Three quotes from Gulen's (formerly) close ally,
Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey
Page created Sep 20, 2010; last updated Nov 25, 2013
Our previous page on Gulen and the AKP explained the tight connection which has existed between Fethullah Gulen, his movement, and Turkey's ruling AKP party.
[Note added Nov 25, 2013. There have been many developments since this page was first created. Back in 2010, the Gulen Movement's alliance with Erdogan appeared solid, and many in the US actually believed that Erdogan was sincere about democratic reforms. A number of reports since have pointed to a serious power struggle between Erdogan and the Gulenists (see this page or this Nov 28, 2013 Turkish newspaper column). The Gezi Park protests of summer 2013 finally made many in the US aware of serious concerns about Erdogan's governance. Our main purpose here on this page has been to show that Fethullah Gulen has not had any qualms about forming alliances with leaders whose commitment to democracy and human rights is questionable, Erdogan being one example. The Erdogan-Gulen alliance was formed because both parties realized it would enable them to acquire control of Turkey.)
The current prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is (or perhaps it is time to say, was) an ally of Gulen's, as is Turkey's current president, Abdullah Gul, who is also a member of Erdogan's political party (the AKP). Gul is believed to be closer to the Gulen community, and some even consider him a member. Indeed, Gul met with some students from US Gulen charter schools while they were in Turkey for the Turkish Language Olympics.
Following are three quotes of Erdogan from when he was mayor of Istanbul:
- "Thank God, I am for Sharia."
- "One cannot be a secularist and a Muslim at the same time."
- "for us, democracy is a means to an end."
Source: Secularism and Muslim Democracy in Turkey, by Hakan Yavuz. Cambridge University Press, 2009.
It is interesting to revisit these quotes in light of the Gezi Park protests of summer 2013, in which protesters from a variety of political and religious backgrounds expressed exasperation with the authoritarian nature of Erdogan's government. As Gareth Jenkins noted in an insightful piece (June 9, 2013; Turkey Analyst vol. 6, no. 11):
"When Erdogan first became prime minister, he was careful to avoid confrontation. Publicly, he insisted that he had discarded the firebrand Islamism of his youth in favor of a moderate, pluralistic conservatism. Skeptics remained unconvinced, claiming that Erdogan was being disingenuous and merely biding his time. The previous regime had tried to squeeze a highly diverse society into a homogenized and theoretically secular, ethnic Turkish straitjacket. Their fear was that, once he felt strong enough, Erdogan would attempt to impose a homogenized, Sunni Islamic one. In time, the skeptics were proved right. As he consolidated his power, Erdogan became not only more authoritarian and autocratic but also more explicit about his goal of reshaping Turkish society in accordance with his own Sunni Islamic beliefs."
This website is primarily concerned with the Gulen Movement, not Erdogan. What is of interest here is Fethullah Gulen's willingness to support an authoritarian and intolerant government, as well as his reaction to the Gezi Park protests. Throughout 2010, Gulen urged his followers and all Turks in the strongest terms to vote "yes" on a package of constitutional reforms that, while they contained some measures approved of by the EU, also had the effect of significantly increasing Erdogan's power, in particular his control over the judiciary. Gulen claimed that his position was "not political," a logically untenable assertion. In 2011, massive arrests of journalists, activists, and others who somehow displeased either Erdogan or Gulen, based on questionable evidence and absurd charges, led the US and European mainstream media to question both Erdogan's and Gulen's intentions, something they should have done long before. It is noteworthy that the propaganda organ of the Gulen Movement, Today's Zaman, far from criticizing the human rights violations associated with these arrests and sham trials, was in fact one of the strongest voices supporting them.
As for the Gezi Park protests, Gulen, predictably, sided with state control over freedom of expression. Despite some claims made by one of Gulen's right-hand men, (Yuksel) Alp Aslandogan, in a July 12, 2013 Pocono Record piece on anti-Gulen protests in Pennsylvania:
"He said he was also puzzled by the protesters' linking of Gülen and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the protests in major Turkish cities. 'He was actually critical of the way the government handled the situation,' Aslandogan said, which included tear gas from police."
the fact is that Gulen compared the Gezi Park protesters to an "invasion of ants" in a video broadcast to his followers on herkul.org. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported on June 6, 2013 that "Gulen also described the protesters as a 'wrecked generation' that needs to be salvaged. He said 'such depravity' would continue unless the youth were restored..." In contrast, most international observers regarded the protesters sympathetically, and Amnesty International, among others, was highly critical of Erdogan's brutal crackdowns (see their report on "Turkey: Gezi Park protests: Brutal denial of the right to peaceful assembly in Turkey" at this link).
As of November 2013, the Gulen Movement has been engaged in a battle against Erdogan over the latter's threat to close Turkey's cram schools, which happen to be a major source of revenue for the Gulenists. The battle has been conducted largely through Zaman editorials and Twitter hashtags such as #EducationCoupinTurkey, #DershanelerHizmeteDevamEtmeli (roughly: cram schools must continue service), #HiçDurmadanYürüyeceksiniz (roughly: never stopping we will march on) and #EgitimeOzgurluk (freedom of education). Hurriyet has quoted Erdogan as saying "I will call them the opposite side, I can’t say anything else now." Yet it is still far from clear that the pragmatic alliance between Gulen and Erdogan is over.
Regardless of whether Erdogan and Gulen finish as allies or foes, their partnership (past or not) is yet another example of the Gulen Movement's readiness to have close relationships with authoritarian, intolerant, undemocratic, or corrupt leaders (cf. Saparmurat Niyazov, Nursultan Nazabayev, Ilham Aliyev, etc) when expedient.