The Gulen Movement's relations with His Excellency Saparmurat Niyazov, Leader of all Turkmens
- one of the world's most repressive regimes
The Gulen Institute website declares that “The main goal of the Institute is to promote academic research as well as grass roots activity towards bringing about positive social change, namely the establishment of stable peace, social justice, and social harmony…”
In light of this purported interest in “social justice”, it is of interest to examine the close relations between the Gulen Movement, including specifically one of its high-level members in the United States, and Saparmurat Niyazov, a.k.a. “His Excellency Saparmurat Niyazov, Great Leader of all Turkmens,” who ruled Turkmenistan as President-for-Life until his death in 2006.
Background on Niyazov
The BBC had this to say of Niyazov’s tenure in office:
It was, say analysts, one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world.
60 Minutes on Saparmurat Niyazov Jan 4, 2004:
“He's not only a brutal dictator, but a dictator who runs his country like it's his own private Disney World.
If you think Saddam Hussein was fond of himself, just visit Turkmenbashi's country. There's a poster or a statue of him in nearly every public space.
Laura Kennedy, who was U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan when 60 Minutes visited, says dealing with Turkmenbashi is not unlike dealing with North Korea's Kim Jong-il, or the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.”
New York Times Feb 1, 2003
In trials that human rights organizations have said are reminiscent of Stalin's 1930's show trials, the accused, many of them political opponents of Mr. Niyazov, have been given sentences of between five years and life in prison.
Another 2003 New York Times article on Niyazov is entitled “When a Kleptocratic, Megalomaniacal Dictator Goes Bad.”
And a New York Times article of January 1, 2008 noted that while in power, Niyazov had completely banned ballet and opera throughout Turkmenistan.
“Dialog and tolerance activities”?
On Fethullah Gulen’s website, filed under the tabs “About Fethullah Gulen: Dialog and tolerance activities,” the following report is given:
Turkmenistan 18-22 February 1999: Our group, which included academicians, businessmen and journalists, was received in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashkabad by Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi. In the ceremony that took place, the Honorable Turkmenbashi thanked our Foundation for its efforts to re-establish the traditional ties of friendship and brotherhood between our peoples.
Strange credentials: award for translating brutal and repressive dictator's rambling treatise
As former President of the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue, co-founder and editor of Fountain Magazine, and author of a book on Fethullah Gulen, Muhammed Cetin operates in the upper echelons of the Gulen Movement.
The website of the Sierra Foundation (a Gulenist non-profit in Nevada), gives a brief biography of Muhammed Cetin that includes the following lines:
"He has worked as lecturer, Vice-Rector and Ministerial Adviser in Turkmenistan.
"Cetin's translation of Saparmurat Niyazov's Ruhnama (2001) earned him an award for cultural service to Turkmenistan."
Cetin may have reckoned that most readers in the United States would be unaware that this award, as well as the experience of working with Niyazov’s regime, are dubious distinctions.
More on “Ruhnama”
Here is what the New York Times had to say about the book “Ruhnama” that Gulenist Muhammed Cetin translated:
“Niyazov has effectively destroyed primary education in Turkmenistan. Schoolchildren study almost exclusively from a single text, a disorganized, quasi-religious memoir-cum-national history written, of course, by the president. The book, ''Ruhnama'' (the word means ''soul of the people''), is a hodgepodge of bland exhortations on how to live a moral life (''Do whatever lawful thing your parents tell you to do'') and Niyazov's own treacly poetry and putative rules for governing (''The main target in agriculture until 2010 is to increase the production of grain and cotton''). The book lashes out at the Soviet Union for mistreating Turkmen, but Niyazov is careful to omit mention of his long career as a Soviet apparatchik. `Ruhnama’ also contains examples of the handwriting of the `Beloved Leader Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great.’ “
60 Minutes also weighed in on Ruhmana:
"In this secular Muslim nation of five million people, the new "Koran" of this new culture is a giant book which ceremonially opens every night at dusk. It's called the Ruhnama, the president's spiritual guide for the people of Turkmenistan, and it lists suggestions for better living through Turkmenbashi.
"Every kid in school here, young and old, must spend one day a week studying the Ruhnama."
The movie "Shadow of the Holy Book" covers in detail how the Ruhnama has been used as an instrument of political repression.
Gulenists served as advisors to Saparmurat Niyazov
Researchers studying the Gulen Movement noted that Gulen’s followers were intimately involved with Niyazov’s regime.
Bayram Balci, "Fethullah Gülen’s Missionary Schools in Central Asia and their Role in the Spreading of Turkism and Islam," Religion, State & Society, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2003
“The cemaat is very active in Turkmenistan because two of its members are advisors of President Niyazov (the minister of Textiles and minister of Education).”
Joshua Hendrick, 2009 Thesis, University of California, Santa Cruz:
“The GM is also intimately linked with Turkey's recently famous multi-billion dollar family holding company, The Calik Group. ...
"Since the late-1990s, CEO Ahmet Calik has been a government minister Turkmenistan, and he was a personal advisor to the former Turkmen president and dictator Saparmurat Niyasov "Turkmenbashi" (d.2006).
"At the writing of this dissertation, Shadow of the Holy Book, a documentary film dealing with the corrupt relationships formed between Turkmenistan's dictator and varying global corporations hoping to establish inroads in the resource rich nation, is being premiered at film festivals around the world. The company that earns the most favors from the Turkmen state, and the company that the film lambastes as the most secretive and the most complacent in terms of human rights violations in Turkmenistan, however, is Calik Holding.”
Saparmurat Niyazov and Haydar Aliyev were honored at the Gulen Movement’s Turkish Language Olympics
An article on Fethullah Gulen’s website entitled “Winners at Turkish Olympics are Champions of Peace” states:
“Two countries receive the Ataturk prize: The Special Ataturk Award was given to honor Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, the late President of Turkmenistan and Haydar Aliyev, the former President of Azerbaijan who died several years ago.”
The New York Times obituary of Haydar Aliyev, Dec 13, 2003, noted the following:
“Heydar Aliyev, a former Soviet secret police general who for 30 years ruled his native Azerbaijan with an iron fist, first as its Communist leader, then as elected president after independence, died yesterday...”
“Outside the oil sector, a climate of widespread corruption, cronyism and administrative incompetence damaged economic prospects. Transparency International, an anticorruption watchdog, lists Azerbaijan as the seventh most corrupt nation of the 102 surveyed.
“An extravagant personality cult was another feature of Mr. Aliyev's rule. His portrait decorated towns and villages. Workers were bused to rallies in his honor. A star and a mountain were named after him. Three museums were built to record his accomplishments.”
A Human Rights Watch report on Azerbaijan from 2000 noted that
“While the government in 2000 adopted several laws that aimed to strengthen civic freedoms, its human rights record remained poor…”
An award for “unifying” Bosnia Herzegovina with the “Turkish World”?
Another report on Fethullah Gulen’s website, again under the tabs “About Fethullah Gulen: Dialog and Tolerance Activities,” states that:
“Bosnia Herzegovina 26-30 September 1999: Our group was met by Bosnia Herzegovina President, the Honorable Aliya Izzetbegovich, to whom our group chairman, Harun Tokak, presented the Turkish World and Related Communities Unification Award."
This award is particularly striking as it seems to imply that Alija Izetbegovic, by declaring independence of Bosnia in the hopes of creating a Muslim republic, was somehow “unifying” that nation with the “Turkish World.” The report goes on to note that Bosnia was once part of the Ottoman Empire. One consequence of Izetbegovic’s decision to pursue Bosnian independence was that it precipitated the brutal Bosnian war.
A New York Times article of August 17, 1999 noted the extreme corruption under Izetbegovic’s regime:
“Leaders in Bosnia are said to steal up to $1 Billion: Officials of the Office of the High Representative and Western diplomats say one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Bosnia is Bakir Izetbegovic, the son of President Izetbegovic. He controls The City Development Institute, in charge of determining the occupancy rights of 80,000 publicly owned apartments in Sarajevo. The apartments, many of which belonged to Serbs or Croats before the war, have been given to members of the governing Muslim-led Social Democratic Party. Others who want occupancy rights must pay Mr. Izetbegovic $2,000, said several Bosnians who have paid the fee. // Mr. Izetbegovic owns 15 percent of Bosnia Air, the state airline, and takes a cut of the extortion money paid out by local shopkeepers to Sarajevo gangsters, the diplomats said.”
In summary, a consideration of some of the awards that followers of Gulen have both accepted and distributed may justifiably lead some to question the claim that the Gulen Movement works for social justice and human rights.