[Soner Cagaptay finally gets it!]Fethullah Gülen is indeed behind Turkey’s democratization processbyMEHMET KALYONCU*

February 28, 2010, Sunday/ 17:33:00

In a recent commentary (“What's Really Behind Turkey's Coup Arrests,” Feb. 25, 2010) published in Foreign Policy magazine, and another one (“Turkey's Turning Point,” Feb.26, 2010) in Newsweek, Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) accuses Fethullah Gülen, 72, a retired preacher, prolific writer, and an advocate of interfaith-intercultural dialogue who lives in a self-imposed exile in a small town of Pennsylvania, of being the one responsible for the recent arrests of the former Turkish army generals who apparently plotted several times to overthrow Turkey's democratically elected Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

Although he intentionally interprets and portrays it falsely and misleadingly, Cagaptay finally got at least one thing right. Gülen can indeed be plausibly argued to be a force, albeit indirect, behind the Turkish authorities' recent crackdown on the unlawful, dictatorial and anti-democratic formations nested within the Turkish army, police, bureaucracy, academia, business and wherever they hinder democratization of the Turkish society.

Gülen has so far been denied the credit he much deserves for his efforts to make Turkey a more open, more democratic and more liberal country, integrated into the rest of the international community. It is mostly because of Gülen's humble nature, which instructs him not to claim any credit for the accomplishments of the faith-based civil society movement which he inspired worldwide and which academics and researchers have practically called the Gülen movement. It is also because of the above-mentioned antidemocratic establishment's constant persecution of Gülen and of whoever sympathizes with his ideas. As he alarmingly charges Gülen with leading a shadowy Islamist movement and extending its influence into the Turkish political life, Cagaptay simply illustrates the antidemocratic establishment's infamous attitude toward Turkey's citizens whenever they challenged, through democratic means, the establishment's grip on the state and its resources. That is, Cagaptay and similar voices of the antidemocratic and secularist establishment have always suppressed its challengers by discrediting them in the eyes of the public with false allegations.

Such allegations by Cagaptay should be a wake-up call to any concerned person inside and outside Turkey to really investigate what is really behind the antidemocratic secularist establishment's witch-hunt not only against Gülen, but also against whoever sympathizes with him.

In an article like this or many others, which apparently would hardly, if ever, find a place in the Foreign Policy and Newsweek magazines either because of the magazines' possible bias or because no such article would ever be sponsored by a formidable Washington think tank like WINEP, one can go into detail convincingly disputing each and every allegation made by Cagaptay. But it is neither the right nor ethical thing to do. It is not right because Cagaptay himself apparently knows that what he says simply is not true given the logical problems in his factually baseless allegations. It is not ethical because Cagaptay simply distorts the facts in an attempt to manipulate public opinion; and, as such, dignifying him with a response would simply make his unethical act look legitimate. What one should instead do is delve into the issues, which Cagaptay seems to be portraying purposefully falsely and misleadingly.

Why were the army generals arrested?

In his Foreign Policy commentary, Cagaptay rightly says, “For the last several decades, the Turkish military was untouchable; no one dared to criticize the military or its top generals, lest they risk getting burned. The Turkish Armed Forces were the ultimate protectors of founding father Kemal Atatürk's secular legacy, and no other force in the country could seriously threaten its supremacy. Not anymore.” Cagaptay is perfectly right that just as it would be in any military dictatorship or in an authoritarian society where the elected governments are subservient to the whims and wishes of the army generals, the Turkish military was untouchable, no matter how badly its generals violated the laws, hindered democracy and banned individual human rights and freedoms.

Most probably for this very reason, better to say for this self-entitled military supremacy over civilian subjects, months after the AK Party government took office through free and fair elections, a junta of army generals dared to plot overthrowing the AK Party government through a military coup d'état. On Jan. 20, 2010, the liberal Turkish daily newspaper Taraf exposed a coup plan titled the Balyoz [Sledgehammer] Security Operation Plan, drafted in 2003, shortly after the AK Party government came to power. According to the Taraf report, the masterminds of the plan were the then commander of the 1st Army, retired Gen. Çetin Doğan, then Air Forces Commander retired Gen. İbrahim Fırtına and retired Gen. Ergin Saygun. Soon after the report, a series of voice recordings from the alleged meeting of the generals leaked to the media (also to YouTube) and substantiated the Taraf report.

According to the report, and obviously understood in the voice recordings, the Sledgehammer coup plot was agreed upon at a military meeting attended by 162 active Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) members, including 29 generals. According to the plan, the military was to systematically foment chaos in society through violent acts, among which were bomb attacks on two major mosques in İstanbul during the Friday prayer. Consequently, provocateurs were to incite widespread rallies to protest the AK Party government's inability to ensure public security. Similarly, a series of bombs were to be detonated at museums crowded with children in order to heighten the already emerged sense of insecurity.

In addition to increasing violence in Turkey, the junta aimed to create tensions with Greece in an attempt to demonstrate the government's inability to handle international security threats. In this regard, a Turkish military aircraft was to provoke Greek pilots by entering Greek airspace, and the ensuing dogfight between the Turkish and Greek jets would lead to the crash of a Turkish jet. The plans noted that in case the dogfight attempt failed, then the junta's air force branch would intentionally down the Turkish jet and blame it on the Greeks. In the meantime, media organs close to the junta would accuse the AK Party government of failing to ensure the security of the country. Then, the circumstances would not only justify, but also necessitate the army's intervention.

The coup arrests which Cagaptay so alarmingly mentions in his commentaries are actually the detentions of some 49 retired and active duty military officers as part of the investigation into the alleged Sledgehammer coup plot. Consequently, two of the alleged masterminds of Sledgehammer, former Air Force Commander Gen. Fırtına and retired Gen. Saygun, respectively, were released after testifying to prosecutors. The ringleader, retired Gen. Doğan, was arrested as he was revealed to have already booked his flight to Mexico and was about to flee the country only a day after the police suddenly detained him. At this point, both Doğan and the other generals who have been released are waiting to stand trial in civilian courts. If they are innocent, they will be freed anyway.

What does this have to do with Gülen?

So, what does all this have to do with a retired preacher living in self-imposed exile in a small town of Pennsylvania for the last decade? The answer offered by Cagaptay is the following: “The only quality that ties together all of those arrested is their opposition to the AKP [AK Party] government and the Gülen movement.” What else could one expect? Actually, it would be quite odd if those who plotted to bomb their own people and crash Turkey's own jet did not oppose the AK Party government and the Gülen movement. After all, the latter two are everything that the coup plotters would not like.

A more plausible explanation as to what it all has to do with Gülen could be the following: Gülen certainly is not just a small mosque preacher. Throughout the last four decades, with his writings, public speeches and most importantly with worldwide civil society initiatives, Gülen has revolutionized the Turkish society's imagination. With his help, the Turkish society, which had so far been intimidated and humiliated by the antidemocratic, dictatorial and secularist establishment, has recognized its potential.

Gülen convinced the Turkish people that it was their judiciary, their army, their academia, their industry and their own art and sciences; and as such, they had the legitimate right to claim their place in all these areas of life while preserving their piously Muslim identity. This success of Gülen seems to have scared the establishment to death as it now terribly risks losing its absolute grip on every aspect of life in Turkey.

This point is actually well addressed in Cagaptay's own writing in his Newsweek commentary: “This campaign could become the final battle for control of Turkey.” Cagaptay is right; this is the battle between Turkish society and the dictatorial establishment for the control of Turkey. This explanation is of course an attempt to understand the root causes of the ongoing witch-hunt against Gülen and his sympathizers. Any concerned individual should not suffice with this explanation, but make his or her own judgment by delving into who Gülen is and what the Gülen movement is about.

In the final analysis, suggesting that Gülen is the cause of the recent arrests of the coup plotting army generals is tantamount to merely distorting the facts, and attempting to manipulate public opinion against both Gülen and whoever sympathizes with his ideas. This is exactly what Cagaptay seems to be doing, and it does not look credible even if his allegations appear in credible publications like the Foreign Policy and Newsweek magazines. It is also hard to argue that Gülen and the individuals associated with him are the only force behind Turkey's consistent march toward democracy. However, it is certainly plausible to argue that among Turkey's other democracy and freedom supporters, Gülen and whoever is associated with him are a formidable force behind Turkey's recently accelerated march toward democracy.

Cagaptay not only keeps distorting the facts about the ongoing judicial process, but also violates fundamental human rights of a prominent Turkish intellectual by constantly accusing him with baseless allegations. What Cagaptay does is not an objective intellectual engagement, but a mere witch-hunt and a campaign to discredit. Neither Gülen nor anyone who feels threatened by Cagaptay's baseless accusations should try to respond to him. Yet, they should immediately take Cagaptay's case to the courts of justice and make Cagaptay himself substantiate his allegations.

[*] Mehmet Kalyoncu is an international relations analyst and the author of the book “A Civilian Response to Ethno-Religious Conflict: The Gülen Movement in Southeast Turkey.”