The latest judicial investigation on Dec. 14 against the group known as "Gülenists" or the "parallel structure," as it is called in Turkey today, raises a fundamental question about relations between the state and community groups that have formed around a particular idea or person. The question of how the state should respond to the legitimate and democratic rights and demands of groups without discrimination and prejudice against others is key to maintaining order, justice and equality for all citizens.
Over the last decade, while fighting against military tutelage and state bureaucracy, Turkey has made peace with the multifaceted identities of its citizens and communities. Devout Turks, Kurds, Alevis, Arabs, Roma, Armenians, Greek-Orthodox Christians, Syriac Christians, Jews and others have come to express their religious, ethnic and cultural identities in a free and secure environment. The identities of the citizens of the Republic of Turkey, forced underground by the monolithic ideals of the ethno-secular nation-state model, became visible and transparent. Laws were passed to ensure the freedom and equality of all citizens before the law. More importantly, the public at large embraced the newly-found pluralism that eluded several generations since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
This has made Turkey a richer and more pluralistic country. It has enabled the citizens of Turkey to make peace with their past, recover their multidimensional traditions, compare and contrast it with modernity, and reckon with its mistakes. Without a doubt, there is more work to do to improve the fundamental rights of all citizens including minorities.
The expansion of individual and collective identities, however, has also created a paradox: some groups, enjoying the new freedoms, have come to demand a greater share in state institutions. Gülenists, known for their clandestine work within the state and the army since the 1970s, are a typical example of this.
Begun as a religious and educational movement, Gülenists made full use of the expansion of rights and freedoms in Turkey, as was their democratic right. They enjoyed the new economic opportunities and established new schools, dormitories, universities, companies, newspapers, TV channels, business associations and even a bank. But they kept asking for more political and economic power. They put their followers in key positions in the judiciary, the security and the central bureaucracy. In the end, they betrayed their original mission of education and religious service.
It came to a point where the Gulenists felt confident enough to replace the head of Turkish Intelligence (MİT). The attempted arrest of Hakan Fidan on Feb. 7, 2012 on charges of violating the Constitution was the first sign of things to come. Since then, a fuller and darker picture of the Gülenists has emerged: abuse of power, legal and illegal wiretappings of thousands of people, violation of private life, jeopardizing national security, leaking state documents, arresting people on phony charges, character assassination and so on. There is more: the Gulenists have also used the powers of the judiciary, police and media to eliminate their rivals.
Contrary to what most foreign media has reported since Sunday, the Dec. 14 investigation is about a rival group known as "Tahsiyeciler", who are also a group of followers of the works of Said Nursi, but opposed to Fethullah Gülen. According to the initial statement of the chief prosecutor of Istanbul, the case has been filed due to the complaints of individuals who accuse Gülenists of forging documents against them in a trial in 2010, which led to the arrest of about 130 people and kept the leader of the "Tahşiyeciler" group in prison for 17 months.
How the 2010 case was put together is quite absurd. According to the indictment, Fethullah Gülen refers to the "Tahşiyeciler" group in a sermon he gave at his Pennsylvania estate in 2009, referring to them as potential terrorists with weapons and bombs. Several TV series run by Gülenist channels pick up the story and create a "Tahşiye" type in the films. A few months later, Gülenist members in the judiciary and the police file a case against the "Tahşiyeciler" group and arrest them on charges of al-Qaida-related terrorism. They find "weapons and bombs" in one of their houses as Gülen described it. The Zaman daily and other Gülenist media outlets publish one piece after another about the arrests. At the end of a two-year ordeal, all those arrested are released due to lack of substantial evidence.
How something real (the criticism of Fethullah Gülen by the Tahşiyeciler group) travels through the virtual world (TV series, newspapers headlines, columns) and then back to reality (the court trial and arrests) sounds surreal. But this seems to be what happened. Needless to say, because this is a court case, we shall all have to wait the judicial process. But what has been revealed so far is alarming to say the least. Gülenists are known for
using similar tactics against journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, as well as against the former police chief Hanefi Avcı.
Things would not have come to this point if the Gülen Movement remained within the natural borders of a religious-educational group. Instead,
Gülenists chose to be an omnipresent clandestine group with shady dealings in the judicial and security institutions of the state.
This should be a lesson for all groups seeking more power than they can handle. Individuals and groups have a right to identify themselves with any religious or political view, as long as it is within the confines of the law. Anything more is a threat to both society and the state.