When it comes to Moslem cleric Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is like a dog with a bone, he just can’t let go.
A full year after the failed coup d’état against his government, Erdoğan is still blaming the reclusive, 76-year-old former imam who lives in exile in a secluded region of Pennsylvania, for masterminding and instigating the putsch.
But since his tirades against Gülen have, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears in the international community, Erdoğan has now switched tactics and is painting the Islamic scholar as a terrorist (mainly in the hopes that the use of the “T” word will help persuade the current terror-phobic U.S. government to grant Gülen’s extradition to Ankara).
And to reiterate the message that Gülen is a conspiring militant extremist (even though he has publicly condemned the 2016 coup attempt and has stated that he “stands against all coups”), Erdoğan formally declared the first anniversary of the unsuccessful overthrow of his government as a new Turkish holiday, the Democracy and National Solidarity Day.
The new public day of celebration was commemorated across Turkey last Saturday, July 15, with a special session of the country’s parliamentary assembly and a National Unity March at the July 15 Martyrs Bridge (formerly known as the Bosporus Bridge), with Erdoğan himself leading the rally.
There was also an unveiling of a new July 15 Memorial near the Asian entry of the Martyrs Bridge, where the heaviest clashes took place during the late night hours of the foiled 2016 coup.
During all the pomp and circumstance of the various July 15 ceremonies, Erdoğan and his spokespersons made a point of reminding the Turkish people that it was Gulen and his 200,000-or-so followers that were responsible for trying to topple Turkey’s democracy and the terrible violence that led to the deaths of nearly 250 people and the severe injuries of another 2,000 innocent Turks.
And, indeed, the attempted coup was an assault on Turkish democracy, since it tried to instate an unelected military junta and overthrow the duly-elected government of Erdoğan.
But what Erdoğan and his supporters did not mention in their rallies is that, as a result of the a post-putsch purge, more than 150,000 Turkish teachers, lawmakers, lawyers, academics and journalists lost their jobs and at least 100,000 suspected plotters and political opponents (including 169 generals and 24 governors) were jailed.
In fact, according to the Turkish government’s own figures, a full 2.4 percent of the country’s public sector employees were discharged from their jobs because of alleged links to Fethullah Gülen.
And, also because of the aborted coup, Erdoğan, through a highly contested referendum, essentially stripped the prime minister’s office from all its remaining powers and redefined his own post as president into an all-controlling position expanded through a yearlong state of emergency that allows him to randomly appoint judges and ministers and dismiss parliament at will.
So was Gülen, who oversees an international charter school network, really responsible for the attempted coup?
The jury is still out on that one.
There is strong circumstantial evidence that the cloistered cleric did play a role in instigating the failed overthrow of Erdoğan’s government, although U.S. officials say that they have not found any solid proof to substantiate the claim.
Clearly, some self-confessed Gülenists have been linked to the merciless event, and in the eyes of more than 95 percent of Turks surveyed, there is no doubt that Gülen was the ringleader of the coup attempt.
But trial by public opinion – especially, a public opinion that is orchestrated by a meticulously censured national media – is not proof of guilt.
So now the Erdoğan administration is ratcheting up its accusations against Gülen and his followers even further, claiming that they are plotting potential government coups around the world, including in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Last week, the Turkish Embassy in Mexico’s acting head of mission, Fikret Türkeş, unequivocally pointed the finger at Casa Turca, a nonprofit language and cultural center that has operated in Mexico City since 2003 and that opened a branch in Guadalajara in 2013, as an affiliate and covert operative of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
The Turkish government claims that not only was FETÖ responsible for the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov at an Ankara art exhibit last December, but also for grassroots efforts to spark a rebellion in Turkmenistan, where dozens of alleged Gülenists have already been detained.
Türkeş said flatly that the Gülenist movement and Casa Turca pose “a real threat to Mexican national security,” adding that his embassy is working closely with Mexican authorities to prevent any subversive actions by the FETÖ subsidiary.
It remains to be seen if Erdoğan’s new push to get the United States to comply with his government’s four separate requests for Gülen’s extradition back to Turkey will bear fruit.
But if Erdoğan does succeed in repatriating the cleric, it is a pretty sure bet that Gülen won’t get a fair and transparent trial.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]