Date posted: July 16, 2016
Fethullah Gulen, the man blamed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of orchestrating the attempted military coup that rocked Turkey, has tried to turn the accusation against his political rival by suggesting that Mr Erdogan’s ruling AKP party had staged the uprising.
In a rare interview from his residence in rural Pennsylvania with the Financial Times and a small group of other reporters, a frail Mr Gulen said claims by Mr Erdogan that he had masterminded the uprising were absolutely groundless.
“I don’t believe that the world takes the accusations made by president Erdogan [against me] seriously,” the moderate Islamic preacher said from a room inside his home at the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center, nestled in the rolling hills of the Pocono Mountains.
“There is a possibility that it could be a staged coup [by Mr Erdogan’s AKP] and it could be meant for further accusations” against Gulenists and the military, he said.
Mr Gulen said that he was not worried about being deported from America despite Turkey putting further pressure on the US government to extradite him in the aftermath of Friday’s coup attempt. He said Mr Erdogan’s calls for his extradition were just his latest bluff, as he compared the Turkish president’s political tactics to those of Adolf Hitler’s Nazis in 1940s Germany.
“It is very clear that there is intolerance among the leadership of the ruling party and the president,” Mr Gulen said, speaking in Turkish and communicating with reporters through a translator.
“They have confiscated properties and media organisations, broken doors and harassed people in a fashion similar to Hitler’s SS forces,” Mr Gulen said, as he described how his followers in Turkey had been mistreated over recent years by Mr Erdogan’s party.
In a sign of the rising tension around Mr Gulen, about a dozen people started assembling outside his compound around noon on Saturday, shattering the rural calm that usually surrounds the residence.
“The US should stop protecting him,” screamed a woman wearing a headscarf and waving a Turkish flag in her right hand and a flag portraying Mr Erdogan in the other. “Gulen is a criminal,” she shouted as protesters gathered outside the imam’s residence.
Alp Aslandogan, a media adviser to Mr Gulen, told the FT that the Imam’s security was on “high alert” following the failed coup and threats on Twitter of violence.
Pennsylvania state troopers and a small group of armed private security forces hired by Mr Gulen’s centre were keeping the protests at bay.
Mr Gulen told reporters that he had not received any communications from the US government about a potential extradition.
“They want the best of both worlds, accusing him of being a puppet for the US and also asking the US to extradite him,” Mr Aslandogan said.
Mr Gulen, who is aged 77, was visibly weak. He suffers from diabetes and heart disease, according to his doctor.
The preacher, who has been living in self imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, lives in modest conditions despite the vast expanse of the complex.
The FT was able to access his bedroom and praying areas, which were ornately decorated with Islamic art and several Turkish flags.
Despite accusing Mr Erdogan’s ruling party of having put democracy at risk in Turkey, Mr Gulen said that he was against all kinds of military coups, as he had been a victim of such uprisings in the past.
US secretary of state John Kerry said he has not received a request to extradite Mr Gulen, but that he invites Turkey to “present us with legitimate evidence” which the US would “make judgments about appropriately”.
Source: Financial Times , July 16, 2016