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The following article was serialised in Cumhuriyet on 17 + 18 December 2014. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

From alliance to enmity: AKP - Gulenists

Ahmet Şık

Both parties claim to be fighting for democracy, peace and a clean society. In this war, in which religious and ethical values serve as instruments, the lies needed by the parties carry more conviction than the truth with their devotees. However, let nobody be taken in by the vindications offered. Both are centres of power wishing to usurp the state, in the cause, not of democratising the system and society, but of turning their own authority into the dominant power. This war is not taking place for democracy and a clean society or, as some would allege, for peace or civilianisation. War is being waged simply to determine who will be the master of the state. But it would be a mistake to interpret this war by looking at what is happening today, because both the alliance and the enmity between the two stretch well back into the past; into the 1970’s. The main reason for this enmity is the way that Fethullah Gülen and the Gulenists have always made a point of standing by the ruling authority and the state. The state power of the past saw Necmettin Erbakan and the National View Movement as being the representative of radicalisation in Islam. Gülen and the Gulenists, representing moderate Islam in contradistinction to this radicalism, were proposed as the very antidote sought by those who feared National View. In other words, Fethullah Gülen knowingly and willingly consented to the role and tasks assigned to him.

The first and only alliance until the AKP

The first alliance between National View, from whose loins the AKP sprang, and the Gulenists, who split from the Nur Movement to become an independent and eventually the most powerful religious group, was in the 1973 elections. National View founder Erbakan, following the post-1971 coup closure of the National Order Party in which he had embarked on politics, continued on the same path under the National Salvation Party (MSP). As the MSP became a powerful actor in the political arena, this created an opportunity for Gülen, the leader of a small group that had been waiting for the opportune time to declare its idependence from the Nur Organisation. Erbakan and Gülen began to draw closer, with the MSP wishing to attract people from the Nur Movement into its ranks. The first alliance between the two came when Fethullah Gülen influenced those in his circle to vote for the MSP in the 1973 elections. It was also in this sole period of alliance to come about between the two structures until the AKP government that Fethullah Gülen, who was influental in a number of provinces centred in and around Izmir, announced his break with the Nur Movement. Having formed an alliance with the MSP, Gülen’s small group thus found a way of penetrating down to virtually every village through the former’s nationwide provincial and sub-provincial apparatus. However, as this alliance which saw the intertwining of MSP identity and Gulenism soon came to an end, these two groups, far from standing together, became mutual rivals up until the AKP came to power. Gülen, believing that he had become strong enough, decided that it was necessary to ditch alleigance to the MSP. MSP supporters were removed from key posts such as administrating the dormitories and teaching institutions in their ownership and positions within the Gülen Movement’s various institutions, and replaced by Gülen loyalists. When it became obvious that it was MSP people who kept on being replaced, party members woke up to what was happening. Debates over identification with the MSP versus Gulenism broke out within the Gülen Movement. The Gulenists said that other services should be rolled out in place of politics and that opposing the state, as Erbakan was doing, could serve no purpose. Or it was even argued that, to the contrary, standing by the state would help take matters forward. What brought the debate internal to the Gülen organisation and party into the open was criticism by Gülen in a sermon he gave on 24 June 1980 of, without naming them, the MSP and its media organ, Milli Gazete. At that time, at which the fashion of wearing robes and turbans had spread among a portion of MSP youth, Gülen laid bare the debate in saying in the sermon he gave, “Robes and turbans will achieve nothing; a rag-like newspaper will take us nowhere.” These words of Gülen caused an eruption within his movement, the majority of whose followers, especially in the countryside, had yet to break their allegiance with the MSP. The cassette containing the sermon in question was immediately removed from the market and destroyed. Even if, in this first instance of tension between the Gulenists and MSP supporters, the Gulenists claimed to have been misunderstood and preferred to remain silent in the interests of calming the party members’ anger, a big split had taken place. When, a little later, in the wake of the 12 September coup the MSP was closed and Erbakan imprisoned, this put an end for the time being to the running dispute with the Gulenists. Along with the coup, the way had opened for Gülen to court the alliegance of the grassroots of the MSP, which had attracted the largest number of followers from within the Islamist community and had become leaderless, along with that of other organisations and brotherhoods that had undergone splits.

Until the 2002 elections in which the AKP came to power, a number of rifts occurred between the Gülen organisation and National View

The largest rift between the pair until today was during the 28 February coup. The soldiers stepped back into the arena, unhappy with the government in which Tansu Çiller and Necmettin Erbakan were partners, having come to office on the back of the rise of political Islam in the legal political sphere in Turkey that started in the 1990’s. They initiated a witch hunt under the pretext of combatting Shariaism as the army cast a shadow that plunged democracy and politics into darkness. Just as everyone who falls foul of the system was recently branded a member of Ergenekon, and now of the parallel structure, everyone from politician to teacher and from civil servant to capitalist was accused of affiliation with pro-Sharia movements, brotherhoods and religious organisations, and the arsenal of the psychological war being waged was martialled behind such accusations. It was not enough for the Welfare Party (RP), which had been elected to power, to be removed from government under 28 February, the last actual military coup to be experienced in Turkey’s political and social history; it was to be closed. Fethullah Gülen and his organisation’s greatest rival in the political and social arena was once more to be sidelined. And with Fethullah Gülen’s participation. The assertion, as made by Gülen in alleging that the coup had speeded up the installation of democracy in Turkey, that a memorandum was issued on 28 February amounted to partnership in crime with the soldiers. According to Gülen, the National Security Council decisions that had brought down the government were a recommendation. Gülen, so as to lend legitimacy to the coup that he was not satisfied with merely defending, called on Erbakan to resign. Gülen, stating that those who had imposed the National Security Council decisions under armed force had acted in awareness of their responsibility and were innocent given that this was a period in which the Republic and secularism had been under grave threat, even said that the coupists would be rewarded in heaven. Gülen had taken a position that was tantamount to the erecting of a thick wall between him and National View.

Differing approaches to the USA and Israel

Another event to cause friction between the pair was the US assault on Iraq in the course of the 1991 Gulf War. Every day in Iraq, large numbers of casualties were occurring among the civilian population, including women and children, as a result of US bombing. The Islamist community in Turkey, adopting a traditional anti-American and anti-Zionist stance, was outraged. However, Fethullah Gülen made a speech in which he declared that the killing and wounding of Israeli babies in Iraq’s rocket attack on Israeli cities had greatly upset him, and said that this had driven him to tears. At a time when enmity towards Zionism was at a peak in the Islamist community, this speech caused a great stir. It attracted severe criticism from the RP’s political actors of the period. The Gulenists’ press outlet, Zaman, so as to defend Gülen, reported that Erbakan had sent a message wishing success in the war to the king of Saudi Arabia, an ally of the USA. The Zaman newspaper accused Erbakan of duplicity. Essentially, this divergence, whose ramifications continue to be felt today, is closely connected to the two movements’ approach to the USA and Israel. Erbakan, and thus the National View movement, worked under the premise of staunch “enmity towards the West and Zionism”. In contradistinction to the National View line, Gülen and his organisation positioned themselves as an Islamist organisation which realised that there could be no power centre in defiance of these two powers. In other words, he preferred to be a power that remained under the shadow of these two powers that dominated the world and acted as its henchmen, and to grow within their sphere of influence.

The issue of headscarves

In the junta’s referendum to bar pre-coup political leaders from politics for five and ten-year periods, both Gülen and the overwhelming majority of the Islamist community sided with the junta. The headscarf problem was, however, the first substantial issue to bring the National View movement and the Gulenists, as the two big movements in the Islamist community who were targeting the same base, into opposition for the first time following the 1980 coup. The ban on headscarves at universities gave rise to the first student activism after the coup. The structure that was actively involved in the nationwide protests was the Welfare Party under Erbakan’s leadership, which was endeavouring to expand its sphere of influence by lending an ear to the Islamist conservative base’s problems. Fetullah Gülen, on the other hand, once again preferred to stand alongside the state. Gülen, in the sermon he gave on 26 November in Izmir’s Hisar Mosque, criticised the headscarf demonstrations. With Gülen saying in his sermon that, “The majority of the women participating in the headscarf marches are men dressed up in abayas. As to the others, they actually do not cover their heads and are taking part in the marches for the purpose of provocation. There are non-believers and communists behind these demonstrations,” the RP echelons were presented with a unique opportunity. With Gülen exhibiting a statist reflex even on so sensitive an issue as headscarves, allegations that he was a “state agent” began to be circulated once more by the RP echelons. He took quite a drubbing.

The 28 February coup was a breaking point

The 28 February coup was without doubt one of the greatest breaking points in the enmity between Fetullah Gülen and Necmettin Erbakan or the Gulenists and National View. Both National View and also, although they had supported the coupists, the Gulenists were dealt a heavy blow. Even if it were supposed that the two main Islamist bodies thought to pose a threat to the regime had thus been disposed of, it transpired within a few years that the ensuing result was entirely contrary to the one sought. The partners in fate from different standpoints proved to have emerged strengthened from the process In the elections held in November 2002, the AKP under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had split from the National View Movement, swept into government as a force to be reckoned with. A series of political trials staged, thanks to the Gulenists’ infiltration of the civil service and judiciary, in Erdoğan’s second term in power as of 2007 basically showed that the only loser of 28 February was the army that had staged the coup. It was also the army that ensured that the AKP, born of the National View tradition, and the Gulenists, who had shared the same fate even if their stances differed in the course of the 28 February coup, wiped the slate clean and once more after 35 years entered an alliance.

The army’s wish to interfere once again in politics in the form of the 27 April e-memorandum during a period of tension arising when Abdullah Gül announced his candidacy for the presidency fostered the alliance between the pair.

The alliance’s “natural foes” were liquidated through the trials steeped in conspiracy in the Ergenekon proceedings initiated by the Gulenists who had infiltrated the defence civil service and judiciary, with the AKP’s political support and approval. In this period in which the AKP’s and the Gulenist’s strength had reached its peak, all dissenting voices were silenced through detention or character assassination.

The first fracture came with the Mavi Marmara massacre

However the first publically visible rift between the pair had to do with the handling of policies towards Israel, one of the most important divergences between the National View tradition and the Fetullah Gülen organisation. This policy divergence became manifest following the event known as the Mavi Marmara massacre which occurred on 31 May 2010 and ended in the killing of nine people of Turkish citizenship by Israeli commandos. With Erdoğan accusing Israel of committing state terrorism with reference to the massacre, Gülen, by contrast, in a comment he made to the US newspaper the Wall Street Journal, criticised the lack of compromise with Israel and described the way that the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) had set sail, unhindered by the AKP, without Israel‘s approval as rebellion against authority.

Crisis within the state: the MİT investigation

The past enmity between the AKP and the Gulenists, the forces who, having crushed and virtually eliminated all forms of opposition, were sharing power, was to rear its head once more, this time over the sharing of state power. The target of the investigation on 7 February 2012 known as the National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) crisis was then Prime-Minister Erdoğan. With hacked records of negotiations held with PKK leaders in Oslo being uploaded onto the Kurdish news site Dicle News, the public prosecution took action.

In the investigation conducted into the high-ranking organisation members participating in the negotiations, five high-ranking administrators, including future MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, were summoned to make statements. The MİT investigation was thwarted with a whole host of statutory amendments. Certain high-ranking police officers serving in Istanbul, believed to be connected to the Gulenists, the force behind the investigation, were even removed from their posts. This investigation was the most potent indicator that the Gulenists were targeting MİT. However, signs of this had appeared during the Ergenekon proceedings. The process of criminalising MİT was already underway with inclusion of certain MİT people in dubious trials. The Gulenists, wielding considerable power in the police and judiciary, were in all likelihood attempting to get their hands on MİT‘s archive, Turkey‘s black box. This first fracture to reach public awareness had the effect of causing a far greater rift between the AKP and the Gulenists than 28 February. However, the parties did not reject the pipes of peace that they extended to one another and gave the impression to the public of having made up.

Battle over teaching institutions

Following the MİT crisis, which the Gulenists attributed to their being purged from the civil service, the event which brought the pair onto the battlefield was the government’s wish to close private teaching institutions. Open warfare, initiated by the Zaman newspaper and with the participation of the movement‘s other media outlets, was launched in opposition to the closure of the teaching institutions, the activity to which the Gulenists attached most importance as a source both of people and funds. With the AKP media brought into the fray, the process leading to the 17 December corruption investigations then began. As the war continued to escalate, inflamed by the leaders‘s pronouncements and the media, criticism reached the level of mutual insult. The AKP deputies Hakan Şükür and İdris Bal, known to be close to the Gulenists, announced their resignation. As the affair played out, the number of resignations reached nine.

Pitched battle over 17 and 25 December

The ever escalating war descended into a pitched battle with the corruption operations conducted on 17 and 25 December. The second wave of the allegations concerning bribery, corruption and irregularities, in whose initial phase ministers had been implicated via their children, now targeted Erdoğan. The government blocked the investigations by turning the police force upside down, removing members of the judiciary assigned to the investigation from their posts and amending legislation and statute. In this process, in which the accusations the parties levelled at one other reached the level of insult and curse, the sound recordings leaked over the Internet attracted the greatest amount of comment. More than 150 phone calls whose contents pertained to the allegations made in the investigation reports were circulated on social media. The investigations, resisted with the rebuttals, orchestrated by the AKP-Erdoğan, that the allegations of corruption and bribery were “lies”, the phone calls submitted by way of evidence “montage and dubbing” and the operations an “attempted coup”, were closed in a manner that, in judicial terms, accorded with these rebuttals as decisions to discontinue the proceedings were made by the newly appointed prosecutors.

One of the most important developments in the corruption investigation proceedings were the operations conducted against the MİT lorries taking arms and ammunition to anti-regime jihadist organisations in the Syrian civil war. In the lorries escorted by MİT officials, first stopped in Hatay on 1 January 2014 and a few weeks later in Adana, the discovery was noted of very large quantities of arms and ammunition. However, the soldiers serving on these operations, which “state secrecy” was invoked to close, were prosecuted on the grounds of “espionage”. With the special-authority courts, the area of the judiciary where the Gulenists were best organised having been eliminated under a statutory amendment, the judges and prosecutors serving in these courts were assigned to passive duties. Thanks to this statutory amendment, which also restricted the maximum remand period to five years, the defendants in the controversial Ergenekon and Balyoz trials were also freed. Following this, Silivri Prison, emptied of the defendants in conspiracy trials in which the Gulenists, supported by the government, were implicated, would now be filled with police officers accused of setting the traps and accused of being Gulenists.

Anti-Gulenist operations

The AKP government, with the aim of flushing the Gülen organisation’s high-ranking echelons out of the police and thus to spread fear among the lower echelons, initiated investigations into unlawful bugging, the object of criticism for years.

In fourteen separate operations, a total of 301 police officers were arrested, two of whom were no longer serving. Some of them were remanded. Once releases had been made in the course of the proceedings, around fifty of those police officers remain in custody, charged with unlawful interception of phone calls and espionage. However, it is clear that the AKP’s intention in these investigations, rather than being to identify crimes and punish the criminals, is to take revenge on those who conducted the operations targeted at it.

With virtually the entire country covered in an unlawful bugging network in legal guise, the AKP made its intentions clear in that investigations were conducted in those cities where the AKP’s breaches had been probed. So, initial priority was given to cities in which operations and investigations targeting the AKP had taken place. The first investigation was into the police officers in Adana who had conducted the operation on the MİT lorries. Subsequently, investigations into unlawful surveillance were launched with regard to the central command of the 17-25 December corruption investigations in Istanbul and Ankara and the policemen in Izmir who had been investigating corruption at the state railways port unit.

The policemen who conducted the genetically modified rice operation in Mersin, one of the first corruption investigations to target the AKP, also became the suspects in another surveillance investigation. Similar investigations under the same charges were launched in Kilis, Antalya, Kocaeli, Tekirdağ, Kırklareli and Edirne. Separate charges were brought against a group of police officers in connection with bugging devices found in the offices where Erdoğan worked at the time when he was Prime-Minister. The main investigation, in which Fetullah Gülen is accused of being the “organisation founder and director” and is based on the accusation of “staging a coup”, is being handled by the Ankara Republic Chief Prosecution.

In the investigations launched into unlawful surveillance, the findings put forward in the inspectors’ reports have created no controversy as far as the alleged offences go. However, the arrests made on 14 December, just short of the first anniversary of the corruption operations, of a group of suspects including journalists and also soap opera producers, actors and scriptwriters have caused great controversy. The charging of journalists Ekrem Dumanlı and Hidayet Karaca on account of the content in newspapers and on television stations under their management has once more sparked off debate over press freedom.

With the directors of the Gulenist media coming under justifiable criticism for their approach to reporting the Ergenekon proceedings, the regime media, exploiting the polarisation thus engendered, has elected, as in the past, to criminalise journalistic activity.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton