Turkish PM Erdogan in Need of Alliance Against Imam Gülen- The Plot Thickens

Erdogan finds himself in serious trouble, since followers of the U.S. residing Imam Fethullah Gülen are harassing him with successive corruption investigations. With his reputation as an autocratic leader who crushed protests against  the demolition of a park with 130,000 teargas grenades, Erdogan can forget about support outside of Turkey. Gülen does it better abroad. His hollow phrases about peace, democracy, tolerance and interfaith dialogue still impress those who do not look much further.

The international response to the political crisis in Turkey is warped. That Erdogan is criticized for his attempts to effect the independence of the judiciary is justified. But how about the fact that the Gülen movement, which is not part of the democratic process, controls the police and the judiciary? No one seems bothered by that in the EU and the U.S.

In Turkey Erdogan does still finds support. He will lose votes, but polls are showing he can expect around forty percent. His emphasis on a conspiracy against Turkey clearly pays off, sensitive as Turks are for this argument, ever since the Treaty of Sévres of 1920. This way Erdogan can easily disguise the fact that Turkey is not the target, but he himself.

At any rate, few of his supporters are highly educated. Besides, not too long ago many of them were still following Gülen themselves. Erdogan will not find the firepower here to defend himself against Gülen’s better educated elite. However, with others such as the ultra-secular crowd he can. Gülen tricks are very well known here.

A complicating factor is that Erdogan gave carte blanche to Gülen prosecutors when they prosecuted the most outspoken ultrasecular critics during infamous trials, ending in lengthy prison terms. Their arguments were Ergenekon and Balyoz, alleged conspiracies with the intention of takeovers. The evidence in this respect was dubious to say the least and the ultrasecular have not forgotten that Erdogan did not object to that. On the other side, they hate Gülen even more. In other words, the principle “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” opens certain possibilities for Erdogan.

Before the conflict between the Prime Minister and the Imam erupted in full force the ultrasecular journalist Soner Yalcin invited Erdogan to form a coalition against the Gülen (1). Yalcin was put in the Silivri Prison by Gülen's prosecutors for 682 days, but was released pending trial at the end of 2012. Back then, it was unthinkable that Erdogan would consider such a proposal, but times are changing rapidly in Turkey. Some items in the pro-Erdogan newspaper Sabah (2) are already consistent with what appears on the Soner Yalcin Odatv website (3).

By itself Erdogan will not be very eager to join forces with previous enemies. For it would be seen by him as admitting a weakness, which does not fit with his character. But as Gülen turns the pressure up, he may not have many other options left. Anyway, his recent plea for a reopening of the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials could be seen as a rapprochement towards the ultrasecular (4).

Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag admitted that the government made ​​mistakes with respect to the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases. Well and good, Mehmet Haberal thought. This MP of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) spend more than four years in prison on charges of Ergenekon membership. Haberal wondered who’s responsible for that. His fellow party member Süheyl Batum believed it was Bozdag himself who had to defend himself in front of the Supreme Court (5).

Such an emotional response was to be expected, but the fact remains that Erdogan is taking the initiative now to reopen the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials. Though he called it an attempt to distract from the corruption scandal, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu supported this plan. Kilicdaroglu finds himself in a difficult position. He can certainly use the support of the Gülen movement during the local elections this coming March, but the question remains how to sell this to his supporters, for whom a deal with Gülen is tantamount to dancing with the devil.

Erdogan considers it a bad omen that Kilicdaroglu is in talks with the Gülen movement (6) and is trying to appease the CHP with new trials. Also because he hopes the CHP will agree to a new constitution subsequently (7). This new constitution is very important for Erdogan. To convince Kilicdaroglu he’s even willing to change the clause on the judiciary. Unfortunately for Erdogan this offer does not seem to be accepted by Kilicdaroglu (8).

However, Erdogan has more motives for new trials. These could also prove the use of falsified evidence by Gülen’s prosecutors. Lawyers have been claiming this all along, although the evidence they gave was rejected by the judges without further analysis. If it can be definitely proven that the judiciary acted unlawfully, Erdogan will be supplied with serious live ammunition against Gülen.

The prime minister is supported by the military high command. General Necdet Özel took action following an interview with Erdogan’s adviser Yalcin Akdogan in the newspaper Star. Akdogan spoke of a “plot” against the convicted soldiers, by the same group in the judiciary that instigated the corruption investigation that is so painful for Erdogan. Subsequently Özel filed a criminal complaint with the Justice Department against the Justice Department (sounds strange, but this is the current Turkish reality) (9).

Milli Görüs

The U.S., another aspect. There are strong anti-American sentiments among the ultrasecular. For a variety of reasons. Some haveideological differences with the U.S. Like  Dogu Perincek, the leader of the radical left, but very nationalist Turkish Workers Party (IP). Perincek was sentenced to life imprisonment after Gülen’s prosecutors claimed that he was a member of Ergenekon.

Others felt abandoned by the U.S. when Washington allowed Erdogan to replace the once powerful secular establishment within the state by Gülen’s followers. The relations between the Turkish military and the U.S. had already deteriorated in 2003, when the Pentagon blamed them for Turkey’s refusal to participate actively in the U.S. war against Saddam Hussein.

Initially, the U.S. had few allies more faithful than Erdogan, but in recent years the relationship went downhill. The climax was reached last month when he put his conflict with Gülen in the framework of a conspiracy, with the U.S. as one of the main conspirators.

In this manner, Erdogan rapidly returns to the Milli Görüs ideology of his old mentor, former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. Erbakan’s staunch anti-Western views certainly contributed to the U.S. decision not to put any obstacles in the way of the Turkish military when they forced him to resign in 1997.

Apart from this common ground between Erdogan and ultrasecular there are of course many differences. It goes without saying that Erdogan’s desire to create more religious influence on society remains a horror for the ultrasecular. A formal alliance is out of the question for that reason.

At the same time the formation of alliances becomes almost an automatic process. Whoever criticizes one, comes closer to the other. This makes neutrality extemely difficult, even for absolute outsiders. The same effect can be seen on Gülen’s side, who also sees new alliances to develop. Like with those within the left for whom Erdogan remains the main enemy and fail to see that Gülen’s plea for democratization is a mere strategy. For after all, Gülen did not object much to Erdogan’s antidemocratic tendencies when the two of them were still on relative good terms. 

Abdullah Öcalan

The reopening of the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials is an important issue, one way or another. The sentenced never expected to do the time they were sentenced to. This was apparent when I spoke with family members of four convicted generals, long before the conflict between Erdogan and Gulen exploded. At the time they already foresaw a form of amnesty.

Mehmet Perincek, the son of the aforementioned Dogu Perincek, the leader of the Turkish Workers Party, says something similar. He was himself sentenced to six years, also on the accustation of Ergenekon membership, but he was released pending appeal last August. When I met him, Erdogan still had not asked for new trials, but Mehmet Perincek was expecting already that his father and other prisoners could be released.

Mehmet Perincek based his expectation on the important role the Kurds have for the U.S. in the restructuring of the region, aka the Greater Middle East Initiative. In this context the U.S. demands the release of PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan. Nationalists, who are strongly opposed to Öcalan, would be compensated for his freedom with the release of the military, soldiers, politicians and journalists who were sentenced during the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials.

Whether Erdogan still feels very tied to American wishes, is the question. But Öcalan will continue to play a role. Recently he explained the corruption scandal as a “coup” against Erdogan (10). His motives are clear. For while the Gülen movement and the PKK are involved in a competitive battle over influence in South-East Turkey, he negotiates with Erdogan about a “peace process”. Moreover, Gülen’s prosecutors had hundreds of innocent Kurds imprisoned. Öcalan follows the same reasoning as the ultrasecular. There are many reasons for him not to like Erdogan, but with Gülen he has an even bigger problem. This turns him into a potential member of the nascent coalition against Gülen. Given the composition, a bizarre coalition. But anyway, the plot thickens...

Paris murders

And the plot thickened even further with a new development in the murder of three PKK activists in Paris in January 2013. The timing was special to say the least. For this development followed only days after Öcalan’s above mentioned statement.

Shortly after the murders last year a suspect, Ömer Güney, was arrested. It was evident that Güney committed the murders, but his motives remained unclear. However, it was generally understood that the “peace process” between the government and the PKK, to which Erdogan took the initiative, had to be frustrated in this manner.

The new development began when recently a sound recording appeared on the website Youtube of a conversation between the murderer and alledged agents of MIT. This intelligence service of Turkey is assumed to be entirely loyal to Erdogan. It’s not without reason that Erdogan chose MIT undersecretary Hakan Fidan to negotiate with Öcalan on his behalf.

From several sides it was confirmed that the voice of Güney is genuine. The identity of the alledged MIT agents remained hidden though. A few days later MIT officially denied any contact with Güney. But MIT also announced an internal investigation. This connects with a remark of Selahattin Demirtas of the Kurdish oriented Freedom and Democracy Party (BDP), that shares the grassroots of the PKK. Demirtas understands very well that it defies all logic to assume that MIT, and therefor Erdogan, orchestrated the murders in Paris. For why would Erdogan frustrate negations with Öcalan about peace after having initiated them himself? This brought Demirtas to the assumption that it was not MIT, but “a fraction within MIT” that talked with Güney.

In other words: MIT could very well be infiltrated. But infiltrated by whom? For the time being one can only guess. It’s worth mentioning though that a PKK-leader accused the Gülen movement of the Paris murders a week before the conversation with Güney appeared on Youtube. Even the most convinced opponents rejected this view, because of the non-violent reputation of the Gülenists.

Necip Hablemitoglu

Still, this reputation does not mean that the Gülen movement has never been mentioned in murder cases. For example, with the murder of the staunchly ultrasecular professor Necip Hablemitoglu in 2002. Hablemitoglu was known for his criticism of Gülen. The year before his death he also referred to contacts between the Gülen movement and the CIA. His murderers were never arrested. At first the Gülen movement was mentioned as a suspect by the media, but this claim was never substantiated. Instead the murder became associated with Ergenekon. Mainly because the trace was leading in the direction of former Gendarme General Veli Kücük, one of the prime suspects in the Ergenekon case. Last year a judge sentenced him to life imprisonment for this reason.

In addition, the Gülen movement also became associated with the murder of the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007. In this case the murderer was arrested. Many in Turkey agree however, that his conviction was not the end of the story. Like with the murder of Hablemitoglu, Ergenekon became the keyword. And once again the name of Veli Kücük came up. Now, there can be no doubt that Kücük was fiercely opposed to Dink. And there is more than one indication that he has been in contact with others who were sentenced with respect to Ergenekon.

But Kücük has also been in contact with… Fethullah Gülen (11). There is more though. For the police chief of Trabzon at the time of the Dink’s murder, the Gülenist Ramazan Akyürek, refused to inform the Istanbul police department about warnings he received about the plan to kill Dink. This brought a lawyer of the Dink family to the assumption that the Gülen movement had reasons to let the murder take place (12). Akyürek’s informant later on asserted that Akyürek himself was the main orchestrator of the murder of Dink.

Someone else who became suspicious about these circumstances was the journalist Nedim Sener. He wrote a book about the murder of Dink and was subsequently prosecuted on the accusation of Ergenekon membership by Gülens prosecutors. Ramazan Akyürek was involved in the case against Sener (13). During the recent purge initiated by Erdogan against Gülenists in the police force Akyürek was dismissed. A month later Erdogan compared the Gülen movement to the “Assassins”, the infamous murder cult of the ismailic Hassan I Sabbah (1050-1124)… 

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Peter Edel is an analyst and investigative journalist based in the Netherlands. He is a regular contributing correspondent to Boiling Frogs Post


1. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/journalist-soner-yalcin-feels-resentment.aspx?pageID=238&nID=38005&NewsCatID=339 

2. http://english.sabah.com.tr/national/2013/12/29/mysterious-ties-of-a-gulenist

3. http://www.odatv.com/n.php?n=cemaatin-emniyet-imaminin-adem-yavuz-arslan-ve-onder-aytacla-iliskisi-ortaya-cikti-2812131200

4. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-pm-erdogan-says-favors-retrial-of-coup-cases.aspx?PageID=238&NID=60606&NewsCatID=338

5. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/justice-minister-admits-failure-to-react-against-coup-plot-cases.aspx?pageID=238&nID=60965&NewsCatID=338

6. http://turkicamericanalliance.org/chairman-kilicdaroglu-visits-taa/

7. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-govt-to-freeze-judicial-bill-if-opposition-agrees-to-charter-change-on-key-body.aspx?pageID=238&nID=61011&NewsCatID=338

8. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkeys-main-opposition-rejects-government-offer-on-judicial-bill.aspx?pageID=238&nID=61132&NewsCatID=338

9. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-military-asks-prosecutors-to-investigate-plot-claims.aspx?pageID=238&nID=60489&NewsCatID=338

10. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/pkk-leader-ocalans-stance-on-graft-case.aspx?pageID=449&nID=60994&NewsCatID=396

11. http://rastibini.blogspot.com/2008/08/glen-kk-and-education-of-south.html

12. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/top-state-organs-report-may-be-a-turning-point-in-dink-case-lawyer-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=14570&NewsCatID=341

13. http://english.sabah.com.tr/national/2013/12/20/this-has-become-a-matter-of-national-security


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  1. CuChulainn says:

    the top of the front page of today’s USA TODAY. i assume this is a partisan limited hangout (most incriminated are Republicans), but why now, just before Turk elections?


    Turkish faith movement secretly funded 200 trips for lawmakers and staff
    Paul Singer and Paulina Firozi, USA TODAY

    WASHINGTON — A Turkish religious movement has secretly funded as many as 200 trips to Turkey for members of Congress and staff since 2008, apparently repeatedly violating House rules and possibly federal law, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

    The group — a worldwide moderate Islamic movement led by a religious scholar named Fethullah Gülen — has been accused by the Turkish government of attempting a coup in that country. Turkish leaders have asked the United States to extradite Gülen from the remote compound in rural Pennsylvania where he has lived for 20 years.

    The movement has founded hundreds of charter schools across the United States and around the world, has its own media organizations, and was deeply entrenched with the Turkish regime until a falling out two years ago. That led President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to declare Gülen was running “a parallel state” inside the country with the intent of undermining the government. In advance of Turkish elections this weekend, police raided the offices of Gülen affiliated-media organizations..

    A dozen different Gülen groups have sponsored congressional travel since 2008 and have filed forms with the House certifying that they were paying for the trips. The House Ethics Committee approved all the trips in advance based on the forms the Gülen groups submitted.

    But a USA TODAY investigation found many of those disclosures were apparently false. Some of the Gülenist groups claimed to be certified nonprofits, but they do not appear in state or IRS databases of approved charities. Groups that did register with the IRS filed tax forms indicating that they did not pay for congressional travel. And five of the groups admitted to congressional investigators earlier this year that a Gülenist group in Turkey was secretly covering the costs of travel inside Turkey for lawmakers and staff.

    Congressional disclosures show the Gülen-backed trips totaled more than $800,000 in free travel for lawmakers and staff. That number likely underestimates the costs since many of the in-country expenses were not reported. And it is not at all clear where the $800,000 came from, since many of the groups involved do not appear to have the resources to pay for large delegation trips.

    One Gülen group, the Texas-based Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, sponsored trips for three lawmakers and seven staff members in 2011, filing disclosures claiming it was the sole sponsor of the trips at a total cost of about $54,000. But the same organization filed an IRS tax form that year claiming it spent only $33,000 on travel with no expenditures for the travel of public officials.

    The network of Gülen organizations is hard to untangle. The BBC reported in 2013 “the movement’s influence extends far beyond Turkey, funding hundreds of Islamic schools, and think tanks and media outlets, from Kenya to Kazakhstan. It has attracted millions of followers and billions of dollars.”
    more at link above…

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