Turks threatened over alleged links to the Gülen movement find a safe haven in Greece


Date posted: December 18, 2019

By Hans von der Brelie

When thousands of Turkish citizens lost their jobs or were jailed over suspected links to the Islamist Gülen movement, they chose self-exile to escape persecution.

Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, has turned into a place of refuge for many of them.

Then the President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed his main political enemy, Fethullah Gülen for the attempted military coup in July 2016.

This was denied by the Turkish imam and businessman who exiled to the United States in 1999.

But multiple anti-Gülen raids in Turkey followed in 2016, triggering a brain-drain: the country is losing a huge part of its well-educated middle-class.

But for Thessaloniki, the arrival of Turkish asylum seekers has led to a revival of start-ups and small business such as Turkish icecream-shops, shoe-shops, rental shops and restaurants.

It was heartbreaking, to leave my beloved home country

Musa Yücel Turkish refugee and entrepreneur

Musa Yücel, a Turkish refugee from the western Black Sea region has lived in Thessaloniki for a year and a half.

His Greek asylum application is still being processed but he already has a work permit. It took him 5 months to get all the paperwork together, allowing him to open his small restaurant earlier this year.

“It was heartbreaking, to leave my beloved home country,” says Musa, who, together with his wife opened the small restaurant, “Pita in the City” in the historic centre of Thessaloniki.

Now, the father of three serves mainly Greek clients, but also Turkish refugees, visitors and tourists from all around the world.

“I am sad about the silence in Europe regarding what happens in Turkey,” he says.

Before fleeing Turkey Musa was active in businesses, such as building and selling apartments and launching restaurants in different Turkish cities.

He owned several restaurants and learnt cooking on the job.

Musa was also involved in one of those many education companies linked to the Gülen movement, helping supervising school board decisions.

When the witchhunt against Gülen-supporters started, Musa was targeted too, although he did not take part in the failed military coup.

“I was accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation and financially helping and managıng the Gülen movement. I spent eight months in jail pending trial, because of those accusations,” says Musa.

“The situation in the prison was really difficult. We stayed there with 22 people in one very tiny cell. We didn’t have enough water and we did not get enough to eat.”

“No books were allowed, not even the Koran.”

Musa was released after a long time in custody because the judges had no material proof to sentence him.

But fearing a second arrest warrant following a second wave of persecution against “gülenists”, Musa decided to hide: for ten months he lived “underground” before leaving Turkey by crossing the Evros border river between Turkey and Greece.

When we were crossing the Evros. It was so dark and we had to carry our daughter, so we lost all our belongings.

Ahsen Safiye Tozanoglu, Teacher and Turkish refugee

Ahsen Safiye Tozanoglu, a teacher and Turkish refugee, studied chemistry before joining a Gülen-linked school in Sirnak, close to the Turkish border with Iraq.

During the coup, she and her husband, who was also a teacher, told their students to stay peaceful.

Nevertheless, both lost their jobs and had to leave their country clandestinely.

“When we were crossing the Evros. It was so dark and we had to carry our daughter, so we lost all our belongings,” says Ahsen.

“When we arrived in Thessaloniki, we had nothing. So in this place here, we found some clothing and other basics for people in need.”

Ahsen now occasionally gets free food and clothes from a charity shop in the city, organised by the Gülen network.

She also has a small income from working as a translator for refugees at the “Irida Women’s Center.”

The NGO supports around 300 women from 35 nationalities who have ended up alone with their children, unable to speak the language.

Project manager Christa Calbos confirms that the number of Turkish women there is on the rise:

“Just yesterday we registered four new Turkish members,” she says. “Some of the main challenges we are facing here, that our community members are facing, are having their educational and job backgrounds recognised here in Greece so that they can start to live again here and have access to the labour market.”

“Additionally, the majority of our members are mothers, their children are going into Greek public schools and are facing struggles to learn the language.”

After the coup attempt, Ahsen and her husband were imprisoned for over a year, together with some 77,000 other alleged “terror suspects.”

She had to leave her daughter Neda, who was 15 months old at the time, with relatives.

“I do not think that there is an independent justice system existing in Turkey any longer,” says Ahsen.

“In prison. the most difficult situation was to see a woman with her 30 days old baby.”

“The emprisoned mother did not have enough milk. The baby was so tiny and meagre. It was not possible to give it enough food.”

Ahsen’s husband eventually fled to Germany, close to Bonn, where he is waiting for a decision on an asylum application for the whole family.

If granted asylum in Germany, they will join him via family reunification procedures there. Ahsen has already started to learn some German in anticipation.

But Neda misses her father so much she needs psychological help.

I was dismissed from my job. I was labelled a criminal. I was not granted my rights to defend myself… I see Turkey today as a complete dictatorship.

Bekir Çayir, Former computer teacher and Turkish refugee

Bekir Çayir lives in a rural village in Northern Greece with his children, five-year-old Faik and twelve years old Selma.

Previously he worked as a computer teacher at a Gülen-affiliated school.

After the coup attempt, he was among the 150,000 people dismissed from their jobs because of their alleged links with the Gülen network.

Greece grants him protection and his family of four gets a small amount of financial support from the UN Refugee Agency.

To supplement his meagre income, he creates websites on a freelance basis.

He is still working on his Greek, but he is able to communicate with neighbours and administration.

“On September the first 2016, I was dismissed following the presidential decree number 672, along with tens of thousands of other people.

“I was labelled a criminal. I was not granted my rights to defend myself. I was exposed to a kind of social death.

“After I was dismissed, two former lawyers of mine were arrested too.”

“Then in the area I lived, I called eleven lawyers. Out of those, ten bluntly refused to look into my case.”

“I see Turkey today as a complete dictatorship.”

Bekir knows the Koran by heart and reads 20 pages every day.

His deep faith runs alongside some of the values taught by Fethullah Gülen: priority to education, prayer and conflict management by dialogue.

“But I did not receive any specific Gülen training,” he stresses, “and I am not a member of any kind of inner Gülen circle”.

“When reading his books I felt close to Gülens ideas, that’s all. But above all, I consider myself just an ordinary, modest and open-minded Muslim.”

One of the books he owns about the prophet Mohammed was written by Fetullah Gülen.

“Those books are considered evidence of a crime right now in Turkey. Personally, when I was still in Turkey, I had to bury seven huge bags of books.”

“Many people who owned those books are in prison.”

We had arrest warrants issued against us, so we had no opportunity to go to any hospital.”

“When you go to a hospital you are in their database and they can find and arrest you.

Yasemin Atik Former student dormitory manager, Turkish refugee

Mother of four, Yasemin Atik is waiting to be reunited with her husband, who found protection in the US and works in a market and as an Uber driver.

Back in Turkey, she worked as a student dormitory manager linked to the Gülen movement. She also volunteered in several Gülen-labelled charity organizations.

All those schools, groups and NGOs were perfectly legal until the coup d’Etat.

When the anti-Gülen crackdown started, Yasemin was pregnant.

“The schools we were working for were closed down,” says Yasemin.

“We had arrest warrants issued against us, so we had no opportunity to go to any hospital.”

“When you go to a hospital you are in their database and they can find and arrest you.”

“To avoid those risks, we decided to give birth at home.”

“When the midwives arrived very early in the morning, they told me not to scream when giving birth. I told them: Yes, I know.”

“The following two years, every single day we were afraid of being arrested.”

Yasemin is now active on so-called social media, alerting people about the situation of imprisoned mothers in Turkey. Figures from early 2019 show there are about 864 jailed mothers-with-babies.

Of her time in Thessaloniki, Yasemin says she also gets a stipend from the UNHRC and that she has good relations with her Greek neighbours: a woman living nearby often drops by, donating fruit and vegetables. Yasemin brings her some of her favourite Turkish dishes and they exchange Greek and Turkish recipes.

As a result of the persecutions, in 2018, around 25.000 Turkish asylum requests were filed in the European Union, a rise of 50 per cent on the previous year.

Germany, with some 10,000 applications filed in 2018, is the number one host country, closely followed by Greece with almost 5.000 asylum applications filed last year.

And the exodus continues. In the first four months of 2019, Greece received 1682 Turkish asylum applications.

Fearing arrest and with no belief in the independence of the Turkish justice system, thousands of teachers, managers, public servants and businessmen can no longer return to Turkey.

Saying good-bye to their home country, they try to start a new life elsewhere in Europe or overseas.

Source: Euronews , November 22, 2019


Related News

Turkish PM Erdoğan lashes out at Gülen as the head of ‘neo-Ergenekon’

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stepped up his fiery rhetoric against his ally-turned-nemesis, the Gülen movement, criticizing U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen as the leader of “neo-Ergenekon.”

Turkey should compensate abused Nigerian students

The recent unjustified arrest, detention, traumatization and subsequent release of 50 Nigerian students in Turkey by that country’s government must rank as a most unfortunate low in the Nigerian – Turkish relations. Seen in context, it constitutes an instance of unjustified victimization of innocent foreigners, out of misplaced grudge by a government that had no cause for such act of indiscretion.

Turkey’s Ongoing Crackdown: nearly 13,000 police officers suspended for alleged links to the Gulen movement

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suspended nearly 13,000 police officers over suspected links to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric Turkey says is responsible for the July 15 coup attempt. Erdogan’s critics believe he has used the coup as an opportunity to crack down on his political opposition. Erdogan was often accused of trying to silence critics.

A rift between the Hizmet movement and the AK Party?

BÜLENT KENEŞ June 14, 2012 For some time, Turkey has been obsessively talking about an alleged contention between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Hizmet movement (aka Gulen Movement). This matter is being discussed in dozens of newspaper columns and TV programs every day. The Hizmet movement’s demands are about principles. These […]

Lawyers, academics say ‘parallel state’ was invented to block graft probe

A total of 150 academics signed the manifesto, titled “Rule of law suspended.” The manifesto says the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government cannot ignore the corruption allegations just by making up claims of a “parallel state” — which has no meaning in political science or law — and placing the blame on the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, for its unlawful practices.

Boston Globe: Fethullah Gulen, a US resident wanted by Turkey, must be protected

Why was the White House even talking about Gulen, who has been living peacefully, and legally, in Pennsylvania?

Latest News

Fethullah Gülen’s Condolence Message for South African Human Rights Defender Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Hizmet Movement Declares Core Values with Unified Voice

Ankara systematically tortures supporters of Gülen movement, Kurds, Turkey Tribunal rapporteurs say

Erdogan possessed by Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler spirits?

Devious Use of International Organizations to Persecute Dissidents Abroad: The Erdogan Case

A “Controlled Coup”: Erdogan’s Contribution to the Autocrats’ Playbook

Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Purge-victim man sent back to prison over Gulen links despite stage 4 cancer diagnosis

University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links

In Case You Missed It

Kosovo grants asylum to Turkish national

Gov’t tries to frame Hizmet with secret statements from shady sources

A Case for Why Gulen Would Never Support a Coup

Turkey’s permanent state of crisis

Six Turks arrested in Kosovo over Gulen links extradited to Turkey

Pro-gov’t daily repeats Bharara controlled by Gülen movement, calls him ‘stupid’

Kimse Yok Mu provides vocational training for Palestinian orphans

Copyright 2024 Hizmet News