* Kashif Hassan Khan, a Mumbai resident, was planning to marry his Turkish fiancee Ruqayya before she was jailed for downloading Bylock, a messenger app that was allegedly used in Turkey by plotters of the foiled coup last July.
* Salman, a Turkish businessman, is in India for treatment but cannot return because he supported the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose backers allegedly triggered the coup.
* Omar, from J&K, was pursuing an engineering degree from Gediz university in Izmir, but the institution was shut down because it was allegedly a Gulenist initiative.
ON SUNDAY, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan touches down in Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi the day after, Kashif, Salman and Omar are among those who want India to raise with Turkey the issue of human rights violations committed during the “purge” that followed the failed coup. Erdogan’s visit comes barely a week after he won a referendum in Turkey that granted him unprecedented powers as head of the country. “Erdogan has separated families, put academics and journalists behind bars… women with infants are in jail. India should not entertain him or trust him,” says Salman, in his mid-50s, dressed in a crisp, white linen shirt. “I will be arrested if I go back, my wife’s passport has been cancelled. My wife weeps every day,” says Salman, who was part of the Hizmet movement in Turkey for the last 30 years and is undergoing treatment in a south Delhi hospital.
“I have no family to look after me here, and an arrest warrant has been issued for me in Turkey. All three of my business partners and the CEO of my company have been jailed in Turkey. I lead the life of a fugitive,” he says. Salman is wary of providing details about himself or his family, and refuses to be photographed. “My wife and daughter are still there, I don’t want to put them in trouble,” he says.
Kashif Khan, who moved to Mumbai from Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand, says he has been left heartbroken by 26-year-old Ruqayya’s arrest in October. “I met her when I had gone to Turkey in 2015 to teach international finance as an assistant professor at the Mevlana university. Ruqayya was a research assistant doing her PhD… very lively and intelligent. She is innocent. Her only fault was she installed Bylock on her phone. Bylock is an app like WhatsApp and, apparently, the coup plotters were communicating through it,” says Kashif, 30, who is trying to set up an educational institution in Andheri.
The Mevlana university, he says, has also been shut since it was allegedly run by a trust managed by Gulenists. According to media reports, Turkish authorities have closed more than 15 universities and around 1,000 secondary schools linked to Gulen, the US-based cleric who has denied any involvement in the coup on July 15, and has condemned it.
The closures have left about 200,000 students in Turkey in academic limbo. Among them is Omar, who lives with his family in Delhi but declined to provide any details about them. “I had been studying in Izmir since 2014. Now, I am trying to get an admission in India. If my credits are not transferred, I will lose three years of my education there. I am hoping for the best, as the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) has given me a letter, and I have applied to some Indian colleges,” says the 21-year-old.
“I studied in a Gulenist institution but never found anything unusual happening there. The university was a very progressive and modern place,” he says. Government sources acknowledge that they are aware of human rights violations being committed in Turkey but say the issue is unlikely to be raised with Erdogan during this visit.
“It’s a tricky and sensitive area for the Turkish President. We do not want to take this up, especially with the Turkish position on Kashmir and the Valley in turmoil. We have to engage with him in a diplomatic manner,” said sources. However, Turkish nationals in India fear that Erdogan may seek action against Gulenists in the country.
Speaking to The Indian Express, H Ilnur Cevik, senior foreign policy advisor to Erdogan, confirmed that Turkey’s President is likely to raise the issue with Prime Minister Modi. “Gulenists are a terrorist group, and there is a proper judiciary process going on. We have identified people from different sections who were part of them, many were in the military, police…journalists. They were not doing their jobs, and were planning the coup. These journalists have not been arrested because of what they wrote, but for supplying arms or indulging in terrorist activities,” says Cevik.
Salman, meanwhile, hopes that India will not “get swayed”. “To us, Gulen is like Gandhi. He is no terrorist. He preaches non-violence, and practises it as well. The Hizmet movement, founded by him, teaches peace and harmony, and has built educational institutions and hospitals, and does charity work. Do terrorist groups build modern education institutions?” he asks.
Cevik, however, insists that Turkey is a democracy that operates under the rule of law with Erdogan as President, and many checks and balances on his powers. But that is of little consolation for Kashif. He says, “Ruqayya writes letters to me through her sister. She tells me that she thinks about me. I want to go back to Turkey for her. I still have hope for her, I still have hope for Turkey.”
(Some names have been altered on request)