Hizmet, Erdoğan and the US

Ali Halit Aslan
Ali Halit Aslan

Date posted: January 14, 2014


Five months after his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was established, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid a visit to Washington as the AK Party chairman in early 2002 to attend several meetings, both open and closed to reporters. He met leading Turkey and Middle East experts in the US.

I covered his visit for the Zaman daily. After a brief search through the archives, I found the headline of a news story I had written on a speech Erdoğan made at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Jan. 29: “Erdoğan: We will reinforce the Turkish-American alliance.”

Erdoğan’s visit to Washington, where he laid out a reasonable and reformist vision that was favorable to Americans — including neocons and the Israeli lobby — ahead of the general elections of 2002, was cast by his rivals as a move to get “approval” from the US. No one from the Zaman daily gave credence to such unseemly accusations. Erdoğan and his party’s legitimate foreign policy was never criticized. For most of us, Erdoğan was a gallant Anatolian “black” who had been imprisoned for reciting a poem. And, just like any “white,” he had the right to govern the country.

During his Washington visit, Erdoğan attended a friendly gathering at the house of Zahid Akman, who was a Kanal 7 representative at the time. Akman had invited me to this meeting as well. I asked the first question. “What’s going well in Turkey?”

“The AK Party,” he had snapped. He was right. His party would come to power and form a government on its own by the end of year. Many of the people who had attended that meeting were later appointed to senior positions in the government. Of course, we cannot question their loyalty to Turkey just because they lived or studied in the US.

Why did Erdoğan change his attitude?

Over time, Erdoğan, whom we knew as a humble leader who embraced everyone in the country and was at peace with the world, was replaced by someone who spits high-sounding, turgid and grandiose rhetoric at all foreign countries and nations, including the US. Thus, Erdoğan transitioned from a progressive leader who had cast off his National View (Milli Görüş) garb and sought to make Turkey a full member of the European Union to a marginal figure who blames Western-guided internal enemies for every major political crisis. Erdoğan’s oligarchic gang of advisers, who are building walls even between the prime minister and his own party, plays a large role in this as these ministers tend to portray every unfavorable development as the doing of Americans or Israelis.

The Hizmet movement has been getting more than its share of abuse from these stealthily implemented public defamatory campaigns, waged by Erdoğan and his cronies since the prosecutors launched a series of raids that implicated several senior Cabinet members and their relatives on Dec. 17, 2013. Pro-government newspapers, TV channels and social media platforms are being used to accuse Fethullah Gülen and his followers of collaborating with the US in a conspiracy against the Turkish government. Many AK Party deputies and leaders who had lived or studied in the US in the past are either participating in this abuse or keeping silent — which constitutes an indirect endorsement of the accusations — or are unable to do anything to change this mentality.

In the past, the Erdoğan government hailed the Hizmet movement’s friendly ties not only with the US, but also with numerous countries around the globe, as Turkey’s soft power. Today, however, the government resorts to irrational conspiracy theories in an effort to divert public attention from allegations of corruption. Just like the powers that be of the “old Turkey,” they are seeking to market themselves as the only patriots in the country. They may be able to deceive some naive people in the short run, but in the long haul, their credibility will take the worst damage. As a social movement that successfully promotes Turkey’s values in its schools in about 150 countries around the world, the Hizmet movement’s patriotism cannot be doubted. You can ask Turkish embassies if this movement has ever engaged in any activities that run counter to Turkey’s interests.

Why does Gülen live in the US?

Those who seek to defame the Hizmet movement — which is not receiving material benefits from any state, Turkey included — frequently ask why Gülen lives in the US. It’s an effort to portray the Hizmet movement as the cat’s paw of foreign powers. For Gülen, however, the US is nothing but a hermit’s cell where he leads a life of exile. He does not tour the US. He does not meet American government officials. Even when neocons tried to conspire against him and get his residence permit canceled, he had to go through the courts to resolve the matter.

Those who defame Gülen as being disloyal to Turkey either don’t know him or have ulterior motives. His love for Turkey is legendary. As a matter of fact, his extended separation from his homeland is the result of his love for Turkey. He is concerned that his return could spark provocations that would lead to the country’s destabilization. For this reason, he has borne his longing for his homeland for 15 years. Jamie Tarabay, who visited Gülen to interview him for The Atlantic, told the US’ National Public Radio last week that he was living a “modest” life. Yet a pro-government paper has described his home as a “manor house.” This is a good example of what provocateurs in Turkey will do to defame and discredit this ailing man.

The supporters and followers of the Hizmet movement never pursue tensions or conflicts in international relations. In this context, they don’t want Turkish-US relations to suffer serious problems. Indeed, pursuing political ambitions through acrimonious discourse may harm Turkey’s regional and global profile. Actually, this principle guides the traditional foreign policy of the Turkish Republic, excluding occasional fits of populist rage by politicians. So what is wrong with Turkey’s sole global civil movement seeking to establish constructive relations with all the countries around the world, including Turkey?

The fanatic supporters of the AK Party slanderously call Gülen and the Hizmet movement the “manservants of the US.” Would they start to behave with some fairness if they took a look at what Erdoğan and his colleagues have said and done in the past, and what their past connections were? Or have their consciences become completely blotted out by rage and hatred? Do the Hizmet movement’s supporters, who are guided by love for Turkey and humanity, deserve this treatment?

Source: Todays Zaman , January 14, 2014

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