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“Have You No Sense of Decency?”: An Open Letter to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Mr. Erdoğan:

I have visited your lovely country no less than five times over the past ten years. On four of these visits, members of the Hizmet movement were my guides. I have also proudly been associated with Hizmet for nearly 15 years. It saddens me deeply to see what has transpired in Turkey during the last few years. Let me be very clear, I can say much the same about my own country and many other countries, as well. But this is not the focus of my message to you today.

Recently, I have been reminded of the now famous words delivered on June 9, 1954, during the Army-McCarthy Hearings in Washington, D.C. On that particular day, the Special Counsel for the Army, Joseph N. Welch, responded to the accusations against members of the Army by then Senator of Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy, by saying: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

I would not be at all surprised if you simply dismissed my words without reading any further, if at all. After all, you have demonstrated your disgust of academics by removing thousands of them from their positions and closing many of their schools. Further, I am an American and you have shown your contempt of us by turning your security detail on some of us in our very capital city. Not to mention the fact that I am Jewish and Çankırı Chief Public Prosecutor Hüsnü Aldemir, recently likened the Gülen movement to a Jewish organization (I happen to identify with both), saying that it is tantamount to hate speech: “This organization is very complex, just like a Jewish organization, everything is planned out. That is why we are investigating it so thoroughly.”

I teach religious studies and my focus is on the many similarities the great religious traditions share, rather than on the far fewer differences which the media and others tend to emphasize. Your record likewise indicates an additional aversion to this aspect of my make-up. Let’s just agree to say we disagree on many matters.

That being said, where does that leave us? Yes, I have traveled to Turkey with members of the Hizmet movement. My late wife was so moved by your homeland on our very first visit in 2006 she informed me returning there would be the first item on her bucket list upon retirement. Without hesitation, I planned a 15-day return trip through a travel agency (unaffiliated with the Hizmet movement) which I have used in the past for both students and adult travelers. It saddens me deeply returning to Turkey would be nearly impossible for me given the recent appalling events initiated both by you and members of your government.

I learned a few weeks ago one of my guides for a 10-day trip with the Hizmet movement was arrested for his affiliation with the movement. When I saw the picture of him being taken into custody, in the pages of one of the newspapers you currently control, I was completely horrified. I have known this man for years and have never witnessed any suggestion or element of danger, anger, or provocation in his character. His arrest, for no apparent reason, is only one example of the many thousands who have been placed in prison over the past year.

There is a word my religion uses during the festival of Passover which typifies much of what seems to be occurring under your watch. It isdayeinu. Loosely translated it means would it not be sufficient. In the context of the Passover Seder, it refers to the ongoing actions of the Lord in freeing the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. In your case, I see dayeinu referring to the actions you have taken in dismissing and/or arresting (and possibly even torturing) hundreds and thousands of your citizens. When will enough be enough?

Do you wish to be remembered as the Turkish Stalin, the leader who enacted purge upon purge of almost every segment of his people? I am not going to stand in judgment over you; that is neither my intention nor is it my place. However, I do know your great religious tradition says on Judgment Day Allah will do so. Are you prepared to be held accountable for your actions?

The Qur’anspeaks in many places about how one is to treat one’s enemies and non-combatants. Yet many women and children are among those being imprisoned for crimes not assigned, since many remain behind bars without having charges brought against them and not being tried in court. I wonder: is this because you have also imprisoned thousands of judges? Are you proud of the fact your country now has the largest number of journalists in prison, more than any other country in the world? For years, Turkey was held up as one of the greatest democratic nations in history. What you have done to her and her people is inexcusable.

It is my understanding that the much maligned Shariah law was initially established to protect the people from the terrible decrees and reign of tyrants. It may be time for its original intent to be re-examined and your palace and “sultanate” questioned or challenged by those over whom you rule.

History has shown countless examples of how your religion, country, and empire have been exemplars for others to emulate. During the Spanish Inquisition, it was the Ottoman Empire who came to the rescue of generation upon generation of Jews, Christians, and Muslims whose lives were at risk. The Jews and Christians were brought back to live under the protection of the Sultan himself. The “People of the Book” now exist precariously and in fear within your country.

There was a long history of religious dialogue in the Ottoman Empire; today, you condemn such activities, activities which could only serve peaceful ends. Some say over fourteen centuries ago one of your great leaders took the initiative to keep the peace between Christians in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (considered by many to be the holiest place in Christendom). He sent members of two Muslim families to help mediate the conflict between the different denominations housed in the church. To this day, a member of the same Nuseibeh and Joudeh families still unlocks and locks the doors of the church each and every morning and evening. One could only wonder how you would respond to a similar situation.

Mr. Erdoğan, I implore you to reevaluate your methods and decisions. Your country is suffering, your people are suffering and your economy is suffering. May I reiterate, “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” It is not too late to help your people, heal some wounds, and amend your legacy. Your people need you. Just as importantly, the United States needs you and your country’s friendship, as does the entire free world, including Israel and many of your Arab, Kurdish, and Persian neighbors.

In closing, I consider Turkey and her people to be one of the most beautiful lands in all the world. I have traveled widely over the years and consider Turkey close to being my adopted homeland, with Istanbul my adopted city. I am pained to see the difficulties she is currently enduring and by the fact my university will not allow me to bring students there because of the travel warnings which have been issued by our government. I wish there was something I could do to help alleviate some of the problems; if there is, please let me know.

Very sincerely,

Peter Cohen

P.S. Please accept this letter as a friend addressing another friend. Even Mohandas K. Gandhi in a letter dated December 24, 1940, began with the salutation, “DEAR FRIEND.” That particular letter was to Adolph Hitler entreating him to change his ways.

Peter A. Cohen, PhD, Religious Studies, Clemson University, South Carolina

This article has first been published in the special issue of the Fountain Magazine © Blue Dome Press

Erdoğan’s Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children

Human rights violations in Turkey have increased exponentially in the aftermath of the July 15, 2016 attempted coup. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan blamed the plot on the Hizmet (Gülen) movement, and seized the opportunity to throw many of those he considered as opposition in jail. In all, over a hundred thousand people have been arrested, despite a lack of evidence against the vast majority of those detained. The UK Foreign Affairs Committee states there is a lack of credible evidence the movement was behind the coup, [1] and Fethullah Gülen, Hizmet’s founding figure, flatly denies involvement.

Nonetheless, since July 15, women have been subjected to an uptick of a variety of intimidation strategies, including rape, the threat of rape, harassment, and other forms of violence—not only by Erdoǧan’s AKP-led (Justice and Development) government, but also by civilians emboldened by the new climate in which macho, hyper-masculinity and misogyny have become widespread. Many women whose families are affiliated with the groups currently targeted by the crackdown (i.e. Hizmet participants, Kurds, Alevis) have reported experiencing psychological trauma. Unsurprisingly, the political turmoil has also negatively affected children in a myriad of ways.

Declaring a “state of emergency” (still in place for an indefinite period of time), and abandoning the European Convention for Human Rights, Erdoǧan has also fired thousands of educators, police, judges, prosecutors, journalists, and shut down (or taken over) schools, universities, businesses, and media outlets. [2] On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the attempted coup, he sacked 7,000 more in a single day. [3] This unprecedented onslaught is widely termed the “purge,” and the Turkish president appears willing to refashion the very fabric of society through oppression and violence. Internationally considered a populist authoritarian, Erdoǧan has also incited attacks against those he opposes. Recently, he called for the reinstatement of the death penalty and the beheading of those he deems responsible for the coup. [4]

The Turkish president is also no feminist: he has stated that women who have not chosen to bear at least three children are “deficient” and “incomplete,” [5] and that women have a “delicate nature” and are “unequal” to men. [6] Not long after the putsch attempt, feminists noted an increase in attacks and harassment on the street. Journalist Pinar Ersoy writes that women have been “silenced” during the purge, and that women’s groups have been targeted. [7] A soccer club executive actually tweeted that the wives of any coup plotters should be considered “spoils of war.” [8] The lack of women during street protests also speaks to the heightened climate of fear.

During and after political conflict in general, women and children are the ones most severely afflicted by hardships such as poverty, displacement, insecurity, and sexual and domestic violence. [9] In the aftermath, men tend to attempt to reinstate patriarchal “order,” sometimes through violent means. [10] During the purge in Turkey, women from a variety of marginalized communities (Kurdish, Alevi, Hizmet-affiliated) have been particularly affected by financial difficulties, violence, rape, and demeaning treatment, even during and after childbirth. [11] A forty year-old lawyer, Frank [12] brought his family to the US despite his wife’s reluctance to leave Turkey, when he realized that the government was even “jailing mothers with ten day-old children.” He added, “I couldn’t take this risk.”

An estimated 16,000 to 20,000 women are currently held in prison; in some cases, they’re being used as hostages to coerce their male relatives to return to Turkey from abroad, and as an intimidation technique intended to silence dissent among their families. [13] Tarik, a fifty year-old man in the construction business from eastern Turkey, fled his homeland but worried about his family being arrested in his place as he is affiliated with the Hizmet movement. He stated, “They also started putting wives in jail if they can’t find their husbands. So, my family came to the US in January.” In prison, women report being subjected to systematic humiliation, including naked searches by male guards. [14] In a Muslim patriarchal society, a violation of a women’s body is a dishonor to her entire family, especially for her male kinfolk who are traditionally responsible for protecting her. An acquaintance in his twenties, affiliated with the Hizmet movement, told me that his fiancé abruptly broke off their engagement after her trauma of spending time in jail.

For many women not jailed or physically hurt, the psychological effects of the purge are nevertheless damaging. Fatma, a forty-two-year-old housewife from Erzurum, was briefly detained and interrogated about her husband’s Hizmet-related activities. After her release, she began having problems with her mental health. She confided, “Because my psychological state was so bad, I took medications. I’m still under this medication.” Her eighteen-year-old daughter, Hatice, also suffered from the stigma when her classmates found out about the allegations against her father, and they socially ostracized her.

Children exposed to political conflict are also in danger of suffering from PTSD or anxiety. [15] Currently, over 500 children are being raised in jail by those mothers who are among the imprisoned, or left behind when their mothers are suddenly detained, in one case in a parking lot. [16] Fatma’s younger daughter, Elif, 17, expressed frustration with being displaced by the coup. Now attending school in California, she said, “I feel stupid, because I don’t speak English. Yes, I cried when I left Turkey, because we were living with our grandparents. I miss all my family members. After we left, our grandmother got paralyzed because of these events.”

Tarik also spoke to me about the effect the purge had on his children. He explained, “My kids’ psychological well-being was disturbed because every time my car stopped, they worried that the police had stopped us. Police officers with rifles were coming to their schools during school hours, like SWAT teams.” When his younger daughter finally arrived in the US, she didn’t leave her room for the first two weeks.

Many children affected by the coup also found their education disrupted. A sixteen-year-old boy was stuck in Seattle, having arrived on a trip with friends, right before the events of July 15th. He said that the government had shut his old school down, and that if he returned, he would be assigned to a random public school. He was unsure about whether or not he would seek asylum in the US, or return, but he was most distressed about his family still in Turkey. He explained, “I’m sad about my family and their future, and what might happen to them. I’m concerned about their security.” Over two thousand educational institutes in Turkey have been closed, and tens of thousands of teachers and professors were fired. [17] Due to the instability caused both by the purge and attacks by the Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), intellectuals are fleeing the country, leading to a Turkish “brain drain.” [18]

Women and children are the unseen victims of Erdoǧan’s purge, and the effects will doubtless reverberate through Turkish society for decades. Those thousands of women jailed are acutely vulnerable to physical (including sexual), emotional, and psychological abuse. If they have young children, these children are either left behind, or they find themselves also behind bars. Those women at home whose male relatives are incarcerated risk financial hardship, displacement, and lack of physical security. The children at risk face the disruption of their education, as well as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. According to psychologist Jack Saul, survivors of collective trauma may also experience a sense of betrayal and insecurity, shattered relationships, and the inability for adults to effectively care for their children. [19] For the most vulnerable victims, weaving lives back together again, and moving towards healing, will be an immense challenge.



[1] UK relations with Turkey, House of Commons: Foreign Affairs Committee,Tenth Report of Session 2016-2017, 36.

[2] https://turkeypurge.com/ .

[3] Associated Press, “Turkey Sacks More than 7,000 Civil Servants One Year On from Failed Coup,” The Guardian,July 15, 2017.

[4] Joe Sterling and Samantha Beech, “A year after failed coup in Turkey, Erdogan says 'behead traitors',” CNN,July 16, 2016.

[5] “Turkish president says childless women are 'deficient, incomplete',” The Guardian,June 5, 2016.

[6] “Turkey president Erdogan: Women are not equal to men,” BBC News,November 24, 2014.

[7] Pinar Ersoy, “Women are being silenced in Turkey's crackdown,” PRI’s The World,July 19, 2016.

[8] “Turkish Feminists Fear Escalating Misogyny After Coup Attempt,” Telesur,July 21, 2016.

[9] Angela Raven-Roberts, “Women and the Political Economy of War,” in Women and Wars,ed. Carol Cohn (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), 36.

[10] Jacobs, Jacobson and Marchbank, States of Conflict, 5, 11.

[11] Journals and Writers Foundation, Women’s Rights under Attack in Turkey(New York: Journalists and Writers Foundation, 2017), 4.

[12] Names of interviewees have been changed for their protection and privacy.

[13] Stockholm Center for Freedom, “Jailing Women in Turkey: Systematic Campaign of Persecution and Fear,Stockholm Center for Freedom, April, 2017, 6, 22.

[14] Stockholm Center for Freedom, “Jailing Women in Turkey: Systematic Campaign of Persecution and Fear,Stockholm Center for Freedom, April, 2017, 10.

[15] T.S Betancourt, R. McBain, E.A. Newnham, R.T. Brennan, “Trajectories of internalizing problems in war-affected Sierra Leonean youth: Examining conflict and post-conflict factors,” Child Development 84: 2 (2013).

[16] TurkeyPurge, “520 children of imprisoned mothers growing up in jail, yet Turkey celebrates Children’s Day,” TurkeyPurge, April 23, 2017; The Globe Post, “Five Kids Left In Parking Lot When Turkish Mother Detained,” The Globe Post,January 23, 2017.

[17] https://turkeypurge.com/ .

[18] Selin Bucak, “Purge in Turkey intensifies brain drain,” Financial Times,September 22, 2017.

[19] Ibid., 5-6.

Sophia Pandya

This article has first been published in the special issue of the Fountain Magazine © Blue Dome Press

No Return from Democracy

Many countries around the world are facing a crises of democracy. With authoritarianism on the rise, countries from Asia to Europe to the Americas are grappling with critical choices about government, minority rights, and the rule of law.

Foremost among these countries is Turkey. Once a shining example of a democracy in the Islamic world, recent years have seen Turkey fall further and further into authoritarianism. As it has happened, many people have turned to the renowned Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen for his insights into his native country. In No Return from Democracy, a recently published book, Gülen’s thoughts on countless issues – fromIslam and Democracy to Minorities and Their Rights, and Terrorism and Jihad to Dialogue and Coexistence – have been gathered together in one place. His insightful, urgent analyses address both global problems and schisms unique to Turkey, such as The Kurdish Question and the Alevi-Sunni Divide.

No Return from Democracy was first published in its Turkish edition in February 2016. The purpose was to reflect Fethullah Gülen’s views on diverse topics, including Islam and democracy, politics, terrorism, jihad, Western civilization, women and human rights in Islam. What did Gülen say on some of the crucial issues in his interviews that spanned 25 years? The book was supposed to present a survey of his thoughts and highlight their importance in relevance to the time he voiced his ideas.

Five months after the book was published, a coup attempt took place in Turkey on the night of July 15, 2016. Only three hours later the incident started, President Erdoğan claimed it was Gülen who was behind the coup. The following days, Fethullah Gülen had multiple press conferences in Pennsylvania and wrote op-eds for many newspapers from around the world. Gülen answered claims about the coup and explained the background to his dispute with Erdoğan. He asked for an international committee to investigate who really were behind this coup attempt. He said he would comply with the decision of such a committee. Gülen said he was always harmed by all the four military coups in the past, and that he always stood against such interventions.

In 1994, when Gülen had said that there was no going back from democracy, politically active radical groups targeted him to the point of excommunicating him from Islam. In the same period, when Erdoğan was the mayor of Istanbul, he openly opposed the European Union, and said, “Democracy is like a streetcar. When we come to our stop, we get off. Democracy is not a purpose; it is an instrument.” [1]

In 2017, Erdoğan is accusing Gülen of toppling democracy.

Who is right?

Gülen said, Erdoğan does not believe in democracy, destroyed all democratic progress of Turkey, and staged this coup to consolidate his oppressive regime in Turkey. In his interview with Fareed Zakaria, Gülen reminded that Erdoğan defined the coup attempt as “a gift of God”:

“It looks more like a Hollywood movie than a military coup. It seems something like a staged scenario. It is understood from what it is seen that they have prepared the ground to realize what they have already planned.”

Gülen told Fareed Zakaria his firm stance against military interventions:

“In every coup d'etat, I the poor have been adversely affected. I have always been against coups, since I have spent my entire life with coups and pressures. I have the opinion that nothing good will come out of coups. Coups will divide, separate, disintegrate and make people the enemy of each other. This animosity will also affect future generations, just like it is in Turkey now. In this regard, as the common sense requires, I have always been against coups, and I curse them. I would curse people who resort to coups against democracy, liberty, republic. This is my general opinion.”

In almost all interviews, Gülen was asked about his past relationship with Erdoğan:

“Is it true that you and President Erdoğan were once friends and allies? If so, what caused the tensions between you that have led to this situation today?” Gülen’s response to this question by Politico, a journal published in the US, is as follows:

“Many observers called our relationship an alliance but in truth, we were never very close. I met him two or three times, all before he ran for elections. When his party ran for elections I was already here (US), so I could not vote anyway, but Hizmet sympathizers supported his party through their votes and their voices in the media. The reason for this support is not complicated. In going into elections in 2002 they [Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party] promised moving Turkey forward in its bid for European Union membership by implementing democratic reforms; enhancing human rights and freedoms; better integrating Turkey with the world; ending public corruption, and government’s political profiling of people and their discriminatory measures. I and my friends supported them for these promises. Leading into elections in 2011, they promised a democratic constitution that would be drafted by civilians without fear of military generals. But after winning that election they began to reverse every democratic reform they implemented before. The democratic constitution was first conditioned upon the inclusion of executive presidency and then completely forgotten.” (September 9, 2016, Politico, Fethullah Gülen: “I don’t have any regrets”).

In his interview with Politico, Gülen pointed to another major reason for the dispute he was having with Erdoğan was the execute presidency system the latter was trying to bring to the country. For Gülen, this was something like a “sultan regime.”

“In the past, I did support the idea of a presidential system if it is to be modeled after the U.S. or France or other countries where there are checks and balances against the president. But Erdoğan’s proposal was akin to a sultan regime. I could not support such a system with a clear conscience. Erdoğan put pressure on me and Hizmet sympathizers to publicly support his idea of a presidential system. He increased the pressure by supporting government-funded alternatives to Hizmet institutions and then began threatening to close them down. If we complied with his demand and became loyalists, we would be enjoying the Turkish government’s favors now. But we declined and we have been facing their wrath for the last three years. This might be called the price of independence. It is a heavy price indeed but I don’t have any regrets and I don’t believe any of my friends have any regrets. My only sorrow is that the country continues to suffer because nobody can stand against his uninhibited ambitions.” (September 9, 2016, Politico, Fethullah Gülen: ‘I don’t have any regrets).

Erdoğan’s u-turn from democracy since 2011 was perhaps best illustrated on the cover of The Economist (June 8, 2013), which was featuring Erdoğan wearing the robe of a Sultan and the title read: Democrat or Sultan? Those were the days when a huge protest was underway against Erdoğan for his plan to build a shopping center on one of the symbolic parks in the very heart of Istanbul, known as Gezi Park. The brutal police intervention left behind 6 dead, 10 lost sight, 7,500 wounded. 5 thousand people were detained. [2]

It appears that the international community are putting side by side both Gülen’s and Erdoğan’s track records on democracy. When in 1990s political radicals considered discussions of democracy forbidden, Gülen argued that Islam and democracy were compatible, and there was no return from democracy. Gülen’s consistency in his views over time certainly must have a positive effect in his record.

Gülen’s views on Islam and democracy are the cornerstone of No Return from Democracy. Other topics discussed portray his thoughts on modernism, laicism, Western civilization and values, politics, fundamental human rights and freedoms, Islam and women, dialogue and coexistence, terrorism and jihad, the Kurdish issue, Alevism and Sunnism, minorities and their rights.

Gülen’s comments around these topics also shed light on two things: What kind of a world does Gülen desire? Why does Erdoğan want to annihilate Gülen and the Hizmet Movement he represents?

For example, in 1997, Gülen expressed his views on religion and politics. "The politicization of religion is dangerous, but it is much more dangerous for religion than it is for the regime, as it means sullying the spirit of religion."

After the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when many looked to the Islamic world for a voice of peace, Gülen said "A Muslim cannot be a terrorist and a terrorist cannot be a Muslim. A person cannot go to heaven by killing a person.”

A required reading for those interested in the plight of modern Turkey or seeking solutions to the world’s seemingly intractable problems, this book invites the reader to a journey through the horizons of all that Gülen has said in relation to these issues for more than two decades. Readers looking for hope will find solace in Gülen’s faith in democracy, the rule of law, and universal human rights. Gülen has never stopped believing that the way forward is not through violence and division, but through love, respect, and dialogue. If humanity adheres to these timeless values, then there truly will be No Return from Democracy.



[1] Interview with Erdoğan on July 14, 1996, Milliyet newspaper.

[2] Four years later, on April 15, 2017, The Economist was published with a new cover: “Turkey’s slide into dictatorship.” Sultan Erdoğan was on his path to become a dictator.

Faruk Mercan is a journalist. He has worked in various media outlets that have recently been seized by Erdogan regime.

This article has first been published in the special issue of the Fountain Magazine © Blue Dome Press

Purge, Persecution, and the Imperative to Stand with the Innocent in Turkey

The disturbing meme depicting criminals impaled on hooks with the words "The ideal method of execution for [the members of] the Fethullah Terrorist Organization: The Ottoman Way" is making its way around Turkish social media. Apparently, the image itself -which cannot be published here due to its graphic content - originally comes from a traditional miniature illustration in an Ottoman manuscript and was recently appropriated as the lead image in a similarly titled article published on the pro-government haber7.com media website. [1] This article begins with a note of fond nostalgia for a time when the punishment of rebels against the state could be quick and decisive because governments did not have to worry about the inconvenience of “inquiries” and the “courts.”

I can remember a time--just a little more than a decade ago--when pride in Selçuk and Ottoman heritage among Turks took the form of everything from celebrating the great mystical poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (depicted just beneath this recent meme), to emphasis on the traditional Ottoman embrace of ethnic, cultural, and even religious heterogeneity, to reveling in the stunning beauty of Ottoman art and architecture. And now, look where we are. Some (certainly not all) are stoking the flames of an intolerant populist nationalism which takes perverse delight in touting as an Ottoman solution to the current problems of social tension and political unrest in contemporary Turkish society, nothing less than brutality and torture.

What happened? What went wrong?

As many of you know, last year at this time, the lives of so many good, decent, and innocent people were changed forever. A still nebulous group of criminal conspirators staged an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Recep Tayip Erdoğan of the Republic of Turkey. Before the attempt was completely quelled – and long before any legitimate and lawful investigation could take place – President Erdoğan appeared on national television and accused M. Fethullah Gülen, the widely revered spiritual leader of the global service movement known as Hizmet, of being the mastermind of the coup attempt.

Given that the previous few years were witness to a deterioration in the always cautious but nonetheless impactful mutual affinity between Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party and the Hizmet Movement, Erdoğan's utterly unfounded accusation was not entirely surprising. Well before the events of July 15, 2016, Erdoğan had been looking either to enlist the unqualified support of the Hizmet Movement in his authoritarian quest for nearly unlimited executive power, or to demonize them as the ultimate enemy of the Turkish people around which he could rally a new coalition of secularists and Islamists. Since Gülen had already made clear that the commitment to real democracy must supersede loyalty to any one leader – no matter how successful he or she may have been in the past – it was nearly inevitable that Erdoğan would turn against the man and the movement he once rightly perceived as key allies in the common cause of establishing Turkey as a vibrant Euro-Asian Muslim-majority democracy.

As we now know, what ensued the failed coup attempt was not a moment for authentic national celebration, healing, restored unity, and solidarity based on an even more vigorous embrace of the rule of law and an ethos of patriotic inclusivity. Instead, what ensued was a reign of terror in which Erdoğan initiated a now infamous Purge of Turkish governmental and civil institutions. Not only has this Purge done irreparable damage to the lives of countless innocent men, women, and children. Tragically—and ironically—it has also served to enshrine President Erdoğan, a man who many of us once thought might one day be hailed as a “Muslim Mandela,” in the ignominious hall of those many dictators who have hijacked their own peoples' legitimate aspirations for liberty and prosperity as a means of feeding their own insatiable lust for power.

Among many other human rights violations, Erdoğan's Purge has resulted in the immoral imprisonment of tens of thousands of loyal Turkish citizens – including kindergarten teachers and elderly grandmothers – whose only crime is their attempt to be better Muslims, indeed better human beings, by following the teachings of a man whom they understand as having the courage to live a life of principle in a world which tends to reward tribalism over morality. To this day, innocents languish in prison, and those who have not yet met this fate, live in fear that they will be stripped of their livelihoods and driven out of their homes as the "terrorists" they have been so absurdly and unjustly branded by this tyrannical regime.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, a few leaders of Muslim civil rights and other civic organizations have engaged in the blatant hypocrisy of condoning the Purge and even aiding and abetting Mr. Erdoğan in his efforts to crush the movement. They have willingly ceded to members of the Erdogan administration, consular corps, and even Erdoğan family members, key public platforms (such as conferences and Friday Prayer appearances) from which the latter have actually engaged in the essentially Islamophobic practice of branding innocent Muslim Americans as “terrorists” and “cult” members. These few U.S. Muslim leaders feebly attempt to justify this disgraceful behavior by appealing to: Mr. Erdoğan’s many successes in helping to lead a multi-year boom in the Turkish economy during the 2000s; his allegedly tough stance toward Israel and allegedly singular concern among Muslim heads of state for the longsuffering Palestinian people; and his admirable commitment to the millions of refugees of the Syrian civil war who have found safe haven in Turkey. I still am unable to understand why these Muslim Americans cannot give Erdoğan his due while at the very same time stand in unqualified solidarity with all the innocent men and women of Hizmet and others who have been the victims of his ruthless quest to consolidate power.

Similar pro-Erdoğan dynamics are at work in other countries. This is especially the case in certain nation states with Muslim-majority or substantial Muslim populations where the government wishes, for economic and other reasons, to stay on good diplomatic terms with the current Turkish regime, and where there are substantial popular pro-Islamist sentiments which, especially in gloomy fog of the dashed hopes of the so-called “Arab Spring,” have elevated Mr. Erdoğan to the profoundly ironic status as icon of ‘Muslim democracy.’ Governments from Malaysia to Turkmenistan to Nigeria have been pressured by the Turkish government to shutter Hizmet institutions and extradite countless school teachers, entrepreneurs of social cohesion, business people and aid workers to Turkey for prosecution as criminal insurgents and “terrorists.” In some cases these efforts are still being met with principled resistance. In many cases they have tragically succeeded.

The good news in all of this is that, one full year after the illegal and immoral coup attempt and the equally illegal and immoral Purge, the Hizmet Movement still survives as a testament to the power of a sincere faith in God and human goodness, even in the face of vile oppression.

I humbly implore all who read these words to join me in giving thanks to al-Hafiz (the Divine Protector) for continuing to watch over Mr. Gülen and all the good people of Hizmet. Join me in imploring al-Shafi (the Healer) to bring comfort to all those brave Turkish citizens who lost their lives one year ago and those who continue to suffer the effects of both the criminal coup and the tyrannical Purge. Join me in begging al-Shahid, (the Witness), al-`Adl (the Source of All Justice) to expose the guilt of those truly responsible for the coup as well as the Purge, so that the innocent may at last be set free. Join me in praying to al-Nur (the Light) to illumine the path of all the noble people of Turkey, and all who support them, so that they may find the path to mutual forgiveness and thus come together to forge a more just future for all.



[1] FETÖ için en ideal infaz yöntemi Osmanlı'da varmış” (“The ideal method of execution for the Fethullah Terrorist Organization is the Ottoman one”) Haber7.com http://www.haber7.com/gazeteler/haber/2379662-feto-icin-en-ideal-infaz-yontemi-osmanlida-varmis (accessed 07.19.17).

Scott C. Alexander, PhD, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago

This article has first been published in the special issue of the Fountain Magazine © Blue Dome Press

What Really Happened in Turkey on July 15, 2016?

On July 15, 2016, Turkey experienced a horrific event: an unsuccessful military coup. But a year after the tragedy, questions about what really happened remain unanswered. What we know for sure is that the failed coup provided President Erdoğan with an excellent excuse to consolidate his power: despite widespread claims of voter fraud, he secured a narrow victory in an April 2017 referendum – which was conducted under state of emergency conditions – to amend the constitution and open his path to becoming the executive president of Turkey in 2019. This article highlights the Turkish government’s specious claims about the attempted coup and its alleged planners and provides a counter-narrative.

Erdoğan’s claim and responses by Western governments and intelligence services

With the coup attempt ongoing, Erdoğan claimed, on national TV, that Fethullah Gülen, a retired preacher and a vocal Erdoğan critic, was the coup’s mastermind. Gülen condemned the attempt while it was in progress and denied any involvement. He challenged the Erdoğan government to allow for an international investigation into the event (Exhibit B). He pledged to abide by its ruling. Erdoğan did not respond to this call.

Western governments and observers have not accepted Erdoğan’s narrative of July 15th, either. In particular:

• Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Turkish government, as part of the extradition process, must link Gülen to the incident with evidence that withstands scrutiny in an American court. As of this writing, approximately one year after the incident, the Turkish Government has not submitted evidence that meets this criterion.

• James Clapper, former director of U.S. National Intelligence, said Gülen’s involvement in the coup didn’t pass the “smell test” of credibility.

• The United State House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes told Fox News that it was “hard to believe” that the U.S.-based Turkish cleric was behind the attempt.

• When asked by Der Spiegel whether Gülen was behind the coup, Bruno Kahl, Head of Germany’s BDN Foreign Intelligence Agency, responded, “Turkey has tried to convince us of that at every level but so far it has not succeeded.”

• The European Union Intelligence Center INTCEN’s report on the incident contradicted the Turkish government’s claim that Fethullah Gülen was behind the plot. The report concluded that the coup was mounted by a range of Mr. Erdoğan’s opponents. The Service found it unlikely that Gülen himself played a role in the attempt, according to the Times of London. It also determined Erdoğan’s purges were planned well before the incident.

German Focus magazine reported in their July 2016 issue that British signals intelligence agency GCHQ intercepted communication between top Erdoğan brass about half an hour after shooting started that the coup would be blamed on Gülen and purges would start the next day.

• A report by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament on UK-Turkish relations stated that the “UK government does not have any evidence that U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen organized Turkey's July coup attempt.” The report went on to say:

Given the brutality of the events of 15 July, the severity of the charges made against the Gülenists, and the scale of the purges of perceived Gülenists that has been justified on this basis, there is a relative lack of hard, publicly–available evidence to prove that the Gülenists as an organisation were responsible for the coup attempt in Turkey. While there is evidence to indicate that some individual Gülenists were involved, it is mostly anecdotal or circumstantial, sometimes premised on information from confessions or informants, and is—so far—inconclusive in relation to the organisation as a whole or its leadership.

Why the Turkish government’s narrative was not found credible by the West

• The day after the coup attempt, the Turkish government began purging thousands of members of not just the military, but also the judiciary. Western observers noted that it would be impossible for the government to identify those responsible for the incident on such short notice.

• The lack of concrete evidence linking Gülen to the incident. The few testimonies extracted from officers who “confessed” their links to the Hizmet movement were not found credible because, ironically, pro-government media channels aired photos of those same officers showing clear signs of torture.

• Finally, Erdoğan’s own narrative is full of contradictions. Erdoğan claimed that he or his intelligence service knew nothing about the preparations for a military coup attempt up until the day of July 15. Western observers found it inconceivable that an event of this magnitude, which would require weeks if not months of preparation, could be orchestrated from another continent and not be discovered by Turkish Intelligence and a host of other intelligence agencies. Erdoğan claimed to have learned about the event not from his intelligence service, but from his brother-in-law. Yet, he did not dismiss the head of the intelligence service who, according to his own narrative, not only failed to detect the preparations for the incident, also failed to inform or protect the president after receiving a tip from an informant on the afternoon of July 15. Similarly, the chief of general staff was not dismissed despite failing to stop the incident after having learned about it several hours in advance.

Some observers also noted the following two reasons why Gülen organizing such an attempt would be implausible and irrational:

Starting in the early 1990s, Hizmet movement participants have set up schools, hospitals, medical clinics, and other civic institutions around the world. A coup attempt masterminded by Gülen, if successful, would send an alarming message to world leaders and spell the end of Hizmet around the world.

The top brass of the Turkish military consists mostly of Kemalists, or those sympathetic to the ideology of the founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. There has never been a credible allegation that the top brass had any Gülen sympathizers. In fact, none of the top brass, including the chief of general staff, second chief, force commanders or army corps commanders has been accused of being a Gülen sympathizer. In an information age, it is impossible for lower level officers to stage a coup without the knowledge and approval of the top brass. If they did, there would be strong reaction from within the military itself. On the night of the coup, there was very little reaction from within the military itself.

Adding to suspicions about the government’s narrative was the Erdoğan government’s apparent unwillingness to fully investigate the incident. The parliamentary commission was delayed because the ruling AKP party delayed appointing members to the commission. Once formed, the commission, dominated by AKP members, refused to call key witnesses for testimony. Mithat Sancar, an opposition member of the commission, said the following:

The ruling AKP did not form this commission to illuminate the coup attempt. They constructed a coup narrative… They were expecting (this commission to produce) a work that would support this narrative.

Only information or rumors that support the government narrative have been allowed to be disseminated, and all other information has been censored by government authorities and a compliant media. Scores of lawyers have been arrested and attorney-client privilege has been revoked under a state of emergency, leaving accused individuals unable to defend themselves through due process.

Below we provide a narrative based on the information available from public sources and received in personal communications with the lawyers, relatives, or friends of individuals accused by the Turkish government. The author of this document is not in a position to claim that the following is what happened, but the alternative scenario provided here answers more questions than the government narrative, and therefore deserves to be considered as part of an independent investigation.

Possible narratives about July 15, 2016

The broad coalition

The prevalent view among Turkey observers in Europe and the U.S. is the following: A broad coalition of military officers, from different ideological backgrounds, had discussed an intervention against the Erdoğan government. They believed Erdoğan undermined Turkey’s democratic institutions and secularism. This coalition included but was not limited to officers who feared being purged at the August meeting of the Military Supreme Council. An informant alerted Turkish Intelligence of the plot on the afternoon of July 15, forcing some officers to start the action early. However, many officers gave up and refrained from participating, and hence the action of the remaining officers was doomed to failure.

Collusion

In another theory, a broad coalition of officers had been against the Erdoğan government. They had been discussing a potential military coup for months. Turkish intelligence and Erdoğan were aware of these discussions. An ultra-nationalist faction among the military associated with the Eurasian-oriented Homeland Party (Vatan) colluded with Erdoğan and the Turkish intelligence to stage a pre-emptive coup on July 15. The collusion narrative suggests that the incident on July 15 was a mobilization of a very small portion of the military, a weak and compromised action designed to fail.

According to this narrative, the attempted coup was, borrowing the language of a political commentator, “A genuine plan that was compromised and weakened, and allowed by President Erdoğan to play out in order to crush it and achieve his strategic goals.”

The so-called “Eurasianist clique” within the Turkish military [1] was described in a 2003 leaked cable by U.S. Embassy in Ankara as pursuing Eurasianism as an alternative to the U.S. “without understanding the Russia-dominated nature of the ‘Eurasia’ concept”. In 2003, the pro-U.S. and pro-NATO group called the “Atlanticists” were seen as losing influence within the Turkish General Staff.

What happened on July 15th does not exhibit the pattern of a coup planned by the military, but rather one planned by the intelligence service where military officers unwittingly played a crucial role. From their testimonies, these officers were mobilized under the pretense of participation in a regular exercise, educational exercise, “unconventional exercise,” operation to protect general staff headquarters, or protection of a military or civilian compound from a terrorist attack. It is also important to note here that there is not a single officer who states in his testimony that he acted by the directives of a civilian. This is worth noting, for the government narrative claims that officers associated with Gülen staged the coup with directives from civilians affiliated with Gülen.

Other indicators also substantiate the argument that the coup attempt was premediated to provoke public outrage and pave the way for Erdoğan’s autocracy. For instance, many civilian deaths happened not in the hands of soldiers, as Erdoğan’s media claimed, but by some paramilitaries connected to SADAT, a defense consulting company, which is becoming “Erdoğan’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” [2] Erol Olçok and his son were killed on the night of the coup, and Olçok’s wife is telling, based on eye-witnesses, that they were killed by snipers. [3]

Bombing of the Parliament has also left a lot of questions. The images of the parliament building show a much less damage than F16 figher bomb would leave behind; they are more like a C4 explosion from inside, not from above. [4]

Contradictions in the Erdoğan camp

The statements by President Erdoğan and his allies, including Hakan Fidan, the director of National Intelligence Service (MIT) and the chief of general staff, include many contradictions and leave many important questions unanswered.

Although Erdoğan said he learned about the coup on the night of the coup from his brother-in-law, Hüseyin Gürler, a noncommissioned officer, says in his testimony that they informed the President on June 11, 2016. [5]

Erdoğan’s refusal to fire, or even investigate, his intelligence chief and military chief despite their failure to inform or protect him remains a puzzle.

Erdoğan’s claim that he was first informed about the event by his brother-in-law around 9:30 pm and that he could not reach his intelligence chief were contradicted by Chief of General Staff Akar. In his written statement to the parliamentary investigation committee, Akar stated that Intelligence Chief Fidan called and spoke with the head of Erdoğan’s guard while in his presence before 8:30 pm. Hürriyet columnist Ertuğrul Özkök wrote on July 18, 2017, that Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said in an interview with Fikret Bila that he called Director Fidan at around 10:30 - 11 pm that night, and Mr. Fidan did not say anything to him nor to President Erdoğan about the coup attempt.

Erdoğan claimed that his airplane was assaulted by pro-coup fighter jets but protected by pro-government jets. The Greek Air Force refuted Erdoğan’s claims stating that no such air fight occurred.

On the afternoon of Friday, July 15, a captain referred to as O.K. informed MIT (National Intelligence Organization) headquarters that an attack on the headquarters was planned, with the goal of capturing MIT Chief Fidan. This officer was never identified publicly, ostensibly to protect him, and he was later discharged from the military, rather than given a medal of honor. He was later re-admitted to the military and given a position at MIT.

MIT Chief Fidan sent his deputy to the Office of General Staff at 4 pm and later met with the Military Chief Gen. Akar at 6 pm. According to the accounts of President Erdoğan and PM Yildirim, Fidan did not inform or protect the president or the prime minister. In fact, they claimed that they could not communicate with Fidan until 10 pm.

Fidan’s account of the events is full of puzzles and contradictions. According to Gen. Akar’s testimony, Fidan called Erdoğan’s guards and asked them if they were prepared for an attack, without specifying the nature or the scale of the attack and without asking to speak with President Erdoğan. Instead of staying with Gen. Akar to investigate and take precautions against a possible coup, Fidan left the general staff headquarters to attend pre-arranged meetings.

Gen. Umit Dundar, commander of the 1st army in Istanbul, pledged allegiance to Erdoğan during the early hours of the attempt, according to Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law. It is unlikely that the military leadership would consider committing to a coup without the participation of the commander of the 1st army. It is possible, therefore that Dundar earlier gave the impression that he was in favor of a coup and misled some officers while intending to side with Erdoğan.

Military units in Istanbul closed access to the Bosphorus Bridge around 8 pm. It was later revealed that these units were under the impression that they were participating in an exercise. Gen. Dundar did nothing to stop the bridge closure despite the fact that the bridge lies in the area of the 1 st army.

Gen. Hulusi Akar, Chief of General Staff, did not go along with the demands of the pro-coup officers. However, some of his actions raise questions. Could top level commanders hold meetings about a military coup without his knowledge and approval? Was he threatened by Erdoğan to play along with his plan? Why did he not protect himself or the general staff headquarters, or inform Erdoğan? Why did he not take more effective actions between 4 pm, when he was first informed by MIT Chief Fidan, and 9 pm, when he was reportedly taken hostage?

Gen. Akar was also criticized for not recalling force commanders, who were attending wedding ceremonies, to return to their headquarters and resume command of their forces. Despite the early information, these commanders did not take precautions to protect themselves and were later taken hostage. Their self-reported actions to try to stop the coup attempt were meager and raise many questions.

Gen. Akın Ozturk, the former commander of the Air Force, was charged with being the military leader of the coup by the government. However, the Office of the Chief of the General Staff issued a message describing him as a hero who tried to stop the pro-coup officers and prevent bloodshed. This message was later removed, but is available on other sites. He was charged nevertheless, then arrested and jailed.

Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the HDP, the second largest opposition party,in a speech before the Turkish parliament, stated that Erdoğan knew about the coup attempt and foiled it before it started and his men added some dramatic elements (such as bombing the parliament) allowing Erdoğan to take full political advantage of the incident. Demirtas also claimed that many in the parliament were aware of this but afraid to speak publicly. Demirtas was arrested in February 2017 under terrorism charges.

Responses to the government’s “evidence” against Gülen

The Erdoğan government’s alleged “evidence” implicating Gülen and his sympathizers fails to convince.

The association of the three police officers who allegedly participated in the attempt alongside soldiers is questionable. These officers were not among the thousands of police officers purged by the Erdoğan government prior to July 15. In any case, if Erdoğan’s claims of Gülen having thousands of sympathizers within the police force is true, it doesn’t make sense that only three would participate in the attempt.

The confessions of affiliation with Gülen by officers like Levent Turkkan and General Sağır were taken under duress. These confessions are not reliable, as they later said they were tortured for those confessions.

Both Gülen and Gen. Hakan Evrim, who allegedly made the offer for Akar to speak with Gülen, denied this claim. Akar was not called to give testimony to the parliamentary commission about this and other allegations involving him. He did not address this issue in his written responses to the commission.

The government claimed that Adil Oksuz, who is a professor of Theology at Sakarya University, was the organizer of the air force officers affiliated with Gülen. Besides the fact that it is impossible to stage a military coup with the air force alone, this allegation has many problems. The government claimed that Adil Oksuz was arrested near the Akinci Air Base, the alleged headquarters of the attempt. According to an interview given by Adil Oksuz’s family, when he met with them before his disappearance, Oksuz claimed that he was brought to the base against his will after being detained at a police checkpoint. Despite the alleged presence of an intelligence service file on him, he was deliberately let free by two judges on July 16 and at a mandatory report at the courthouse on July 18. He then traveled on a commercial flight to Istanbul, going through airport security checkpoints with his own ID, and then disappeared after meeting his family. It appears that the government wanted Oksuz to disappear so that the claims against him and the alleged link to Gülen could be circulated without challenge.

Gülen acknowledged that around 30 years ago, when Oksuz was a student, he was part of a study circle within the movement. “Adil Oksuz, at one time, I think when he was studying at school, he became part of our study circle,” he replied.

But while he acknowledged the Turkish government’s account that Oksuz had visited the Golden Generation Retreat and Recreation Center before the July 2016 coup bid, Gulen dismissed allegations that the visit constituted the smoking gun in the coup investigation. “A few years ago, he [Oksuz] came here once. I later saw in the media this picture of his child with me. This is something hundreds of people do. From taking a picture to making that kind of connection would be jumping to conclusions.” [6]

Strategic goals achieved by Erdoğan thanks to the coup attempt

The July 15th incident gave Erdoğan an excellent excuse to pursue his goal of consolidating his power.

• The morning after the coup attempt, a huge purge started, with over 2,700 members of the judiciary and over 120,000 government employees sacked, 8,000 military officers dismissed, including 150 NATO officers.

• None of the army or army corps commanders have been accused of being Gülen sympathizers. However, Gen. Adem Huduti, commander of the 2 nd Army, was known as a Kemalist/secularist commander, and Gen. Erdal Ozturk, commander of the 3rd Army Corps, was also known as a Kemalist/secularist commander. Both were arrested. What these commanders had in common – along with Gen. Semih Terzi, commander of Special Forces’ 1 st Brigade, who was killed by an inferior officer – was their strong opposition to the Turkish military’s incursion into Syria. Shortly following the coup attempt, in August 2016, the Turkish military began an operation in Syria.

• Erdoğan’s bid for an executive presidency gained momentum. In a constitutional referendum in April 2017, Erdoğan narrowly secured the path to his executive presidency.

Concluding remarks

On July 15, 2016, a horrific and an unprecedented incident happened in Turkey. It cost the lives of hundreds of soldiers and civilians, and was crushed primarily by the efforts of the police force and civilians. Many aspects of the incident baffled observers, and many unanswered questions remain. As shown in this article, the actions of many of the primary actors don’t make sense if the government’s narrative is to be accepted. However, if an alternative narrative is considered, these actions make sense and the questions are answered. Based on many indicators listed above one highly likely narrative suggests it was a trap from the very beginning; it was planned and directed by MIT and its affiliates in the army with an impression as if it was a collective action in the chain of command. Officers who had already been profiled as oppositional were called in – they only obeyed orders without realizing it was a trap.

At this point there is not enough evidence to fully support these alternative narratives. This discussion is not intended as an accusation, but rather as a call for an independent investigation, full of international experts, to ensure independence from the political pressures in Turkey. For such an investigation to accomplish its task, the Turkish government should also guarantee the safety of accused military officers and their families so that the officers can give their testimonies without fear of reprisal by the government.



[1] http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/07/13/turkeys-post-coup-purge-and-erdogans-private-army-sadat-perincek-gulen/

[2] http://www.newsweek.com/michael-rubin-turkey-headed-bloodbath-515787

[3] http://www.aktifhaber11.com/15-temmuz/erol-olcok-nasil-vuruldu-sorulari-h100746.html

[4] https://www.artigercek.com/15-temmuz-da-f-16-lar-ses-bombasi-atmis-olabilir

[5] https://www.artigercek.com/darbe-olacagi-erdogan-a-bir-ay-once-arz-edildi

[6] http://www.france24.com/en/20170718-gulen-admits-meeting-key-man-turkey-coup-plot-dismisses-erdogan-senseless-claims

This article has first been published in the special issue of the Fountain Magazine © Blue Dome Press

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