The relation between the Gulen Movement
and Turkey's ruling AKP Party
Page created July 2010; last updated Dec 3, 2013
Both Turkey's ruling AKP Party and Fethullah Gulen's movement have Islamist roots. Many researchers have noted the close ties between them. While recently, they appear to be engaged in a power struggle (having eliminated all other contenders for control of Turkey, naturally in the end they would have to turn on each other) this does not alter the fact that for a number of years there has been a very close partnership between them. Despite extensive news coverage in Nov-Dec 2013 of a struggle between them centering on a threatened closure of the Gulen Movement's private "prep" schools (a major source of revenue for the Movement), it is still not clear that this partnership, which has been partly strategic but also partly rooted in commonalities of outlook and goals, is over. Only time will tell.
A sampling of evidence of these close ties is reviewed here.
In a 2007 report entitled "AKP Forming Closer Links with the Gulen Movement" (Eurasia Daily Monitor Vol 4 Issue 217) available on the Jamestown Foundation website,
Gareth Jenkins noted that "Reports in the Turkish press that the state-owned carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) had co-sponsored a conference in Istanbul on October 21-23, organized by the followers of exiled Islamist preacher Fettullah Gulen, have highlighted the increasingly close ties between the once-persecuted movement and Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) (Vatan, Hurriyet, November 20)."
The following excerpts are taken from Ahmet T. Kuru's paper "Changing Perspectives on Islamism and Secularism in Turkey: The Gulen Movement and the AK Party,"which appeared in the proceedings of a Gulenist conference "Muslim World in Transition", pp. 140-51. This paper is available on Fethullah Gulen's website
"I argue that the AKP leaders' interaction with the Gulen movement, in this regard, played an important role in the formation of the party's new perspective toward secularism."
"The Gulen Movement and the AK Party: Protecting Democracy: The Gülen movement had close relations with Turgut Özal in the early 1990s and Bülent Ecevit in the late 1990s. Yet it has avoided explicitly supporting one single party at the expense of others. Recently, the movement largely dropped its neutrality principle and supported the AK Party in the national elections of July 22, 2007."
"Throughout this transformation, the AK Party leaders have been in direct interaction with the Gulen movement. The movement's media outlets and Abant meetings played important roles in this interaction. The movement and the party have also many other overlapping: they address to a similar set of conservative businesspeople (generally called Anatolian Tigers), several party members send their children to movement's schools, and several movement sympathizers politically support the party.”
Gulenist organizations such as the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians in Texas, and the Istanbul Center in Atlanta, invite Turkish politicians to some of their events. It is noteworthy that these parliament members and other political figures inevitably belong to the AKP (Justice and Development) Party.
For example, in October 2008, the Istanbul Center organized a “Year of Turkey.” On the Istanbul Center website, a description is given of a trip to Turkey made by the Director of the Istanbul Center, Tarik Celik, to discuss the “Year of Turkey” with various political figures.
All the politicians named in this article as ones that Celik met with are members of the AKP. This includes Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan; Members of Parliament Saadettin Aydin, Mehmet Emin Ekmen, Abdurrahman Kurt, Yahya Akman, Mehmet Sahin, Gonul Sahkulubey; AKP Vice Presidents Fatma Akgun and Huseyin Tanriverdi, and the Mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbas. Even considering that the AKP is the current ruling party, it is difficult to believe that this is mere coincidence.
Here are two accounts of the opening reception for a new umbrella Gulenist lobbying organization, both mentioning only AKP party members attending:
Website of Turkish American Society of Ohio (Gulenist organization):
Today's Zaman, Turkish propagandist newspaper run by Gulen Movement;
“The Turkish Parliament was represented by ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies Vahit Kirişçi, Mehmet Şahin, Mustafa Ataş, Mehmet Ceylan, İbrahim Hasgür, Alev Dedegil, Hacı Hasan Sönmez and Mehmet Çerçi.”
Note added Dec 4, 2013: the following two webpages from Gulenist websites, when accessed in July 2010, also showed this list of AKP members; the list has been removed from the first page, and the second link is now broken. We believe this is not coincidence, as when this page was first published in July 2010, these links were the ones referenced.
On this webpage from the Turquoise Council for Americans and Eurasians (a Gulenist organization), describing a Turkish-Arkansas “Friendship” event:
every single representative from Turkey participating is from the AKP party.
Here is another webpage from the Turquoise Council, which as a non-profit tax-exempt organization is not supposed to have a political agenda. It describes a meeting on democratization of Turkey, attended by, among others, Graham Fuller:
Note added Dec 4, 2012: The above link worked in July 2010, but this webpage has since been taken down from the Turquoise Council website. However, the article still appears at the Today's Zaman website:
One speaker, Transatlantic Academy fellow Joshua W. Walker, said: ”Regarding the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Walker termed them “parties that say no,” a reference to the way the two react to change. “Where do we look for stability?” he asked. “The only place there is stability is the AKP [the governing Justice and Development Party].”
The complete absence of any representative from another political party at these Gulenist events is further strong evidence pointing to the Gulen-AKP connection.