Those who rushed to analyse and take positions on the coup in Turkey have another chance to re-evaluate the situation. Neither the army as an institution nor the secular opposition was responsible for the attempted coup. Rather, the attempted coup was undertaken by Fethullah Gulen’s Islamic movement that Erdogan describes as a “parallel structure” and who he accuses of striving to seize power. The movement is similar to the Muslim Brotherhood in terms of its message and structure, even though it is not linked to it.
Hundreds of investigators and security officials in Turkey are pursuing the organisation which is considered the largest Islamic group in Turkey and central Asia. Its leader Sheikh Fethullah Gulen is accused of masterminding the attempt to seize power through the coup, and Erdogan’s government has requested the US government to hand him over.
After the surprising events that have taken place during the past few days, I believe that members of the Muslim Brotherhood and sympathisers of groups of political Islam must understand what happened in Turkey. Those who betrayed Erdogan and tried to overthrow the legitimate government belong to a politicised Islamic group that used some of its secret members who are officers and government employees (including employees working in the prime minister’s office), and relied on a secret organisation that consists of many judges and teachers.
Those investigating the coup attempt are not looking for weapons in the homes and offices of suspects. Rather, they are searching for religious books and publications written by the group’s leader to prove their association with the Islamic group. The investigators’ questions to defendants revolve around their relationship with the group.
According to the official news agency Anadolu Agency, religious books written by the group were found in the possession of suspects. The news agency also mentioned that a book entitled “Emerald Hills of the Heart” written by Fethullah Gulen was found in the office of one of the defendants, an assistant professor at Sakarya University.
It is notable that the majority of those punished are not part of the army, they are members of the judiciary, university professors and teachers and more than 30,000 of them were arrested. In contrast, the number of army members who have been arrested is around 9,000. This large number shows that the movement, and not the army, is accused of plotting the coup. Those soldiers who were involved are members of the Gulen movement and an example of this is the Deputy Chief of General Staff Levent Türkkan who admitted that he has been associated with it for years.
The Turkish Gulen group is an Islamist movement that resembles the Arab Muslim Brotherhood which also depends on the establishment of a parallel state structure that competes through social, educational and banking activities to reach the roots of society and control it. The Gulen movement, like the Muslim Brotherhood, exercises dissimulation when prosecuted; it secretly works for change and publicly denies that it is a conspiratorial movement.
The Turkish authorities have had doubts about the intentions of the group for a long time. It decided to banish Gulen from Turkey because of a video that appeared on YouTube in which he admits to his group that he wants to change Turkey’s secular system. The former Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit asked Gulen to leave the country so that he would avoid a jail term on charges of conspiracy. Gulen travelled to the United States, where he is currently residing in the state of Pennsylvania.
Gulen is like other preachers who claim that the angels descend on them and speak to them, and presents himself as someone who can perform miracles. He said that he memorised the Qur’an at the age of four and that his mother would wake him in the middle of the night to complete the memorisation. Gulen was sincere to his project and spent nearly forty years preaching in mosques across Anatolia. He built a giant organisation of hundreds of religious schools in Turkey, and later extended his educational and charitable activities to central Asian republics after the fall of the Soviet Union.
He caused a crisis with the government of Kazakhstan which complained to the Turkish government that he was organising plots and conspiracies. Gulen built a so-called “parallel structure” consisting of charities, giant financial institutions, radio and television stations and newspapers in Turkey. He became so influential that he helped the AKP and supported Erdogan in the elections before this one, but the two men fell out and parted ways three years ago.
Gulen has succeeded in bringing about changes in Turkish society and in creating a popular base, taking advantage of the great freedoms and economic openness that have been prevalent in the country since the eighties. It turned out that President Erdogan, who knows him well, was right when he expressed misgivings about Gulen’s secret group early on, as it seems that it succeeded in sneaking into the military; a heavily guarded institution in Turkey.