I saw the simple room in which he lives, adjacent to the room in which we met: a mattress on the floor, a prayer rug, a few books, and a reading table. Everything I knew before the meeting was confirmed that hour: This man is not the kind of person who would (or even could) plan a coup.
The family that owns Dogan Holding has long been influential in Turkey’s secular establishment and ran afoul of Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-based A.K.P. Party in 2009. With the company targeted again and fearful of losing more assets, the newspaper Hurriyet is widely seen as pulling punches to appease Mr. Erdogan by firing journalists and quashing even mildly critical news stories.
The AKP government, under emergency rule, has taken over hundreds companies, seized the assets of businessmen and shut down institutions linked to the movement. Despite the fact that Gülen denied the accusation and called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, President Erdoğan – calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” – and the Turkish government launched a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement.
Regardless of the threat Gulen poses as the purported leader of an international apparatus, any movement is a threat in that it is not easily controlled. If Gulen is right, and Erdogan fears anything that he cannot control, then the Gulen movement with its critical stance towards what it regards as abuses of the public trust, must seem threatening indeed.
Religiously, the Gülen Movement both reflects the long tradition of Turkish Sufi brotherhoods, and Gülen’s own emphasis on societal change through education, humanitarian activism, and interfaith dialogue. Gülen never sympathized with, or adopted, the AKP’s more conservative form of political Islam.
Mr. Erdogan’s own Islamist and autocratic tendencies have also compounded the country’s vulnerability. Since an attempted coup last summer, the President has purged thousands of police officers and soldiers, and the resulting talent and resources gap may have damaged Ankara’s counterterror capabilities.
Ironically, Erdogan finds it more expedient to blame Hizmet, rather than Daesh (IS), for the jihadist atrocities being consistently perpetrated in Turkey today. Thus, the Turkish Islamist president has got a scapegoat following all terror incidents of jihadist nature or other internal crisis engulfing the country.
However, Erdogan has a problem: Whereas Ataturk came to power as a military general, Erdogan has a democratic mandate to govern. Ataturk’s Turkey was rural and only 10 percent of the country was literate at the time, with most educated people supporting his agenda. Erdogan’s Turkey is 80 percent urban and nearly 100 percent literate, and many well-educated Turks oppose his agenda.
Karlov’s murderer was Mevlüt Mert Altintas. He did not grow up in a vacuum. Five years ago, Erdogan acknowledged his goal was “to raise a religious generation.” Altintas is its product. He was seven years old when Erdogan came to power; his whole schooling was under Erdogan. If history is any pattern, the violence in Turkey is just beginning and Erdogan will not be able to contain it, even if he is inclined to try.
Turkey has a terror problem. The Islamic State, Kurdish extremists and radical leftists each pursue targets inside Turkey seemingly with impunity. Turkey is no stranger to terrorism, but for decades it managed to control the problem. Turkey’s security forces were efficient. Today, however, the situation has changed. Turkish President Erdogan has purged the military, the police, and intelligence professionals.
No doubt that Turkey’s Schindler’s List today involves members of the Gülen movement who have done nothing wrong other than volunteering their time, money and expertise to improve the lives of people around themselves. They are viciously being demonized and vilified by Turkey’s President Erdoğan because they stood up against this tyrant’s massive corruption dragnet and arming of radical militants in other countries.
Western officials have preferred to raise concerns over the steady dismantling of Turkey’s free institutions only privately with their counterparts in Ankara. This approach has failed. That failure has left many millions of pro-democracy Turks to fend for themselves, while a once-fringe ideological element in the AKP, reared on Islamist supremacism, has been emboldened.
Turkey’s Erdogan regime has arrested an American pastor whom they could use in a possible exchange for the Turkish Muslim cleric they want to extradite from the United States. The Muslim Fethullah Gülen is accused by the Erdogan regime to be the mastermind behind the latest failed-military-coup intending to depose the president.
How did Turkey plunge into this mess of freedom suffocation, and what has really gone wrong with the once-admired President Erdogan ? While I keep pondering on these questions, I believe it is not too late for the Turkish government to retrace its steps and embrace full democratic norms.