Since the failed coup attempt of July 15th, the organization supporting the coup plotter Fethullah Gülen have mobilized a massive media campaign to generate sympathy toward those being arrested and removed from their positions in government due to ties to the coup. Sometimes, in the view of many Turkish citizens, this sympathy has been accepted so blindly that media outlets appear more concerned with the coup plotters than the hundreds killed and thousands injured, which is a source of great frustration. Writing in the Guardian, Constanze Letsch takes a closer look at the legacy of the Gülenists, and explains why they have become so deeply unpopular in Turkey.
Western governments and human rights groups have expressed grave concern over the tens of thousands with alleged ties to the network who have since been detained or dismissed from their jobs, arguing that the investigation has already turned into a witch-hunt. But many in Turkey are frustrated by the perceived reluctance in the west to take the Gülen network seriously – for Turks such as Koç, the movement’s rise meant physical abuse, debt and a thwarted military career.
“I had been a good student and got along well with the teachers,” Koç said. “But I soon noticed that these new commanders had their own way of doing things, a different hierarchy. They separated students into favourites and those they wanted to get rid of, screening them for certain profiles.” (…)
“They tortured us. We were deprived of sleep, of food, of water. We had to crawl everywhere, even on asphalt. My skin was raw and bleeding constantly. They humiliated us. They made us jump into rubbish bins with our mouths open, told us that we were no better than garbage and not worthy of becoming officers in the Turkish army. They did everything they could to make us leave to make room for their own students.”
In Turkey it had long been assumed that Gülen’s network, encouraged by the Justice and Development party (AKP), with whom it shared a background in Turkish Islamist movements, had infiltrated the judiciary and the security apparatus but those who dared to speak up were swiftly punished. For much of the period, Erdoğan and Gülen were still allies and journalists went to jail for reporting on the issue. (…)
“The Gülenists did an excellent job at convincing the west of their good intentions. They have an immense international network, are well-spoken and well-educated,” said investigative journalist İsmail Saymaz. “For 10 years we have suffered at the hands of a criminal gang that presented itself to the outside world as a movement for peace and interfaith dialogue, while ruthlessly moving against its opponents inside Turkey.”