AP EXPLAINS: The cleric being blamed for Turkey coup attempt; Why long history of coups

Turkish soldiers block Istanbul’s iconic Bosporus Bridge on Friday, July 15, 2016, lit in the colours of the French flag in solidarity with the victims of Thursday’s attack in Nice, France. A group within Turkey’s military has engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup, the prime minister said, with military jets flying over the capital and reports of vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told NTV television: “it is correct that there was an attempt,” when asked if there was a coup. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A lawyer for the Turkish government, Robert Amsterdam, said that "there are indications of direct involvement" in the coup attempt by Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who is living in exile in Pennsylvania. He said he and his firm "have attempted repeatedly to warn the U.S. government of the threat posed" by Gulen and his movement. According to Turkish intelligence sources, he said, "there are signs that Gulen is working closely with certain members of military leadership against the elected civilian government."

The president of a group that promotes Gulen's ideas, the New York-based Alliance for Shared Values, denied the charges. Y. Alp Aslandogan told The Associated Press "we categorically deny such accusations and find them to be highly irresponsible." Earlier in the evening, the alliance said, "we condemn any military intervention in (the) domestic politics of Turkey."

Some background on Gulen:


Trained as an imam, or prayer leader, Fethullah Gulen gained notice in Turkey some 50 years ago, promoting a philosophy that blended a mystical form of Islam with staunch advocacy of democracy, education, science and interfaith dialogue. Supporters started 1,000 schools in more than 100 countries, including about 150 taxpayer-funded charter schools throughout the U.S. In Turkey, they have run universities, hospitals, charities, a bank and a large media empire with newspapers and radio and TV stations.

Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has long accused Gulen of plotting to overthrow the officially secular government from a gated 26-acre compound in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. Gulen is rarely seen in public and has been put on trial in absentia at least three times.



The U.S. has shown little inclination to send Gulen back to Turkey. The Justice Department has declined to comment on Gulen's case. In an interview with the AP early this year, Aslandogan, of the Alliance for Shared Values, said: "(Gulen) said that the United States has a long tradition of democracy and rule of law. ... They will see that these are politically oriented charges, and they will not allow Erdogan to spread his ambition into the United States."



Last month, a lawyer representing the Turkish government said he would continue exposing Gulen's "unlawful conduct" one day after a federal judge in Scranton, Pennsylvania, dismissed his lawsuit against the cleric. "Despite the outcome of this ruling, a very clear message has been sent to Gulen and his co-conspirators in the Poconos: the days of impunity are numbered, and your unlawful conduct will be brought to light," lawyer Robert Amsterdam said. The suit contended Gulen ordered sympathetic police, prosecutors and judges in Turkey to target members of a rival spiritual movement critical of his teachings. U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani ruled the claims did not belong in U.S. courts.



Some of the U.S. schools have been investigated by the FBI amid allegations of financial mismanagement and visa fraud. One of the most explosive claims is that the schools are importing Turkish teachers to identify impressionable students and indoctrinate them into Gulen's movement, sometimes called Hizmet, Turkish for "service." In May, a complaint filed with Texas education officials accused a network of charter schools associated with the Gulen movement of abusing a visa program to import large numbers of Turkish teachers and violating state and federal laws by paying them more than American teachers.

The complaint also asserted that the network, Harmony Public Schools, skirts competitive bidding rules to award contracts to Turkish vendors. Harmony has denounced the complaint as politically motivated and without merit.



In a statement Friday, the Alliance for Shared Values said: "For more than 40 years, Fethullah Gulen and Hizmet participants have advocated for, and demonstrated their commitment to, peace and democracy. We have consistently denounced military interventions in domestic politics. These are core values of Hizmet participants. We condemn any military intervention in domestic politics of Turkey. Events on the ground are moving quickly and it would be irresponsible for us to speculate on them. We remain concerned about the safety and security of Turkish citizens and those in Turkey right now. Comments by pro-Erdogan circles about the movement are highly irresponsible."



An AP reporter was given a tour of Gulen's Pennsylvania compound this year but was unable to see or interview him. He spends hours a day in prayer and meditation and goes out rarely, mostly to see doctors for ailments that include heart disease and diabetes, according to Aslandogan. Gulen's living quarters are lined with books on shelves that also hold jars filled with soil from various regions of Turkey. [By The Associated Press Jul. 15, 2016 10:59 PM EDT]

Why does Turkey have a long history of coups?

Turkey plunged into chaos as forces loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quashed a coup attempt in a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire that left scores dead. Thousands were arrested amid vows the plotters would "pay a heavy price for their treason." The Associated Press looks at Turkey's long history of coups, its military's prominence and why some had thought the days of military interference with government were over.



The military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pressured Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, a pious Muslim mentor of Erdogan who was disliked by Turkey's secular establishment, out of power in 1997. In 2007, the military threatened to intervene in a presidential election and warned the government to curb Islamic influences, but the action backfired and Abdullah Gul, the candidate favored by a government with Islamic leanings, took office. The latest coup attempt surprised observers because Erdogan's government had taken steps to bring the military to heel, including dismissals and prosecutions of high-ranking active and former officers for alleged coup plots. Erdogan's government appeared to be working effectively with the military, coordinating on national security issues and confronting a perceived anti-government faction said to have infiltrated the police and other institutions.



The Turkish military has traditionally seen itself as the guardian of Turkey's old secular establishment, a legacy of national founder and former army officer Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as well as an enforcer of order in times of civil unrest and weak civilian leadership. While it was forced to lower its political profile under Erdogan's government, Turkey's military has been buffeted by a renewed conflict with Kurdish separatist rebels and bombings by suspected Islamic extremists, including an attack on Istanbul's main airport last month that killed dozens. Erdogan has also been a polarizing leader, though he commands deep support among a pious Muslim class that once felt marginalized under past military-influenced governments.



Turkey is a NATO member and a key partner in U.S.-led efforts to defeat the Islamic State group, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq, and has allowed American fighter jets to use its Incirlik air base to fly missions against the extremists. Turkey's strategic location in the Mideast region, straddling the Asian and European continents, makes it a critical player in international conflicts. In 2003, Turkey barred U.S. forces from using its territory in the invasion of Iraq, raising questions about whether the politically powerful Turkish military had undercut a civilian-led initiative to help the Americans.



Turks have a conflicted relationship with their military, an institution that is cloaked in the lore of sacrifice, but also tarnished as a past symbol of repression. Past military coup leaders have been seen as saviors from chaos and corruption, but also ruthless. In the 1960 military takeover, the prime minister and key ministers were executed. Torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings were rampant in a 1980 coup. Despite that past, the military retains respect and vast economic resources. Service is a rite of passage for almost all men, who serve as conscripts. Soldiers who die in fighting with Kurdish rebels are hailed as martyrs.


Christopher Torchia was Associated Press bureau chief in Turkey from 2007 until early 2013. [By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, The Associated Press, Jul. 16, 2016 10:05 AM EDT]


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