Turkey's distaste for the Pennsylvania-based imam Fethullah Gülen and his organization is somehow perceived as paranoia by American journalists. Whenever I try to explain Gülenist infiltration in the Turkish judiciary and police force, a journalist friend interrupts me: "Let's say, everything you said is true. What makes them different than a political opposition group, which is legitimate by all means?" I think that is the critical point for the American public. For the majority of pundits in Washington, Gülen and his followers are just another opposition group getting crushed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's dictatorial regime. But the Turkish public, not only Erdoğan's political base, strongly disagrees with this. Why?
To solve the mystery for our American readers, we could talk about the recent revelation of a criminal case involving judges and prosecutors currently standing trial for their alleged involvement with the Gülen Movement.
Last week liberal and anti-Erdoğan news website T24 published some police documents related to an investigation into the PKK's umbrella organization, the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), from January 2013. The documents show that Prosecutor Muammer Akbaş, who also happened to be the one running the so-called corruption case against Erdoğan's entourage in 2013, and judges Süleyman Karaçöl and Menekşe Uyar ordered a comprehensive police surveillance on dozens of notables, including journalists Cengiz Candar, Ali Bayramoğlu, left-wing academic Ahmet İnsel and Kurdish poet Bejan Matur.
You might think that Erdoğan or his followers approved these surveillance orders, but this is unlikely, since those sympathetic to Erdoğan such as Yılmaz Ensaroğlu and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's adviser Hatem Ete were included on the list.
How did this begin?
It is quite simple. Gülen never liked the idea of negotiating a peace deal with the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU and Turkey for its attacks in urban areas on civilians. Gülen and his followers were competing for influence with the PKK in southeastern Turkey. Gülenists were opening prep schools and creating a civil society independent from PKK control, which led to a very unique struggle between the two groups. On the other hand, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the PKK had been negotiating terms of reconciliation since 2009. Gülen wanted a decisive military offensive against the terrorist group before talking about any deal. The policy difference between the government and Gülen led to a huge fracture within the state.
Going back to our case, the whole investigation began with an anonymous email - a classic Gülenist tactic - from someone bothered with the activities of the London-based Kurdish Human Right Project (KHRP) and Democratic Progress Institute (DPI). Police treated the KHRP as a shell organization for the PKK and got a wiretap order from the court for KHRP and DPI members and officials who were seen as terror suspects.
The list included the former U.N. under-secretary-general for political affairs, Sir Kieran Prendergast, who was also a member of the DPI. Gülenist judges also granted authorization of email monitoring for Jonathan Powell, a former adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who functioned as the chief negotiator in talks with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Powell was also a member of the DPI and attended a series of meetings in Istanbul in the past that focused on the Kurdish peace process. Police monitored his emails for at least three months.
As you can see, two former British top officials were either wiretapped or monitored because they were pursuing a political agenda contradictory to Gülenist wishes.
The case was later dropped in March 2014 due to lack of evidence.
This incident is one among the hundreds of legal cases that were opened against those in the political opposition to crack down on anyone who opposed the Gülenist agenda. Maybe it is time for everyone to re-evaluate their opinion of Gülen and his followers.