The botched coup attempt in my country on Friday night demonstrates at once the resilience of our democracy to survive attacks on its very core, and the extent to which enemies of our country are prepared to go to diminish the “new Turkey” that does not bow herself to the whims and demands of its allies and neighbors as the “old Turkey” once did at the expense of her own interests. Initial autopsy results of the fracas show that Turkish army officers following the inspiration, teachings and perhaps even instructions of a cultist Islamic cleric self-exiled in the USA were behind the attempt to assassinate our democracy.
Fethullah Gulen, a one-time supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reportedly communicated in recent weeks with senior officers involved in the coup, according to data and analysis extracted from our intelligence reports during last weekend. Absurd notions that our president may have planned the coup himself are debunked by such factual evidence of complicity by Gulen loyalists. Facts, they say, are stubborn things.
A brief tutorial on why Gulen, an elderly man living for the past 16 years on a farm in Pennsylvania with no seeming political ambitions left in life, could hold so much sway over his Turkish brethren in important military and government positions is necessary to understand why this rupture occurred. It all starts in the schools set up by Gulenists in the 1980s. They have long advocated a system of education which has now grown organically around the world, including 140 schools now operating in the US alone. Yet while on the surface Gulen sought to teach secularism to devout Muslims, in reality he was advocating that his followers mask their true Islamist tendencies so as to not alert the outside world to what was hidden in their hearts — radicalism and exploitation of Islam for self interest — until they could assume control of the levers of government.
Gulen took responsibility for educating the smart children of many poor families including those of some of our front line officers in the military, many of whom now hold senior positions of power, who couldn’t afford such education for their children at the time. These officers led the coup attempt on Friday, as far as we know. Can you imagine the loyalty they felt to Gulen, owing that their children are educated, producing members of society due to his largess? But loyalty to a cult should never be confused with loyalty to the state. Indeed, this Molotov cocktail has been brewing for nearly 20 years in our country, and our president tolerated and dealt with every single symptom knowing that it could blow up one day.
It is to Erdogan’s credit that he welcomed Gulenists into his government, respecting their intellects and work product even if he knew their true Islamist mindset was cloaked in wolf-like secular clothing. But Erdogan is no sheep. And that is what drove a chasm into relations between Gulen and the president in the early 2000s. Gulenists’ demands on power were purely autocratic in the early years of Erdogan’s rule. He contained them, but refused as a democrat to eliminate the threat they posed. They wanted control of the treasury and military for their own narrow gains and purposes. Erdogan stopped them.
In November 2011, Gulenists attempted their first assault on Erdogan’s government. The Istanbul prosecutor, a Gulen loyalist, summoned the then head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, for questioning over his links to separatist Kurdistan Workers Party rebels. In early 2013, matters escalated when Erdogan introduced legislation that would ban specialized prep schools run by Gulenists from operating on Turkish soil in a discriminatory manner (students had to profess loyalty to Gulen’s ideology to be admitted). At stake was nearly $2 billion in annual revenues from these schools that would have funded Gulen’s hidden enterprise and cloaked political ambitions for a long time to come.
In May 2013, Gulen criticized the government’s law and order response to protests in Taksim Square over urbanization plans for Gezi Park, and then escalated matters later that year by influencing the judiciary to pursue a bogus corruption scandal against Erdogan’s key allies in government. Even I, owing to my close relations with the president as an ally in Parliament and as his Chief Negotiator to the European Union, was a target of the Gulenists when they secretly audio and videotaped, then edited and finally leaked fake evidence implicating us in what was a badly staged corruption probe. I can personally attest that Gulenist designs on power in Turkey have no boundary limits whatsoever.
This pattern of repeated assaults on Turkish democracy from its own home-grown extremist ideology is our internal problem. It does not affect how we fight every day hand-in-hand with our allies against Islamist radicalism, whether from IS, the PKK, Al-Qaida or other terror groups. More Turks have lost lives than any other nationality on Earth due to the terrorist acts of these groups. Yet, and this is what aggravates us so deeply from all those who call our president a “Sultan” with autocratic ambitions, few can understand what it takes to manage the multilateral pressures on Turkey, both for positive good and against negative outcomes. We live in a rough neighborhood. We have to fight terrorists on our own soil and still be the loyal NATO ally taking orders from far and wide to kill terrorists beyond our borders, inflaming their hatred against us. Our Muslim traditions are criticized and impede our accession to the European Union, yet we are expected to cow-tow to the every whim and demand of leaders in Berlin, Paris and Washington.
No matter. The one thing that is certain from last Friday’s events is that democracy is alive and well in Turkey. Our president is firmly in control of the government and the citizens who support his vision have made their voices heard by the thunder of their moving feet which literally took the coup plotters out of their tanks. We are a friend of the West, but we are no longer a patsy to their whimsical desires. The new Turkey looks after her interests first and foremost, and this, with certainty, will not change.