Behind Turkey’s Post-Coup Crisis

The political crisis in Turkey, after a failed coup and mass arrests, sees President Erdogan consolidating his power and blaming his troubles on a Turkish exile living in Pennsylvania, as ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller explains.

By Graham E. Fuller

Last week, witnessed what may be the last act of an unfolding struggle between two major Islamic movements in Turkey. Turkish president and leader of the AKP party Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused exiled Islamic leader Fethullah Gülen of plotting the failed coup against the government.

Immediately thereafter Erdogan has unleashed massive Stalin-style purges and arrests across the country  of anyone suspected of any connection with Gülen, or indeed of anyone of any ideology who opposes Erdogan.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses citizens in front of his residence in Istanbul on July 19, 2016. (Photo from official website of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses citizens in front of his residence in Istanbul on July 19, 2016. (Photo from official website of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)

First of all, when we talk about Islamic leaders in Turkey, we’re talking about a very different scene than in most of the rest of the Muslim world. In Turkey it’s basically about a struggle among Islamic moderates. Neither Erdogan nor Gülen call for any kind of Islamic State, or Shari’a law, or Caliphate, or jihad against the West. They both operate fairly comfortably within a primarily secular state structure established a century ago by the country’s modernizing secularist founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

We’re not really talking about Islam or theology but power and influence.  (And politics in Turkey has always been a fairly rough game, even within a basically democratic order.)

But there are important differences between the two groups. Erdogan runs a political party; Gülen operates a civil movement called Hizmet (Service). Erdogan comes out of a more traditional Sunni Turkish Islamist movement; Gülen comes out of an apolitical, more Sufi, mystical and social tradition. Gülen is interested in slow, deep social change including secular higher education; Erdogan as a party leader is first and foremost interested in preserving his party’s power that operates in a populist manner trying to raise the general welfare.

But looking at the dramatically failed coup attempt against Erdogan last week, I believe it is unlikely that Gülen was the mastermind behind it. Of course in the absence of evidence so far no one can speak with certainty.

Gulen’s social movement probably has well over a million followers or sympathizers who are not under centralized control. With the arrests of tens of thousands this week and the use of torture already evident, there is no telling what kind of “confessions” will be generated. Erdogan demands the U.S. extradite Gülen (resident in the U.S.) to Turkey, but Washington does not usually extradite political figures unless the evidence is highly persuasive in a U.S. court.

Illogical Claims

More importantly, Erdogan’s sensational and sweeping charges against Gülen seem to fly in the face of most logic. Consider the following:

Fetullah Gulen, leader of Turkey's Gulen movement.

Fetullah Gulen, leader of Turkey’s Gulen movement.

–Erdogan had already largely crushed Hizmet before the coup. Erdogan was enraged in 2013 at the publication — by Gülen followers — of police wiretap evidence of widespread corruption within Erdogan’s own circles.

Erdogan undertook a massive and ongoing purge against Hizmet’s members, activists, supporters, officials, financial institutions, television stations, newspapers, educational and social institutions. He conducted widespread purges within the police and judiciary.

Hizmet institutions were devastated. Its members knew their base had been crippled and understood the need to regroup as a movement, perhaps working more closely with liberal and even secular forces to maintain democracy, to protect against a return of military power, and to prevent Erdogan’s widening abuses of authority.

–Gülen has always supported the concept of the importance and dignity of the state, in the best Ottoman tradition. He has supported the state against earlier Islamist movements that raised Islam over the state.  He even felt compelled to support the military takeover of the state in 1980 in order to preserve the state in the face of left-wing/right-wing guerrilla warfare raging in the streets.

Basically, however, Gülen supports democracy over military rule as the surest guarantee for the freedom of Hizmet to exist and conduct its social mission.

Gülen immediately denounced last week’s coup as well. Was he merely dissembling? Unlikely, since it is consistent with Gülen’s discomfort with military rule over long years. Furthermore, Hizmet has never been involved in terrorist activities at any time so support for violence in this case is extremely unlikely. The charge that Hizmet is a “terrorist organization” is absurd to anyone with the least knowledge of the movement which emphasizes peace and dialog.

-Gülen arguably lacked even the capability to organize a serious coup in an army that over decades has rigorously weeded Hizmet followers out — indeed any officers showing any religious beliefs. Turkish intelligence has also been all over the movement for years, amassing massive dossiers.

Why would Gülen choose to attempt a coup, contrary to all his views, and at a time of maximum weakness vis-a-vis Erdogan?

–The coup leaders called themselves “Peace at Home Council.” Peace at Home (yurtta sulh) is part of a famous slogan of Atatürk, not associated with Gülen.

Hard to Believe

–It beggars the imagination to believe that the now tens of thousands of purged and arrestees in all walks of life — police, army, judiciary, universities, banks, schools, media — are all terrorist enemies of the state.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ergogan meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ergogan meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Clearly Erdogan is seizing the occasion to eliminate any and all opposition to his plans to create a new super-powerful presidency for himself. Erdogan will find many even within his own party who are dismayed at his reach for total power — but are cowed into silence. Once objective journalists now watch their words.

Full disclosure: It is on the public record that I wrote a letter as a private citizen in connection with Gülen’s U.S. green card application in 2006 stating that I did not believe that Gülen constituted a security threat to the U.S. This came shortly after I had finished a book, The Future of Political Islam, that involved extensive travel and interviews with Islamists around the world.

In that context I found Hizmet to be remarkably moderate, tolerant, non-violent, open to dialog, a strong proponent of education as the means to empower Muslims in a globalizing future, and a social rather than political movement.

But in the years of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terrorism, many neoconservatives in Washington were agitating to deport Gülen — among many hundreds of other Muslim clerics — as a security risk to the U.S. I found the charge baseless.

Indeed, I still believe that HIzmet as a movement represents one of the most encouraging faces of contemporary Islam in the world. I wanted the FBI to at least be aware of my considered personal opinion as they considered his case.

Since then enemies of Gülen and many conspiratorial-minded Turks decided to connect the dots: the fact that I was a CIA official (I had retired from CIA 18 years before), and that I had spoken out in defense of Gülen, constituted clear “proof” that that Gülen is a CIA agent.

Gülen’s own movement is hardly without its faults. Gülen is an old-school figure, 75 years old, reclusive, often not in touch with daily aspects of the organization. HIzmet has not been a transparent organization — hence viewed as “shadowy.”

Beyond Politics

But in past decades when membership in Hizmet (or any Islamic movement in Turkey) constituted grounds for possible prosecution in Turkey, its members kept a low profile, often hiding their affiliation. That changed after the AKP came to power in 2002. Many members of Hizmet then became free to seek positions in government (if qualified).

Video of the Russian SU-24 exploding in flames inside Syrian territory after it was shot down by Turkish air-to-air missiles on Nov. 24, 2015.

Video of the Russian SU-24 exploding in flames inside Syrian territory after it was shot down by Turkish air-to-air missiles on Nov. 24, 2015.

In particular they sought jobs in the police and judiciary, to a large measure to ensure that police powers would never be wielded against them (or the AKP) again as in the past. The tide has now turned and the full powers of Erdogan-controlled police are being used against Hizmet members. Sadly the police have regularly been a political football in Turkish politics over the years.

But in the end this is not just politics. We are talking about a critical issue: what kind of movements will represent Islam’s future? ISIS? Al Qaeda? The Muslim Brotherhood?

As Islamic movements go, I would rank Hizmet high on the list of rational, moderate, socially constructive and open-minded organizations. It is not a “cult”; it sits squarely in mainstream modernizing Islam.

Erdogan’s own AKP had once been a remarkable model. Indeed, if Erdogan had retired from politics in 2011 with all the party’s accomplishments he would certainly go down in history as the greatest prime minister in the history of democratic Turkey.

But, as with so many leaders, after a decade in power corruption sets in, leaders lose their touch, grow isolated, even power-hungry. Erdogan is now in the process of destroying virtually everything his party created in the first decade of governance.  His sweeping purges and the pall of fear and uncertainty is destroying Turkey itself.

How will it end? Erdogan has beaten Hizmet decisively. But Erdogan is planting the seeds for his own destruction. How and when he will fall remains unclear. Meanwhile on the international scene Turkey is rapidly becoming a pariah. The country itself is now his primary victim.

 Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle)

15 comments for “Behind Turkey’s Post-Coup Crisis

  1. Abe
    July 25, 2016 at 12:07

    CIA career man Graham E. Fuller was a key backer of Fetullah Gülen and architect of the CIA Islam strategy since Afghanistan’s Mujahideen.

    In 2008, shortly after he wrote a letter of recommendation to the US Government asking to give Gülen the special US residence visa, Fuller wrote a book titled The New Turkish Republic: Turkey as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World. At the center of the book was praise for Gülen and his “moderate” Islamic Gülen Movement in Turkey:

    “Gülen’s charismatic personality makes him the number one Islamic figure of Turkey. The Gülen Movement has the largest and most powerful infrastructure and financial resources of any movement in the country… The movement has also become international by virtue of its far-flung system of schools…in more than a dozen countries including the Muslim countries of the former Soviet Union, Russia, France and the United States.

    CIA and Gülen in Central Asia

    During the 1990s Gülen’s global political Islam Cemaat spread across the Caucasus and into the heart of Central Asia all the way to Xinjiang Province in western China, doing precisely what Fuller had called for in his 1999 statement: “destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.”

    Gülen’s organization had been active in that destabilizing with help from the CIA almost the moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, when the nominally Muslim Central Asian former Soviet republics declared their independence from Moscow. Gülen was named by one former FBI authoritative source as “one of the main CIA operation figures in Central Asia and the Caucasus.”

    By the mid-1990s, more than seventy-five Gülen schools had spread to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and even to Dagestan and Tatarstan in Russia amid the chaos of the post-Soviet Yeltsin era. In 2011, Osman Nuri Günde?, former head of Foreign Intelligence for the Turkish MIT, the “Turkish CIA,” and chief intelligence adviser in the mid-1990s to Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, published a book that was only released in Turkish. Günde?, then 85 and retired revealed that, during the 1990s, the Gülen schools then growing up across Eurasia were providing a base for hundreds of CIA agents under cover of being “native-speaking English teachers.” According to Günde?, the Gülen movement “sheltered 130 CIA agents” at its schools in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan alone. More revealing, all the American “English teachers” had been issued US Diplomatic passports, hardly standard fare for normal English teachers.

    Today Gülen’s spider web of control via infiltration of the Turkish national police, military and judiciary as well as education is being challenged by Erdogan as never before. It remains to be seen of the CIA will be successful in a second coup attempt. If the model of Brazil is any clue, it will likely come after a series of financial attacks on the Lira and the fragile Turkish economy, something already begun by the rating agency S&P.

    What is Fethullah Gülen?
    By F. William Engdahl

  2. Miguel
    July 24, 2016 at 12:39

    If this is true, why are the opposition parties, including the secular parties, rallying to Mr. Erdogan’s cause?

  3. jfl
    July 24, 2016 at 01:02

    GEF : ‘Immediately thereafter Erdogan has unleashed massive Stalin-style purges and arrests across the country of anyone suspected of any connection with Gülen …’

    You mean like yourself, Graham E. Fuller?

    Over the objections of the FBI, of the US State Department and of the US Department of Homeland Security, three former CIA operatives intervened and managed to secure a Green Card and permanent US residency for Gülen.

    Intervention by three current or “former” CIA people–George Fidas, who was US Ambassador to Turkey and an ex CIA Deputy Director; Morton Abramowitz who was described as at least “informal” CIA, and CIA career man who spent time in Turkey, Graham E. Fuller. They got Gülen asylum in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. That certainly suggests a strong tie at the very least.

    I’m with Bob in Portland : Robert Parry, why do you run his stuff?

    Whatever the CIA / NSA / FBI might have on you, no way it could be as damaging to your credibility as hosting Graham E. Iran-Contra / godfather of al-CIAduh / father-in-law of Ruslan Tsarnaev Fuller as a regular columnist!

    • Brad Owen
      July 24, 2016 at 08:18

      Maybe Mr. Parry thinks it’s better to have an official member of the Deep State (or Empire-by-sealth) speaking on a public forum, instead of a smoke-filled back room, to keep us on our toes?

      I recall reading about a conversation between Putin and Obama (don’t remember where now), that Erdogan must go away…perhaps the most effective way is to trigger this corrupted strongman’s paranoia with a coup attempt. He’ll now hang himself with his purges? After General Butler (of “War is a Racket” fame) informed FDR about a Wall Street-backed coup plan, he didn’t purge anyone. He just kept smiling and kept his enemies closer. THAT’s the difference between a genuine Leader and a power-whore.

    • voxpax
      July 25, 2016 at 07:19

      In 2012 the Saudis transferred 100Mio $ to a tax free organisation called TÜRGEV.( )

      This organisation is involved in islam inspired education. To this date most of the alternative education was controlled/owned by groups sympathetic to Gulen Two of the president’s children are on the board. Then Gezi protest happened in 2013, then in December 2014 the corruption disclosures after which Gulen was officially named a terrorist.

      We know that the Saudis see themselves as the sole guardians of Islam, after all Mecca is part of their kingdom. Yet ever since the collapse of the USSR it was the Gulenist Movement that has been very busy with building schools with funding from Turkey in the regions that traditionally belonged to the Islam oriented regions of the USSR. The Saudis did not participate in this. They were, are, involved in other projects in places like Afghanistan, Cecenia, the Balkans and Europe where they, amongst other things, started building Mosques in many places to propagate their prohibitive Wahabi style of Islam.

      With the educational success of Gulens system rising the Saudis started to get worried about their own traditional hold on Islam and through generous financial help were able to swing the situation around convincing Erdogan to consider a policy change in his view of the Gulenist Movement. To secure the influx of petro$ to Turkey Erdogan had no choice but to adapt to the new reality, he apologised to the Defense Forces for the Sledgehammer occurrence by stating that he had been fooled by the Gulenists who according to him had infiltrated all levels of government, army, jurisdiction and police. Never mind the fact that he was in undisputed power since 2003. He and his groupies took on the task to eradicate all elements of the Gulenist kind in all the institutions of Turkey with no success obviously.

      Mr. Fuller has some of the facts right but he refuses to make the important connection to his old buddies.

  4. MIke
    July 24, 2016 at 00:38

    Not fully certain but appears some of you are not putting in a full day’s work?

  5. July 23, 2016 at 16:09

    What’s the matter with you Robert? Graham Fuller, a Gulen supporter, is essentially a CIA asset.

  6. Steve
    July 23, 2016 at 16:04

    The spooks fucked up (again!) with their game of “musical thugs.”

    This pablum might fly on Huff Post or other mediated corrals of the bewildered herd, but I doubt anyone on this forum buys this attempt at damage control. See:

  7. Joe B
    July 23, 2016 at 15:46

    It looks as though the US power-grab coup attempt has led to a power-grab by those who were attacked. Not very surprising, and not the fault of anyone but the US. The deaths, arrests, and firings appear to be a small fraction of those that occurred in the violent 1980 military coup in Turkey. Most of these are expected to be released. If this had happened in the US the purge would be far worse.

    Without judging the desirability of the intended result, it really looks as though the US obsession with military force has again caused a disaster, and that its attempts at forcible social change continue despite a nearly complete absence of historical precedents for success. The US appears to be acting as a primitive tyrant, violating international law and the norms of decent interaction among advanced nations.

    The US has attempted a coup in a technologically advanced democracy, a longterm ally of the US, a bulwark of the EU against mideast instability. The only plausible motives were to get Israeli campaign bribes by destabilizing Syria, and to resurrect an absurd military golden age of the cold war by harassing Russia. This appears to be a very extreme abuse of public offices in the executive.

    It appears to me that a purge of greater proportions is needed in the US military and intel agencies, to get rid of the Israeli operatives, MIC agents, infantile bully adventurists, and other traitors against the US. For these are not errors of professional judgment, they are likely to have been deliberate violations of the Constitution and the interests of the people, for private gain and the benefit of other nations. These are likely to have been acts of treason, quite possibly on a large scale.

    • Joe B
      July 23, 2016 at 16:50

      But I should add that the military and intel persons involved no doubt had high level approval if not instigation, which would exonerate them, although such foolishness we do not need. What we need are whistleblowers among them, emails mysteriously appearing at Wikileaks. It is the instigators who have committed crimes and should be removed, very likely the politicians and State Dept operatives who brought us Ukraine and Iraq.

      • Joe B
        July 26, 2016 at 09:52

        The writer claims the Gulen “movement” is “rational, moderate,” and “mainstream modernizing Islam” although secretive. But according the Abe’s link below, Graham Fuller is himself directly involved in events leading to the US coup attempt in Turkey, and knows that Gulen is a CIA-funded plotter of coups against Turkey:

        1. In 1982, Fuller became the “CIA … Officer responsible for Afghanistan, … Central Asia, and for Turkey” apparently responsible for the destabilizing Reagan/Brzinski AlQaeda strategies against the USSR, which led to 9/11 and the Iraq and Syria wars.
        2. Fuller was in the 1980s “the key CIA figure … to tip the balance in the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war by using Israel to illegally channel weapons to Iran in what became the Iran-Contra Affair.”
        3. Fuller was responsible for Gulen getting a US visa in 2006 after advocating a coup in Turkey, despite State Dept objection that his funding is from the CIA to subvert governments across central Asia from Turkey to China, by establishing Islamic “schools” of infiltration.

        All of this appears to be part of a continuing failed strategy of secret wars. While the purported goal is to install “moderates” to advance “democracy,” in fact the US has attacked primarily socialist and secular governments (Iran 1953, Afghanistan 1979, Central America, Libya 2011, Turkey 2015), and has primarily used military gangs and religious terrorists as mercenaries.

        This strategy appears to lead almost without exception to humanitarian disasters, repressive governments, losses of security for the US, and international discrediting of the US. This strategy appears to serve purposes antithetical to those of the people, and to be motivated by persons who are not in fact loyal to the United States. It calls into question the loyalties of those who implement these strategies.

        Erdogan, having been Gulen’s ally in the 1990s, certainly knows that the coup attempt and the earlier shoot-down of the Russian aircraft, were US CIA operations. Plainly nearly everything the mass media have told the people of the United States about the coup in Turkey is a lie.

  8. Bob in Portland
    July 23, 2016 at 14:35

    Considering that Graham Fuller is given credit for the idea behind Iran-Contra, and considering that Ruslan Tsaerni, as his son-in-law, used Fuller’s address to run a support group for Chechen terrorists, I have no faith in Fuller as a reporter of facts or as someone in possession of an opinion not linked to or shaded by his former employers at Langley.

    Robert Parry, why do you run his stuff?

  9. F. G. Sanford
    July 23, 2016 at 14:02

    Maybe there’s truth to the tongue-in-cheek notion that the Large Hadron Collider has shifted reality into a fissiparous path along an alternate ‘string’ in the multiple universe theory. Sure, it’s easy to pass off poor little old saintly Gulen as a harmless do-gooder operating charter schools around the world, or to claim that he’s really just a patriotic nationalist with deep, sincere and peaceful Islamic motives…until you know a little more about him. He’s estimated to have more than 100 million followers and may command as much as 35 billion dollars – which he has effectively been using to influence American politicians to good advantage. Contrary to the notion that he is a Kemalist, in the early stages of his affiliation with Erdogan, he was a dedicated Islamist. He and Erdogan both worked to remove the secularist separation of church and state protections which characterized modern Turkey. That now works against Erdogan as a two-edged sword. A significant slice of the Islamists operating in Turkey today are Gulenists. So, as Erdogan purges Gulenists and replaces them, a significant number of the replacements will likely also be Gulenists. Gulen, by the way, has some rather suspicious links to Banderist operatives in the OUN-b Nazi organizations in Ukraine and elsewhere. Erdogan is not likely to survive in the long run, but it’s not because he’s such a bad guy. He is a bad guy, he’s just not OUR bad guy. But Gulen is. Our bad guy, that is. For an alternative to the CIA influenced analysis, try this guy. So far, George Eliason has been accurate enough to convince me that his observations are not without merit. But hey, make up your own minds.–by-George-Eliason-Islamist_Islamization_Nationalism_Sharia-160722-858.html

  10. Joe Tedesky
    July 23, 2016 at 12:27

    I’m leaving a link to the David Sanger interview of Donald Trump. You may enjoy what Donald has to say. In this interview Trump speaks about foreign policy in the way most of us agree (sometimes). Half way through Trump talks about the Turkish coup.

  11. July 23, 2016 at 12:13

    Lots of good data in this article, but given that the author is a former senior CIA official, it’s likely that what is true here is just the tip of the iceberg relative to what is really going on; in other words, as they say in the intelligence business, what we’re reading is “limited hangout.”

    For example, there is no mention of NATO, nor is there any mention of the planetary power pyramid; that is, the control of the international banking cartel–the .00001% that own the world’s key central banks–over most of the key corporate and governmental assets.

    As we saw last year, when Putin actually went after ISIS (a CIA owned and operated proxy, which NATO was using as a means to fight Syrian government troops), we were made aware of how the cartel’s mercenaries were stealing Syrian oil and fencing it on the black market through Turkey.

    More than likely, the so-called failed coup in Turkey was a false flag, instituted by NATO, to consolidate central control over the Turkish people, whether Erdogan or someone else operates it.

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