Turkey's highly polarized political climate is flooded with conspiracy theories on any given topic. Hence, facts are often lost amid speculations. Recently, a frequent target not only in Turkey but also the West has been the Gülen (Hizmet) movement.
One of the most repeated speculations nowadays is that the recent National Intelligence Agency (MİT) controversy happened mainly because the Gülen movement and its supporters within the state prefer security solutions to the Kurdish question, whereas the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is pro-dialogue and negotiates with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Such simplistic approaches to what is actually a very complicated situation do a disservice to the truth. But more and more people are buying into them in Turkey and in the West. Speculations are finding their way to even the most serious intellectual settings, such as an event hosted by the Stimson Center in Washington last week.
Like the majority of the nation, Gülen movement supporters believe that Turkey has a legitimate right to defend itself from all forms of terrorism and violent ethnic extremism. They support law enforcement and other authorities who pursue terrorists, extremists and corrupt officials within the government itself.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the US and the EU. The US government regards the PKK as a “common enemy” to both Turkey and America. PKK actions include suicide bombings in provincial capitals. Due to that threat, the Turkish public generally condones controversial US-Patriot-Act-type anti-terror laws. In an increasingly transparent Turkey, the illegal practices of some government officials in the name of the fight against terror do not go unnoticed. Apparently the police and judiciary have lately concluded that there is something fishy is going on with MİT.
Long-time observers are not unfamiliar with the controversial methods used by the Turkish national security establishment in the past. There are ongoing investigations and trials of former abusers of power, especially in the military. Two military officers who planned to bomb a supposedly pro-PKK bookstore in Şemdinli were convicted to nearly 40 years in prison this year. Investigators are now conducting excavations to shed light on thousands of incidences of forced disappearance in the 1990s in the region. Hence, frankly, I give the benefit of the doubt to the judiciary, not MİT, many senior members of which are of military origin.
So, did Gülen movement supporters in the police and judiciary implement these legal maneuvers? We don't really know. I have no doubt there are Gülen movement sympathizers among Turkey's police officers, prosecutors and judges. After all, this is a widespread movement with roots in all segments of society. And yes, some of those bureaucrats may be also conservative and protectionist when it comes to interpreting the laws. So what? After all, be it a Gülen movement sympathizer or not, all Turkish bureaucrats subscribe to same bureaucratic traditions. Furthermore, is it conceivable for a single group to impose whatever they want on the system? If that is the case, why isn't there any uproar from their colleagues or superiors? Gülen movement sympathizers within the ranks of the state are just doing their jobs like everyone else. Their good and bad deeds at work have more to do with their professional credentials than social connections. Why single out Gülen movement supporters, then, in a particularly negative way? (The answer mainly lies within Turkey's paranoid culture.)
Some of the recent criticisms of the Gülen movement stem from their general support for the government's crackdown on the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), a clandestine organization that aims to create a parallel state affiliated with the terrorist PKK organization. Again, in the KCK cases, Gülen movement sentiments are no different from the majority of the nation or the AK Party government. On the other hand, what's often overlooked is the fact that the Gülen movement also favors and implements very peaceful initiatives as a parallel track to military efforts. They have effectively been using social, cultural, religious and economic avenues to ease tensions. Had the Gülen movement been solely interested in a security-oriented solution, would Fethullah Gülen call for enhanced civil rights, such as teaching Kurdish at state schools? The Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), a leading Gülen movement civic institution, has called for mixed Turkish-Kurdish education in their draft for a new constitution. The movement sponsors free tutoring centers for underprivileged students in predominantly Kurdish regions and ghettos in big cities. Plus, a sizeable number of Gülen movement sympathizers are actually of Kurdish origin. While the ultranationalists were advocating for military intervention in Northern Iraq, the Gülen movement has established more than 20 private schools and a university in the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The Gülen movement has always supported multi-track approaches to the Kurdish question, which include not only security-oriented but also social, economic and political elements for a solution. Their brand of nationalism is much closer to patriotism than ethnic nationalism. Plus, adherence to Islam usually softens ethnic conflicts. Some Gülen movement sympathizers may not be very liberal in their world outlook, but that does not necessarily mean they are security-freaks. It would be nice if they were more vocal in calling for increased compliance with universal human rights principles in some of the tricky terrorism-related cases. But overall the movement is one of the leading proponents for democratization, reformation, EU integration and non-confrontational foreign policy in Turkey. It's disappointing to see misguided prejudgments prevail regarding the role of the Gülen movement on the Kurdish question.