On Tuesday, Turkish prosecutors ordered the arrest of nearly 700 people, including military and justice ministry personnel, as part of its moves against those accused of being involved in a 2016 coup attempt to overthrow Turkey President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Since the coup took place, the Turkish authorities have been carrying out a crackdown on the alleged followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Erdogan has long accused of plotting the 2016 coup. Gülen has denied these allegations and had condemned the coup. In fact, he has previously suggested that the coup was “staged” by the government itself.
Even so, the “Gülenists”, as Gülen’s supporters are called, weren’t always enemies. Until Gülen left for the US in 1999, when he started living in Pennsylvania in self-imposed exile, they supported Erdogan. But the relationship soured after the Gülenists started revealing instances of corruption in the president’s circle.
Who is Fethullah Gülen?
Gülen became popular in Turkey over 50 years ago when he was promoting a philosophy, which blended a mystical form of Islam with democracy, education, science and interfaith dialogue. The Gülen movement or Hizmet (which means service) movement is inspired by him. His supporters started 1000 schools in over 100 countries, including 150 taxpayer-funded charter schools in the US. The movement’s website describes itself as a “civic initiative rooted in the spiritual and humanistic tradition of Islam and inspired by the ideas and activism of Mr. Fethullah Gülen”. In the Turkish government’s attempts to uproot Hizmet after the coup, thousands of civil servants, judges and security officials have been purged, evoking comparisons to the purges during Stalin’s rule over Russia.
Significantly, there have been allegations against Gülen as well, that he ordered sympathetic police, prosecutors and judges in Turkey to target members of a rival spiritual movement, believed to be critical of his teachings. He has also been accused of asking his supporters to infiltrate the Turkish state.
While Turkey has requested the US to extradite Gülen, US has not acted upon the request citing the need for evidence.
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The Turkish coup
Since 1960 there have been four military coups in Turkey, all of them successful. The army considers itself to be the protector of secularism and democracy or the ideals of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the republic, and hence has intervened on four occasions in the past. Erdogan, on the other hand, has been in power for more than a decade and has brought in a lot of reforms in the Turkish establishment and society and is considered to be an Islamist and conservative.
On July 15, 2016, an unsuccessful coup was launched to out Erdogan, with the leaders calling it a move to protect democracy. As soldiers and tanks appeared on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, two bridges over Bosphorus in Istanbul were blocked. Further, Turkish fighter jets dropped bombs on parliament and gunshots were fired. Even so, the coup did not have the participation of chief of staff, General Hulusi Akar and the head of the army, neither did it have the public’s support.
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After Erdogan landed in Istanbul, he urged the public to take to the streets to resist the coup, which they did. Within a few hours, the Turkish government declared victory as troops surrendered and abandoned their tanks. The coup left more than 200 dead and several hundred wounded.
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