As the dust settles in Turkey following the bloodiest coup in recent history, questions continue to surface about who was behind the recent uprising. In the midst of the unfolding drama, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused rival Fethullah Gulen of being behind the putsch.
Could a sick, 75-year-old man have orchestrated such theatrics from his secluded home in rural Pennsylvania? It is not as unlikely as one might assume.
“The fact that now there are signs that Gulen is working closely with certain members of military leadership against the elected civilian government is a very alarming sign,” Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer who represents the Turkish government told The Telegraph immediately following the coup. He said the country’s intelligence services told him that Mr. Gulen was directly involved.
The group called itself “Council for Peace in the Homeland,” a name which Alon Liel, former head of the Israeli mission to Turkey, surmises is “a fictitious name. It looks like nonsense.”
In fact, analysts are trying to place the name, which is believed to be derived from the famous Mustafa Kemal Ataturk quote, “Peace at home, peace in the world.” One suggested theory is that Kemalists (secular followers of Ataturk) tricked the Gulenists into staging a coup. Another, given that the reference to the Ataturk quote is quite obvious, is that the Gulenists chose the name so that authorities would believe this was a Kemalist rebellion and not a Gulenist one.
BBC reported in the name of a police source that Mr. Erdogan was planning to arrest Gulen-supporting members of the army on July 16. When the coup-plotters learned about this, they went ahead and initiated the coup earlier than planned, according to the source.
What makes Mr. Erdogan’s Gulenist theory most believable are his immediate reactions to the coup, which threatened Turkey’s strategic ties with the United States. The president straightaway demanded the U.S. arrest or deport Mr. Gulen, criticizing President Obama for providing a safe haven for Mr. Gulen and forcing U.S. planes to stop flying from a southern base the military has been using to target ISIS in Syria.
“I do not see any country that would stand behind this man, this leader of the terrorist gang,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters. “The country that would stand behind this man is not friend to Turkey.”
Further, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry immediately made his own assumptions that the coup might be tied to Mr. Gulen. In a statement published by Reuters, Mr. Kerry said, “We fully anticipate that there will be questions about Mr. Gulen.”
Mr. Gulen and Mr. Erdogan, both Islamists, were political allies when Mr. Erdogan was prime minister, but the two became rivals in 2013 after Mr. Erdogan discovered that Mr. Gulen was masterminding a corruption scandal involving senior government figures. As late as 2014, Mr. Erdogan accused Mr. Gulen — upset by Mr. Erdogan’s tightening grip on power — of creating a “parallel state” and trying to foment an uprising from his American home by using his secretive Hizment movement to infiltrate the military, media and judiciary.
In 2014, Mr. Erdogan purged hundreds of Turkish police officials who had been tied to the conspiracy. Following the recent coup, more than 2,700 judges were removed for suspicion of being linked to the Gulen movement. Analysts say Mr. Gulen’s movement is deep rooted in Turkey, but hard to trace.
Many believe Mr. Gulen became more moderate since moving to the States. Israel’s Liel described the Gulen movement as “modern.” However, little is really known about Mr. Gulen’s life in the U.S. He lives in a guarded compound and rarely gives interviews.
More than occasionally, he and his network of more than 200 charter schools have sparked controversy, including accusations (written about by The Washington Post), that the schools are using taxpayer dollars to benefit the Gulen movement by giving business to Gulen followers or through financial arrangements with local foundations that promote Gulen teachings and Turkish culture. A witness in a 2013 hearing about one of Mr. Gulen’s Ohio schools said her husband — a former teacher — had to turn over 40 percent of his salary to a secret fund used by the movement.
Mr. Gulen did give an interview to a small group of elite journalists immediately following the weekend coup, denying any involvement. Perhaps this is because, to his own admission, he immediately began receiving threats on social media as events unfolded. Or perhaps it is because the putsch was unsuccessful and Mr. Gulen wanted quickly to distance himself from the mess.
It will take a while longer before the world has clarity on what exactly happened shortly on July 15. A word of caution: Before casting aside Mr. Erdogan’s accusations of Mr. Gulen as a ploy to maintain power, investigators, politicians — and anyone who cares about maintaining some semblance of stability in the Middle East — should probe deeper into Fethullah Gulen.
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, a director of international communications for a Israeli think tank, is a former editor for the Jerusalem Post and a former editor in chief of the Baltimore Jewish Times.