Alleging Gülen supported coups is huge distortion of truth

The Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV)
The Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV)

Date posted: April 26, 2012


The Journalists and Writers Foundation released a statement on Tuesday in response to various allegations circulating in the media that Fethullah Gülen, a well-respected Turkish Islamic scholar, supported the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed intervention, dismissing such claims as a major distortion of the truth. The statement, posted on the foundation’s website, offers an explanation regarding the recent speculation in the press about the stance and statements of Gülen during the Feb. 28 period.

The statement noted that neither Gülen nor the Hizmet movement he has inspired claimed to be perfect in everything they do. It noted that the Gülen community is open to constructive criticism and had no objection to questions regarding the movement’s stance in the face of military interventions. However, such questions should be well meaning and posed with good intentions.

You may find the full text of the GYV’s statement below:

Fethullah Gülen and Hizmet’s attitude regarding coups*

Gülen, an active member of our society, made relevant statements before, during and after Turkey’s coups. However, some of these statements have been taken out of their original context and distorted to present Gülen as a support of coups. Neither Gülen nor the Hizmet movement claims that what they have done is perfect. They are open to constructive criticism and questions that are not aimed at being destructive or are not posed with bias. No one has objected to an inquiry into the attitude of Gülen and the Hizmet movement regarding the coups. However, these should include objective, constructive criticism and avoid factual errors.

One of the most objective and effective ways to understand Gülen and the Hizmet movement from a rational and scientific perspective is to subject his writings, speeches and actions to a thorough analysis through reliance on an integrated approach. Other attempts will fall short, remaining insufficient and deficient. The truth of the matter is that the Hizmet and Gülen have been visible in Turkish public life for the last two decades. Positive or negative, thousands of columns have been penned, a number of analyses have been made and numerous papers and articles have been published over the last decade in Turkey and around the world that identify his projects and goals. As noted by many prestigious and objective academic publications, the discourse and practice led by Gülen and the Hizmet have always focused directly or indirectly on the consolidation of democracy, the promotion of civil society, human rights and peace-building.

As noted, the Hizmet’s focus and subscription to democracy and human rights and freedoms has never fallen behind the overall expectations of society. The Hizmet movement has always expended efforts without confrontation towards these goals and ideals. Despite the brutal treatment of religious people by the state, those who subscribed to the Hizmet preferred active patience over conflict and remained adherent to constructive methods to attain its goals. The “constructive approach,” a fundamental tenet of the Hizmet movement, is in line with this fact. Some academic accounts of the Hizmet movement refer to this as a non-confrontational approach taken through participatory resistance.

Many academic works have confirmed that the fields of activity preferred by the Hizmet movement have made substantial contributions to peace-building, the improvement of civil society, the empowerment of individuals and particularly women and to the consolidation of democracy in the short and long term. It is also apparent that the Hizmet is strongly opposed to intervention in politics on behalf of religion as well as to the exploitation of religion for political reasons. It is also obvious that the Hizmet is opposed to coups, regardless of the goals involved. The Hizmet holds that pressure by the state on individuals on behalf of religion would drive the people to hypocrisy.

The approach suggesting that the worst state is even better than statelessness, chaos and anarchy, a principle that has been promoted by the Islamic tradition for centuries, should not be interpreted as an understanding that ignores democracy and sanctifies all actions by the state. Respect for the rule of law within the system in effect; universal law and the binding impact of the law, even if it is not consistent with human rights; avoiding conflict, but attempting to narrow the gap between the flawed standards and the universal principles by reliance on participant resistance; these all represent the fundamental approach of the Hizmet.

It is a visible distortion to argue that Gülen, who was unjustly arrested in the 1971 coup, prosecuted for five years as if he was a criminal in the 1980 coup and who has been forced to live in exile for 13 years away from his home in the aftermath of the Feb. 28 postmodern coup, has a positive approach towards military interventions. It should also be noted that even though he has been acquitted, Gülen has been a target of the coup-makers via an unjust and ungrounded legal case. In addition, it is also obvious that the actual victimizations in the Feb. 28 process have been experienced in the social sphere, rather than the political sphere. In addition to different social segments, the Hizmet, which holds a crucial place within society, has also been victimized by unjust practices and treatments. The Hizmet, which, despite this, remained adherent to its constructive approach, did not rely on a discourse focusing on victimization.

When his speeches on coups are analyzed, Gülen’s overall approach and stance should be carefully considered. References to some vague statements, detached from the overall context which could be clarified within a broader perspective by ignoring the parts that support and put emphasis upon democracy, will not help us understand the Hizmet movement and Gülen. Such an approach will lead to unconstructive results. As noted above, in reading and understanding Gülen, his approach of constructive action, non-confrontation, active patience, social development and avoiding provocations should be taken into consideration.

Gülen is optimistic, rather than pessimistic. In the most difficult times, he tries to raise hopes among his supporters and refers to the bright side of events. For the sake of being just, he does not ignore any constructive aspect of an individual that he does not like. As a reflection of hopefulness, he always points to goodness and ideals.

This has been the case with the military and the military servicemen as well. For the sake of democratic servicemen within the army, he has never adopted a hostile attitude or raised destructive criticisms against the state institutions, even during coup periods. This does not mean that he has supported the coups. Gülen takes action to ensure that the overall conditions do not get worse in the country and the overall tension is decreased for the sake of the entire society. He does not adopt a confrontational attitude that would serve the interests of those who hold ill intentions.

On the other hand, his optimism in no way exhibits Pollyannaism. This being the case, in spite of being an optimist, he considers the adverse possibilities that could occur in the future in light of the lessons learned from history and socio-political realities. In this respect, a phrase used by a commander, one of the leaders of the Feb. 28 coup, that “if reactionaryism on the street tends to return to a popular movement, an intervention will be the last resort” is highly meaningful. A general who was looked down upon by pro-coup officers for being a “democrat” was promoted to head the General Staff, which shows how wrong it is to take a stance against all officers and the entire military. Similarly, it is obvious that the ongoing Ergenekon trials could not have started if not for the majority of pro-democracy officers in the military. The fact that the majority of the officers in the military are against coups — as noted in a journal kept by an admiral, the authenticity of which has been confirmed by courts — also proves how Gülen’s attitude was the correct stance.

In fact, Gülen first saw the approaching coup period in 1993 and did his best to point out this danger. In the run up to the Feb. 28, 1997 coup, Gülen informed the top leaders of the state as to the situation, relaying information that “there is something going on at the Gölcük Naval Base,” but the country’s top rulers told him to “provide documents if you have any” and appeared to have preferred jeopardizing those who had exposed the coup preparations — much like the well-known Samet Kuşçu incident during the term of the Democrat Party (DP) — instead of closely monitoring those anti-democracy activities. Similarly, a prominent statesman at the time told Gülen, in response to another warning by him, “Dear Hoja, let’s please be balanced here.”

Gülen also expressed his concern over the developments, even before the most heated days of the Feb. 28 coup d’état, when speaking to a group of journalists in October 1995, telling them, “A clique in the military is preparing to issue a communiqué.” At this time, there was neither a strong political structure that would pay attention to such concerns nor a media sensitive enough to fight such actions. Unfortunately, apart from a few weak exceptions, this statement by Gülen found no support. What is more, the deputy leader of the parliamentary group of a prominent political party stood against his statement, calling it “an unfortunate statement, a comment made with a purpose. … There are no [coup] preparations. This is Fethullah Gülen’s personal opinion. Our military is a part of our nation.” The importance of the concerns expressed by Gülen at that time to create public awareness, concerns that were relayed to all political leaders of the time through a naval officer, could be understood after the start of the Ergenekon investigations, which revealed that several coup attempts had taken place.

The attitude of the Hizmet movement and Gülen in the course of the Feb. 28 coup era cannot be fully appreciated without considering the conditions of the day with all their details. In 1997, the civilian politicians at first did not take seriously the psychological warfare being waged against them; then they failed to show the will to prevent it. Some in the government, although they probably act with sincerity, took stances of approval of the propaganda being spread, and the media outlets that supported the coup blew those statements out of proportion. Some influential and strong “civil” society organizations and unions — referred to as the unarmed forces — took an anti-democratic, pro-coup stance. Some generals began to make open threats of an intervention. The president’s stance became clear, tanks were rolled out in Sincan, the threat “we will impale you on a stake” was issued to the Interior Ministry and senior generals came to decide the headlines of big newspapers. Amidst this chaos, Gülen sought to ensure the country survived this period with the least damage possible.

Looking back at the past and asking the question “The military wasn’t going to stage a coup anyway, why didn’t you challenge them?” has no rational basis. The US took seriously the information that some soldiers were planning a coup between the dates June 11 and 16, 1997, on the grounds that the MGK decisions of Feb. 28 weren’t being implemented, and then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a statement she made to the Milliyet newspaper on June 14, 1997, said, “We have expressed our opinion to Ankara that there shouldn’t be anything against the constitutional order.” Derya Sazak, who was the editor-in-chief of the Milliyet daily at the time whose newspaper used Albright’s statement as the main story, said a general called him and said, “Are we supposed to send two generals there as well?”

Gülen, even in that much criticized interview of his aired on the Kanal D network on April 16, 1997, in which he asked the Refah-Yol government to step down, tried to explain — as much as that was possible in those difficult days — that interventions hurt the country. What is more, this was one-and-a-half months after the political actors of the country failed to stand up against the Feb. 28 generals and after the signing of the Feb. 28 resolutions that stipulated the closure or nationalization of Hizmet educational institutions and other religious movements. Prior to that time, a large number of officers and NCOs were dismissed from the military due to Supreme Military Council (YAŞ ) decisions, and the Dec. 12, 1996 copy of Yeni Şafak in its headline story said, “You shouldn’t have signed [the MGK decisions, Hodja — referring to Necmettin Erbakan], the largest excision [of military officers] in recent years shocks Turkey!” It is obvious that Hizmet never left the political actors alone, and perhaps in the future, researchers will be saying that the opposite of that was happening. The value of Gülen’s call on the government to step down one-and-a-half months after the signing of the Feb. 28 decisions will be understood only with the AK Party government’s challenging the Apr. 27, 2007 coup de communiqué and the aftermath of this incident.

In summary, the attitude of Gülen in the face of a coup process that he was never a part of — and to the contrary where he was an open target — should be seen as a calm action, cautious and mindful, in line with the understanding of positive action and active patience.

To the attention of the public, respectfully.

*Statement released by the Journalists and Writers Foundation on Tuesday April 24, 2012

Source: Sunday’s Zaman

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