“If [my return] is to halt positive developments in Turkey, even with a possibility of one percent, [I prefer] staying here if my lifespan allows it, and I will not return to damage my country, my nation and those [positive] things in my country,” Gülen said, teary eyed, in a recording published on the herkul.org website. The scholar's remarks were in response to an open call by Erdoğan, who had invited Gülen to return to Turkey in a speech during the closing ceremony of the 10th Int’l Turkish Olympiad last week. “We want to see those who are abroad and longing for the homeland among us.
We want this yearning to end,” the prime minister said, without directly mentioning a name but openly referring to Gülen.
Gülen is highly respected both in Turkey and in many countries around the world for educational activities he has pioneered, along with his efforts to promote intercultural and interfaith activities around the globe. He is in self-imposed exile in the US though there is no legal hurdle that prevents him from returning to Turkey. Shortly after he went to the US in 2000, he was charged with establishing an illegal organization in Turkey, but was eventually acquitted in 2008.
In his recording, Gülen said this was not the first time he was invited back to Turkey by state authorities. He said President Abdullah Gül had previously invited him back as well. “If some people put the [state] administration [in Turkey] in difficulty… to take revenge when I return to Turkey, then I will continue to live here [in the US],” he stated. Gülen also added that he would reconsider returning to Turkey, together with his close friends who share the same fate with him in the US, only when all his concerns are eliminated.
The scholar also said the spectators’ lengthy applause when Erdoğan invited him to Turkey indicate that Turks also want him back. Gülen said his unwillingness to return was by no means a hint that Turkey is not a stable or secure place or that he would put himself in trouble if he returns. “I have never thought of such a thing,” he said, and reiterated that his choice to stay in the US was unrelated to concerns over his safety but rather all the positive developments in Turkey, which he fears would be harmed by his return.
In a reference for his love and longing for his homeland, Gülen said he does not want to be buried in the US when he passes away. “I hope that I will die in my homeland and be buried near the feet of my beloved mother. This is my last request,” he added.
In addition, Gülen spoke about the difficult periods he went through in Turkey, especially after the military coups. He said he was chased after like a “bandit” for six years after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup. “I stood trial after the March 12 [1971 coup]. The trial lasted for three years and I was sentenced to three years in prison. I was also sentenced to one year in exile. I remained in prison for several months. I served my sentence lovingly and I never complained. I ran away for six years like a bandit after [the] Sept. 12 [coup],” he said, and added that he received “threats” after the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup and the April 27, 2007 military memorandum.
Erdoğan respects Gülen’s decision
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Erdoğan said it was not the first time he had invited Gülen back to Turkey, and added that he respected the scholar’s decision to stay in the US. “Personally, I will do what falls on my shoulders if Gülen decides to return to Turkey,” he said, adding, “There are dark circles working [against Turkey] abroad. I wanted to put an end to them. There is no legal hurdle to prevent Gülen from coming to Turkey. We [the government] are even working to allow people who were deprived of their Turkish nationality in the past to return to Turkey. Gülen does not have such a problem. Nevertheless, as far as I understand from his message he does not plan returning to Turkey. I wish him health.”
The prime minister had received thumbs-up from various segments of society in Turkey after his invitation to Gülen. Officials from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as well as other political parties and intellectuals had applauded Erdoğan’s invitation. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ backed the prime minister’s invitation, saying the AKP government would like to see the prominent scholar back in his homeland. “It is up to him [Gülen] to decide, but our desire is to end his longing for Turkey and see him in his homeland,” Bozdağ said to reporters.
Bülent Arınç, also a deputy prime minister, said thousands of people in Turkey want to see Gülen back in the country, adding there is no legal hurdle to prevent him from returning. “I am one of the many in Turkey who know that Gülen misses his country. I hope it is finally time for him to return to Turkey,” he told reporters.
Gülen has written nearly 60 books in Turkish, most of which have been translated into dozens of languages. He was most recently honored with the EastWest Institute’s (EWI) 2011 EWI Peace Building Award for his contribution to world peace.