the AKP leaders.

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?

RG: We have mentioned about ECHR and death penalty clearly is against the convention and Turkey will lose a lot if it is introduced (ie membership of Europen Union etc). Therefore, I think this is the typical tactic of president Erdogan, he always do such political maneuvers, and I don’t think he is sincere about this. He shows the worst case scenario in order to persuade Europe to accept a really bad case which is in this circumstances the purge and “ideological cleansing” not only in the state bureaucracy but also in private sector.

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 EU 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?

RG: Mr Gulen strongly dismisses the accusations and challenge the AKP government’s allegation to appoint a referee, an international body to investigate the coup, he said he will accept the verdict. As far as I can follow the European and international media they question the accusation of Erdogan and his government and they don’t really buy the narration that Turkish Government exporting.

In my opinion, the intelligent services of the US/EU would more information than us and what they say is more credible than what Erdogan says. US National Intelligence Director James Clapper said they did not see any evidence that Mr Gulen would be mastermind or behind the coup. We are also not expecting to have tharroguh investigation by Turkish judiciary into the coup, and most probably AKP will not let the Turkish Parliament to establish a commission to investigate the coup as we saw it in the past that AKP always blocked to investigate so many terror attacks in Turkey.

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?

RG: To be honest, it is obvious that institutionally Hizmet is finished in Turkey, I mean as all the schools, universities and other institutions have been closed down and more than ten thousand people jailed, then there is no hope that it will recover anytime soon. Hizmet may exist at the individual basis in Turkey unless last steps of genocide is implemented!

In Europe or any part of the world it is different case as Hizmet movement is very diverse from one place to another. Whatever is happening in Turkey, it must stay in there, it is purely political persecution. The Hizmet affiliated organisations in Belgium must be considered according to their work in here. I can see that every country measuring the value added by Hizmet to their own societies rather than Erdogan’s call to close down the Hizmet affiliated schools or organisations. For example, recently, Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government, Kyrgizistan, Kazhakistan and some other countries rejected Turkish Government’s call in this respect.

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?

Extradition should not be part of political bargain, if Mr Gulen has done anything wrong to Turkey, then Turkish Government should provide subsequent evidences to prove this, which I find it very unlikely.

Lastly, Erdogan needs a name, an enemy to fight, he has created “Gulen” and by receiving him from the US he would kill this unreachable enemy which means that he would need something else to keep his ranks stick together. So, Erdogan will keep using the issue of Mr Gulen’s extradition for his internal politics and a matter for bargain with his US relations.

*Ramazan Guveli is the Director of Inter-Cultural Dialogue Platform based in Brussels.

Published on Vocal Europe, 8 August 2016, Monday