Fethullah Gülen’s Message of Condolences for the Beirut Explosion

August 5, 2020 – I learned with deep grief the news of the explosion in Beirut that killed more than a hundred people, injured thousands and caused hundreds of thousands to leave their homes.

I extend my condolences to those who lost their loved ones in the explosion and to all Lebanese people, and I wish quick recovery to the injured.

May God, the Most Compassionate, help the emergency and medical professionals who are attending to the injured. May God give strength during this difficult time to the people of Beirut who were harmed by the explosion and may He help them recover quickly. 

While we don’t yet know the clear cause, this disaster should be considered as a warning to us regarding the value of human life and the measures to be taken to protect it.

I urge everyone to help the people of Beirut at this difficult time.

– Fethullah Gulen
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Turkish Cultural Center Hosts Food Drive

The Humanitarian Aid group under the Turkish Cultural Center (TCC)  held a meat drive on Monday, August 3rd for Eid al Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) at the Turkish Cultural Center on Revere Street. 

According to Islam, the Feast of Sacrifice commemorates Prophet Abraham’s obedience to God as he was tested to sacrifice his beloved son. Mahmut Bekin of the Humanitarian Aid Group at the TCC added, “On this day, God sent his angel Gabriel and provided Abraham a ram in place of his beloved son. Since then, it has been celebrated by Muslims to commemorate this day by sacrificing animals such as cow, sheep and goat in memory of Abraham’s devotion.”

Muslims are obliged to distribute two-thirds of the meat to people in need. “The Turkish Cultural Center will commemorate this year’s Feast of Sacrifice to help the needy bring meat to their tables. We have vowed to distribute 300 pounds of meat to Revere,” Mahmut Bekin said.

Mayor Brian Arrigo and Revere’s office of Healthy Community Initiatives worked alongside the Humanitarian Aid Group to distribute 50 packages of meat, each weighing 6 pounds, with all necessary labeling to 50 families. The City of Revere matched those 50 packages of meat with a package of fresh produce for each family as well. “Events like this are exactly what we need in our city. They bring our community closer together and allow us to better assist those in need,” Mayor Arrigo said.

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Hizmet movement demonized by Erdogan regime but loved abroad

Turkmen Terzi

South Africans appreciate Hizmet Movement’s selfless contributions amid Turkey’s extensive social media restrictions at home

While Erdogan completely silences critics at home as Turkish parliament approved a law on Wednesday that gives President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to regulate social media including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, and his administration actively pursues dissidents around the world, people from many different nations who benefited from the Hizmet movement are now speaking out in support of the movement’s philanthropic and other efforts around the world.

Erdogan accuses Hizmet (loosely translated to ‘service’, as the group was founded upon the concept of service to humanity) of being behind the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and continues to crack down on the movement at home and abroad.

The Turkish Parliament’s coup commission report has disappeared and Erdogan’s government could not provide any concrete report to the USA, in support of Turkey’s request for the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen who is the spiritual leader of the Hizmet Movement.

Gulen, 83, has been living in Pennsylvania since 1999, repeatedly proposing an international coup commission to investigate the July 15 incident to identify the perpetrators.

Turkish Newspaper Milli Gazete, which is close to Erdogan’s inner circle questioned that Erdogan’s “20 July Political Coup” must be investigated as Erdogan began purging thousands of judges, journalists, academics and key civil servants since the coup attempt as opposed to initiating and awaiting the results of a fair and transparent judicial process. 

Since 2016, Erdogan closed down 15 universities, purged more than 30 000  teachers from public and private schools. It is estimated that 150 000  government officials have been sacked from key institutions. Erdogan’s government also closed down 170 media houses since the coup attempt, in an attempt to silence all criticism against the regime. Amidst all this, Erdogan managed to cover-up the December 2013 corruption investigations, which targeted his inner-circle, including his son.

South Africa is a good example of a country that has not been pressured into adopting the narrative touted by the Turkish government. Local politicians, students and academics regularly acknowledge the Hizmet Movement’s altruistic activities in the country. Dr Raj Govender, who is a Social Cohesion advocate of South Africa’s Department of Sports, Arts and Culture said: “The Hizmet Movement is a faith-inspired, non-political, cultural and educational movement whose basic principle came from universal values such as love of the creation, sympathy for the fellow human, compassion and altruism.”

Govender said that this worldwide civic initiative, rooted in the spiritual and humanist tradition of Islam and inspired by the ideas and activism of Fethullah Gulen, focuses on the betterment of the individuals in an effort to enact positive change in society by developing leaders and empowering the youth in South Africa.

Deputy Minister of Presidency for Women, Youth and Person with Disabilities ,  Professor Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize also praised Hizmet’s activities in South Africa.

“It is important to start with the values, if you look at the Hizmet Movement, it starts with the basic of life, it talks to cultural aspects, it talks to principles and values. For me, what is more important is the commitment in bridging the gaps among members of society.”

Professor Mkhize mentioned that Hizmet removes barriers in South Africa’s unequal society by contributing to solid educational foundation, where there are no barriers, in terms of faith, race and economic situation.

Former Gauteng MEC for Transport Ismail Vadi explained that education is not an easy job. He noted that the South African government has been spending 20-21 percent of its national budget for educational expenditure, yet the country still faces significant weaknesses in terms of quality education.

“What the Hizmet Movement has done In South Africa, with the few institutions they have established and through a particular emphasis on maths and sciences development, many of their schools have become high performing schools. If you look at metric results, there has been significant personal development of thousands of learners, in terms of the leadership skills, the cultural integration they had,” he said.

“I wouldn’t have had the opportunity of being in a Medical faculty or studying at Oxford if it weren’t for my teachers,” Hizmet school graduate Dr Kumeran Govender expressed with gratitude. Govender achieved twelve distinctions in matric and is currently a PHD candidate at Infectious Diseases at Oxford University.

Dr Govender said that he sees Hizmet schools as a hub for uplifting education which is in line with the Sustainable Development goals set by the United Nations.

“I am a recipient of one of these bursaries…my father started selling pop-corn and mielies on the street initially when he was growing up to actually buy electricity. In some sense I definitely think Hizmet College is really a microcosm of what needs to be employed across South Africa. This model is one that can be used to transform education in South Africa,” Dr Govender believes.

Another Hizmet school graduate, Dr Ndimande Nduduzo, who currently assists his community in a rural hospital summarises Hizmet’s philosophy on education:

“I found my passion to help others in Hizmet teachers. They are so selfless, now I am so glad and happy, it gives me great pleasure to wake up every morning to come and help all those from disadvantaged communities, especially this time of Covid-19. It is so fulfilling. Without Hizmet College, none of this would have been possible.”
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America’s Public Radio International maps out Turkish gov’t persecution of Gülen movement

Public Radio International (PRI), a Minneapolis-based public radio organization providing programming to over 850 public radio stations in the United States, in a program on July 23 charted out the Turkish government’s relentless witch hunt against the faith-based Gülen movement across the world.

The program, titled “Expulsions, pushbacks and extraditions: Turkey’s war on dissent extends to Europe,” focused on the stories of the Gülenists who escaped persecution in Turkey and sought a safe haven in European countries.

Listen to the program:

“The Gülenists, dubbed by Turkey as F.TO, the Fethullahist Terror Organization, are being purged on a massive scale. Those who have been accused include scientists, schoolteachers, policemen and journalists,” said PRI.

“Four years ago, a group within the military tried to overthrow the Turkish government. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has blamed Fethullah Gülen and his network, the Gülenists, for the July 15, 2016, failed coup d’état, which resulted in the deaths of 251 people and 2,200 injured.

“Inside Turkey, as many as 80,000 have since been detained, and 150,000 sacked from their civil service jobs.

“Erdoğan has vowed to track F.TO members down: ‘Wherever they escape… we will chase after them,’ he said.

“Abroad, the Turkish government has managed to extradite, kidnap and otherwise push foreign governments to hand over Gülenists from foreign countries — Kazakhstan, Moldova, Kosovo and Pakistan, to name a few.

“From the other direction, thousands of Turks have escaped, seeking safety in Europe amid Turkey’s relentless, ongoing post-coup crackdown on dissent.

“Even in Germany, where 40,000 Turks have sought safety, exiles feel the long arm of the Turkish state is using its intelligence agencies and bilateral relations to exert pressure on countries who have yet to turn over the accused.

“Since 2016, Turkey has shut down Gülenist businesses, expropriating $10 billion worth of assets. It has closed Gülenist media outlets and shuttered Gülenist-owned schools.

“Nate Schenkkan is with Freedom House and an expert on Turkey. He says Gülenists have been left jobless, with no chance of restarting their careers.

“For the vast majority of the people in the Gülen movement, it’s quite clear. They had nothing to do with any of this, whether it’s the coup attempt or any other kind of violence,” he said.

Whisked to the border

“Businessman Abdullah Büyük moved from Turkey to neighboring Bulgaria in 2016, imagining the country would be safe for him as an EU member state.

“At the State Agency for Refugees where he went to apply for asylum, he was presented two members of the Bulgarian intelligence service.

“One of them offered, ‘Let us help you with your business here. You can attend the Gülen movement meetings. You let us know who attends those meetings and what they say.’

“’I didn’t agree to that, saying I was already cooperating by answering their questions.’

“Bulgarian courts denied an extradition request from Turkey for Büyük.

“Around the same time, the Turkish foreign minister announced publicly that they planned to bring ‘a person of interest’ back from Bulgaria.

“On his way to a meeting in Sofia, police blocked Büyük’s vehicle.

“Bulgarians drove him 180 miles to the border where they handed him over to Turkish authorities.

“Accused of being a member of a terrorist organization, he was kept in pretrial detention for more than three years. He’s now at home with an electronic ankle bracelet while his trial continues.

“Bulgaria was doing Turkish president Erdoğan’s bidding. Bulgaria, with a population of just under 7 million, shares a 149-mile-long border with its behemoth neighbor.

“Bulgaria’s leaders are aware of the risk of noncooperation. Turkey could easily flood Bulgaria with tens of thousands of refugees hungry to come to Europe.

“Since 2016, at least seven more individuals have been handed over to the Turks by Bulgarians.”

Pushed back to Turkey

“Human rights activists say countless others have been illegally pushed back at the Bulgarian and Greek borders.

“Turks have found trouble in other countries as well, including Germany, where they make up the third-largest group of asylum-seekers. One is a 29-year-old journalist who didn’t want to give her name for security reasons. She fled with a group of 11 other Turks across the Evros River to Greece.

“Once in Greece, they encountered police. Along with other migrants, they were put into a van.

“’We didn’t know what was happening or where they were taking us,’ she said.

“They traveled for what seemed like a long time. Finally, the vehicle came to a stop.

“’They started to pull us toward the river,’ she said.

“Men wearing balaclavas appeared through the trees. Then the beatings began.

“Some of the men were badly bruised, one with a leg injury, another with bruises on his back.

“After sunset, someone from the group escorted them by boat across the river and deposited them on Turkish territory.

“They spent a cold, fearful night in the forest, hoping they wouldn’t be discovered by Turkish police. Finally, the following day, they made a successful crossing after reaching out to their social media networks so that journalists and lawyers were aware of their case.

“Germany provides asylum to less than 50% of Turkish applicants, according to BAMF, Germany’s Federal Office on Migration and Refugees. The journalist who asked that her name not be used says her family was denied protection in the first instance and is now under appeal.”

Mass fear

“In 2017, during bilateral meetings, Turks provided Germany with a wish list of 300 people they wanted to be turned over. Among them was Engin Sağ, who had worked for a Gülenist TV network. He was living a quiet life in Germany with his wife and two children when, in 2017, police knocked on his door.

“The police said: ‘The Turkish government gave your name to the German government. Your name and photo were in their documents,’ according to Sağ.

“He was warned not to go back to Turkey. He said they promised him protection in the form of a neighborhood patrol.

“Sağ is also concerned about the possible actions of German Turks, many of whom are Erdoğan supporters.

“He said that Turks are encouraged to file complaints using the mobile app of the Turkish police, circumventing German authorities.

“’I came across two Turks in the midst of a quarrel. One threatened the other saying, ‘I am going to report you to the Turkish consulate.’ They use this as a threat,’ he said.

Erdoğan’s hit list

“Former Nokta Magazine editor Cevheri Güven, who spent time in prison in Turkey, fled with his wife and children to Greece. After settling there, he received news that ‘Erdoğan wanted me handed over to the ambassador in Athens. They wanted me and my family and they made some kind of assassination list.’

“They immediately decided to leave Greece.

“Güven was later sentenced in absentia to 22.5 years, charged with inciting a civil war. His colleague, Murat Çapan, was captured in Greece and pushed back to Turkey. Çapan is among the tens of thousands of political prisoners languishing in overcrowded, COVID-19-infested prisons in Turkey.

“Due to COVID-19, many criminals were released, while political prisoners remained locked up.

“According to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, an opposition member of parliament in Turkey, the coronavirus in prison is vastly underreported.

“The government has announced 250 cases of COVID-19 across the national prison system, with five deaths. But by Gergerlioğlu’s count, there are 250 at Silivri Prison alone, where many political prisoners are held. He estimates the real number of deaths are four times higher as well.

‘Social genocide’

“Hüseyin Demir taught human rights law in the capital, Ankara, and now runs Refugees Support Action (Aktion für Flüchtlingshilfe) in Germany. His organization helps Turkish dissidents file for asylum and integrate into German life.

“’The Turkish government threatens dissidents by going after relatives back in Turkey,’ he said.

“’In Turkey, no one is safe. If they can’t find you, they arrest your son or your wife.’

“He points out that even mothers with infants are imprisoned in Turkey. His own son was detained in Ankara for five days.

“He told me, ‘Father, because of you, I am now in danger. You destroyed my life,’ Demir said. ‘You can imagine how I feel.’

“With many friends dismissed from their jobs, in prison or abroad, Demir feels disheartened.

“’This is a social genocide. They can’t work, you can’t help them, so they should just die.’
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Gulenists dismissed, purged, and tortured: Canadian Immigration Board

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) has updated its data for 2020 regarding the mass crackdown in Turkey targeting an opposition group, following a 2016 controversial coup attempt.

According to many critics, President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has been using the abortive coup as a pretext to purge and detained tens of thousands of Turkish nationals.

Erdogan’s government blames the Gulen (Hizmet) Movement for orchestrating the coup, a claim the movement strongly denies.

IRB, Canada’s largest independent administrative tribunal, responsible for making decisions on immigration and refugees, has released information about the structure of the Hizmet movement and an ongoing crackdown targeting its followers.

As a “Response to Information Requests (RIR)” IRB quoted the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF), a New York-based international civil society organization, to explain the goal of the movement:

“The Hizmet movement has undergone several transformations from a small religious community to a larger conservative community to an inclusive society with the principles of service, altruism, and dedication to society.”

It also referred to Gulenmovement.com, a website “launched by a group of volunteers,” giving the objective of participants of the movement is “to attain God’s good pleasure based on the conviction that ‘service to humanity is service to God’.”

Foundation and Core

The tribunal stated that Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in “self-imposed exile” in the US since 1999, was accused by Erdogan’s government of masterminding a 2013 corruption probe against the AKP seniors, through his alleged followers within the police.

It states that the Turkish government designated the movement as a terrorist organization after the coup attempt, which resulted in over 1,500 people wounded and more than 200 people killed, referring to an Amnesty International report.

In the aftermath of the abortive coup, IRB says, the Turkish government declared a 90-day state of emergency across the country, which was extended seven times before it was lifted on 18 July 2018.

It noted that the government introduced a series of emergency decrees during that period that bypassed parliamentary scrutiny and judicial review procedures.

“A 2019 report by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), a New York-based “nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally” (HRF n.d.), states that the measures enacted by the government since July 2016 have caused “a dramatic erosion of the rule of law and a significant deterioration of [Turkey’s] human rights record,” RIR wrote in the report.

Citing various new reports, IRB indicated that “a tough anti-terrorism bill” ratified by the Turkish government soon after the end of the state of emergency allowed the government to dismiss personnel of the Turkish Armed Forces, police, and gendarmerie departments, public servants and workers.

“Hizmet has no institutional presence in Turkey today.”

The Canadian immigration board mentioned the Turkish government closed 1064 private education institutions (kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools), 360 private training courses and study centres, 847 student dormitories, 47 private healthcare centres, 15 private foundation universities, 29 trade unions affiliated to two [c]onfederations, 1419 associations, 145 foundations and 174 media and broadcasting organizations as of 20 March 2018, during a post-coup purge.

Referring to a JWF statement, the report said the Turkish government confiscated the assets and personal property of business people who used to support people with financial assistance.

Family members and relatives of the detained and arrested members of the Hizmet [m]ovement are in a tough situation.

“Assisting victims in Turkey, financially or otherwise, however, is very dangerous, and many individuals have been arrested and face terrorism charges … for trying to assist the people in need. Many people are therefore looking [to leave] Turkey.”

The IRB indicated that the mass crackdown in Turkey has resulted in the dismissal, detainment, and arrest of thousands of individuals, “overwhelmingly academics, teachers, journalists, housewives, trade unionists, judges, prosecutors, police officers, military personnel and other professionals.

Based on various sources, the Canadian tribunal said there is no official membership in the movement. At the same time, the Turkish government uses “a list of criteria” to identify alleged members or supporters of Hizmet.

The “criteria” is being listed as follows in the report:

The report underlined that the “Turkish Authorities persecute whoever has even minim[al] contact with the Hizmet movement and its institutions. Therefore, the risk of being persecuted continues if the person was affiliated with the movement without being an actual member of the movement itself, per se.”

IRB also referred to the 2019 annual report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and noted:

“Followers of U.S.-based cleric Gülen have faced increased persecution by the government since the failed coup in 2016.”The President of JWF said to the tribunal that “Since the attempted coup, Turkish government officials have declared that Hizmet [m]ovement participants do not have a right to life and will beg for death in prisons.”

Extraditions, torture, ill-treatment, kidnapping, enforced disappearances

The Canadian immigration body also noted the cancellation of passports of tens of thousands of purged people to prevent them from leaving the country. Regarding the alleged members of the movement living abroad, the group mentioned a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW):

“HRW also reports that the Turkish government seeks the extradition of alleged Gulen supporters abroad. Sources indicate that some countries have complied with the Turkish government’s call for extraditions.”

The IRB also said Turkey has returned or made local authorities arrest several alleged members of the movement from abroad. Ankara has managed it through operations by the Turkish intelligence officers and collaboration with local security officers in countries such as Montenegro, Kosovo, Moldova, Morocco, Pakistan, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Georgia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkmenistan.

The findings of IRB also indicated that detainees in Turkey have faced different forms of torture and ill-treatment. They include severe beatings, threats of sexual assault and actual sexual assault, electric shocks, waterboarding, punches/kicking, blows with objects, falaqa [foot beating], threats and verbal abuse, being forced to strip naked, rape with objects and other sexual violence or threats thereof, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and extended blindfolding and/or handcuffing for several days.

IRB mentioned 28 alleged followers of the movement had been a target of forced disappearances, abductions or kidnappings.
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Academic says Gülen movement followers should be sent to rehabilitation camps

A professor of communications, Muttalip Kutluk Özgüven, has said followers of the Gülen movement should be sent to rehabilitation camps and subjected to psychological treatment. “Their bodies do not belong to them. They have to serve Turkey’s interests. So I can’t accept these people being against the state. We have not used psychological methods on them,” he said.

Özgüven’s controversial remarks came during a program on the pro-government Akit TV.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on followers of the movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, as a result of which more than 600,000 people have been investigated on allegations of terrorism.

The professor complained that the fight against the Gülen movement is not being adequately conducted.

“This fight cannot be carried out only with law enforcement measures. We need to establish rehabilitation camps. We need to take Fetö [a phrase used by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization] members who have not been involved in a crime to these camps and give them psychological treatment,” said Özgüven.

He also said these people had earlier taken advantage of benefits from the Turkish state such education, so they have to serve the state.

“Their bodies do not belong to them. They have to serve Turkey’s interests. So I can’t accept these people being against the state. We have not used psychological methods on them,” he said in remarks that attracted widespread criticism on social media.

Özgüven has been accused of advising the use of Hitler-era techniques for Gülen movement followers, who have been under unprecedented government pressure for the past several years.

The professor came under fire again in May when he said during another program on Akit TV that “between the ages of 13 and 17 is the ideal time to give birth. A person at this age is a super woman.” He said girls at this age have the perfect body for childbirth.

Özgüven’s remarks led to a public outcry, with many accusing him of promoting child abuse and teenage pregnancies in a country where such incidents are already common.
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Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Emily Judd and Lauren Holtmeier, Al Arabiya English

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown against his critics escalated Tuesday when state media announced that arrest warrants have been issued for over 400 people, including soldiers, doctors, and teachers.

Their crime? Alleged affiliation with a religious movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim preacher who lives in the United States.

Their detention is Erdogan’s most recent attempt to suppress the Gulen movement, which has been the subject of a sustained crackdown in Turkey since 2016.

Erdogan’s government has made Gulenists “the enemy you ascribe to everything that goes poorly in Turkey,” according to Henri Barkey, a fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The recent clampdown comes after former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday he is ready to cooperate with opposition parties to stand against Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Erdogan is feeling threatened by increasing opposition to him, according to Barkey.

And whenever Erdogan’s “opponents are cornering him, he uses the Gulen community as a piñata,” said Imam Abdullah Antepli, a professor of interfaith relations at Duke University and former leader within the Gulen community, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

What is the Gulen movement?

The international spiritual movement is named after 81-year-old Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic cleric who began preaching in Turkey’s western city of Izmir during the mid-1960s. Gulen went on to hold a position in the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs as an imam.

“Gulen was an incredibly influential preacher and used this popularity to create an educational network and promote interfaith engagement,” said Antepli, adding that Gulen’s interpretation of Islam emphasizes Western-style education, democratic values, and interreligious relations.

Gulen’s movement is known in Turkey as Hizmet, which means “service” in Turkish. Followers of Gulen run schools in Turkey and around the world, with more than 100 in the US alone.

The schools are open to students of all backgrounds and aim to “empower youth through science, arts, and language education while providing an environment of mutual respect for different religions, ethnicities and cultures,” according to Alp Aslandogan, a board member of the Gulen Institute and president of New York-based nonprofit Alliance for Shared Values, which is associated with the movement.

The Gulen movement can be compared to the Jesuit religious order in Catholicism, according to Antepli, a group also known for an education focus.

Turkey’s Muslim spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen, at left, shakes hands with Pope John Paul II as they meet at the Vatican on February 9, 1998. (AP)

Gulen met with prominent Catholic leader Pope John Paul II, as well as Chief Rabbi of Israel Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, to discuss interfaith dialogue in 1998.

The next year Gulen fled to the US after being persecuted by military officials in Turkey. He still resides in Pennsylvania.

Why does Erdogan consider the Gulen movement a threat?

Gulen and Erdogan were once allies against absolute secularism, which was put in place by the founder of the modern state of Turkey Mustafa Ataturk. The two successfully redesigned the Turkish government system to allow for religion.

But while Gulen envisions Turkey as a country that promotes democratic values, Erdogan wants the country to be under an Islamist government, according to Antepli.

The alliance ended in 2011 when Gulen refused to support Erdogan’s efforts to abolish checks and balances on his power, according to Aslandogan.

“Erdogan wanted Gulen to endorse and support all of his actions. Gulen refused this and the movement is now paying the price of independence,” Aslandogan said.

Students in Kosovo protest the arrest and deportation of their teachers, alleged to have worked with a group of schools said to be owned by Gulen, on March 29, 2018. (AP)

Erdogan accuses Gulen supporters of establishing a “parallel state” through a network of different sectors including the fields of education, media, and military.

Aslandogan said the movement has never presented a threat to Erdogan, who has instead used it as a scapegoat “to justify a power grab.”

How has Erdogan treated Gulen supporters?

Erdogan designated the Gulen movement a terrorist organization in May 2016 and charged Gulen and his supporters of leading a failed coup attempt on July 15 of the same year.

Erdogan vowed to “chop the heads off the traitors” behind the coup. But Gulen leadership believe it was actually Erdogan that planned the “staged” coup as “an excuse…to expand the persecution,” according to Aslandogan.

Human rights activists stage a protest, demanding the release of Amnesty’s Turkey chairman Taner Kilic, imprisoned for alleged links to Gulen, in Istanbul. (AP)

Since then Ankara has arrested tens of thousands of people over suspected links to Gulen and more than 100,000 people have either been fired or suspended from jobs in the public sector.

Gulen supporters in Turkey are subject to wrongful imprisonment, denial of job opportunities, cutting of health care benefits, freezing of assets, and confiscation of passports, according to Aslandogan.

Even high-profile Turkish athletes, such as football player Hakan Sukur and NBA player Enes Kanter, have been targeted by the state for supporting Gulen and dissing Erdogan. In 2016 the Turkish government issued arrest warrants for Sukur and Kanter, charging both with insulting Erdogan on Twitter.

The Gulen community refuses to stay silent during Erdogan’s reign and consequently has been targeted for not bowing to the president’s “increasingly authoritarian whims,” according to Kanter, who now resides in the US.

“The price to pay has been dire. When it comes to persecuting the Gulen community, there is no domestic or international law the government is abiding by,” said Kanter in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Boston Celtics’ Enes Kanter during the first half of an NBA basketball game (AP)

Kanter said no one in Turkey is immune from arbitary arrests and that he, and hundreds of thousands of others, are victims of the “vicious Erdogan legal system.”

“I don’t call it the Turkish legal system because it doesn’t serve the Turkish people with justice, but is for Erdogan and his interests only,” said Kanter.

Who else has Erdogan cracked down on?

Turkey’s “anti-terrorism legislation is vague and widely abused in trumped up cases against journalists,” according to Amnesty International. Over 319 journalists have been arrested in Turkey since 2016, with 189 media outlets shut down, according to Turkey Purge, a website run by Turkish journalists that documents arrests in the country.

One of victims is Turkish journalist Abdülhamit Bilici, editor-in-chief of Zaman newspaper until March 2016 when Erdogan silenced the news outlet, jailed many of the organization’s reporters, and appointed new leadership.

“After a brutal police raid on our headquarters in Istanbul, the first thing Erdogan-appointed trustees did was to fire me,” said Bilici in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

After receiving threats from Erdogan and his supporters, Bilici left the country for the US.

“I was getting warning messages like ‘prepare your bag for jail.’ I felt that my phone conversations were tapped. Wherever I went people were chasing me – as a result of all these things, I didn’t feel safe to stay in Turkey,” said Bilici.

Bilici said Erdogan uses media, state and religious institutions, and schools to try to control the minds of Turkish society.

“He does every preparation to create a system like those in Syria or in Iran, which will let his family and his party rule forever,” said Bilici.

While support for Erdogan is decreasing in Turkey, Erdogan will do anything to stay in power permanently, according to Bilici.

“This is the real and biggest risk for Turkey,” he said.
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UN Concerned About Albanian Deportations of Turkish ‘Gulenists’

Gjergj Erebara

United Nations human rights officials expressed concern about the Albanian authorities’ treatment of two Turks wanted by Ankara, one of whom was rapidly expelled while the other awaits deportation in custody.

Five United Nations human rights officials have sent a letter to the government of Albania to raise the cases of Harun Celik, a Turkish citizen who was deported from Albania to Turkey in January, and Selami Simsek, who is currently awaiting deportation in a closed migrant centre.

Both men are alleged by Turkish authorities to be members of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen’s movement, which Ankara alleges is a terrorist organisation responsible for a failed coup plot in Turkey in 2016.

The letter from the UN officials, which was published on Tuesday in Albanian media but written on March 20, warned that Simsek’s rights could be violated if he is sent to Turkey.

It says that Simsek “is likely to face detention, prosecution and, potentially, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, for his perceived or imputed affiliation to the Hizmet/Gulen movement”.

Simsek was initially arrested at Tirana Airport and served time for using falsified travel documents. He was released from prison on March 9, but for reasons that remain unclear, police kept him for several hours in a civilian car before transferring him to a closed centre for illegal emigrants near Tirana.

His supporters claim that that several high-level government officials demanded that an immediate expulsion order be issued.

His laywer, Elton Hyseni, told BIRN on Tuesday that he has not yet received any official information about the case.

“We do not yet know whether his request for asylum has been accepted or not. [The authorities] have not explained why they are keeping him in the closed migration centre,” Hyseni said.

Albanian government spokesperson Endri Fuga did not reply to BIRN’s request for a comment by the time of publication.

The letter from the five UN officials also questioned Albania’s deportation of Celik to Turkey.

“We are equally concerned that Mr. Celik appears to have been expelled for his alleged connection to Hizmet/Gulen movement, reportedly without any due process guarantees afforded by relevant legislation,” it says.

Albanian police put Celik on a plane to Istanbul on January 1 despite his pleas for asylum. He had been a teacher in a Gulen-linked school in Kazakhstan, then attempted to escape to Canada using a false visa. He was arrested in Albania in 2018 and served time for falsifying travel documents.

His extradition to Turkey was described as a major human rights violation by the Albanian opposition, which linked the unusually prompt decision by police to send him to Turkey with the friendly connections between Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The letter to the Albanian government was signed by Luciano Hazan, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Leigh Toomey, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Felipe González Morales, special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
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When I met a Gandhian ‘Jihadi’ in America

Sudheendra Kulkarni

Fethullah Gulen, a self-exiled Turkish scholar, is using his movement to propagate Greater Jihad, the most misunderstood concept in Islam.

The holy month of Ramadan is here, and our Muslim brethren are engaged in what is irrefutably the largest collective act of fasting and praying on the planet. It is a beautiful period of observance that has been eclipsed this year by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe. Yet its intensity is not dimmed. I recently came across a profound reflection on this by a renowned US-based Sufi Islamic preacher, which rekindled the memory of my meeting with him a few years ago, and provided the impulse to write this article. But first, a few lines from his Ramadan message.

“The coronavirus has changed how Ramadan looks. But it will not change our faith in God. Each of us should take the extra time and space afforded by the pandemic’s social distancing measures as an opportunity for further examination of our connection with God, our families and our core values… This is a time to realize our interdependence as nations, as communities and as inhabitants of a global ecosystem – a time to recognize that we all are members of the human family and each have the opportunity to show the true potential of humanity. As we enter this holy month, it is crucial that we look forward with hope and not despair, which stifles people and progress. Humanity has overcome great challenges in the past, and we will find ways to overcome this challenge, too. If we focus on the opportunities this pandemic presents, we will be able to keep our spirits high and reach the end of this tunnel much quicker.”

Who is this man?

When I met him, the first thing I noticed was the round face with an outsized nose. His head was covered by the Islamic skullcap because the only crown he recognises is that of the All-Powerful Allah. His penetrating eyes looked smaller by the age-related bulge under his eyelids. At 81, he looked frail, the frailty accentuated by a fever he was running. The previous day, our appointment had been cancelled because of his high fever, and I had returned from his abode in the idyllic woods of Pennsylvania to my hostel in New Jersey. If he chose, he could have taken more rest and not met me. He had every reason to. But instead, Fethullah Gulen, one of the most enlightened scholars of Sufi Islam in the world, granted me an audience on that memorable evening in September 2018.

The writer with Fethullah Gulen at his residence in Pennsylvania in September 2018.

Denouncing terror in the name of Islam

Ever since I learnt about him in the 2000s, I had fostered a fascination for this Turkish guru, who is reverentially called Hodjaefendi(Master Teacher) by millions of his followers. My respect for him had stemmed from his stern, unambiguous denunciation of Osama bin Laden and his army of terrorists. In my article about him (An Islamic Voice of Reason and Reform in America) in The Times of India in 2005, I had said here was an influential Islamic preacher who had called bin Laden a “monster”.

“He has sullied the bright face of Islam,” Gulen had said after the 9/11 terror attacks in the US. “The reparation for the damage he has caused requires years of work. Substituting the Islamic cause for his own cravings, he is committing monstrous acts.”

My article praised him as a strong advocate of interfaith harmony, and as a firm believer in the reconcilability of Islam and secularism – understood in the Indian sense of Sarva Pantha Samabhaav or equal respect for all faiths, and not as practised by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey who tried to banish religion both from the state and society. “Religion,” according to Gulen, “is a road that brings everyone together in brotherhood.”

Regardless of how adherents of different religions follow their faith in their daily lives, all religions exalt life-sustaining values, such as peace, love, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, human rights and justice. “Most of these values,” he affirms, “are accorded the highest precedence in the messages brought by Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, as well as in the messages of the Buddha and even Zarathustra, Lao-Tzu, Confucius and Hindu prophets. As a Muslim, I accept all prophets and books sent to different peoples throughout history, and regard belief in them as an essential principle of being Muslim.”

Gulen condemns terrorists carrying out barbaric acts in the name of Islam because of his conviction that evil means cannot justify seemingly noble religious ends. “A Muslim cannot say, ‘I will kill a person and then go to Heaven.’ God’s approval cannot be won by killing people. I regret to say that some religious leaders and immature Muslims have no other weapon than their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.”

In his book For the Sake of Allah – The Origin, Development, and Discourse of the Gulen Movement, Professor Anwar Alam, an Indian political scientist who taught for many years in a Turkish university, writes: “Like Gandhi, Gulen firmly believes [that] one cannot secure higher moral and ethical ends by immoral, unethical and illegal means. For Gulen, like Gandhi, the very selection of rightful means is an end in itself.”

A recluse in the mountains of Pennsylvania

Gulen moved from Turkey to the United States in 1999, where he still lives as a spiritual recluse, praying, writing (he has authored over 80 books) and guiding his loyal (mostly Turkish) followers. He hardly travels. He rarely gives interviews. Yet, he inspires one of the world’s biggest social movements, called Hizmet (which means service in Turkish).

Until Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan cracked down on this movement in 2016, accusing Gulen of masterminding a failed military coup, its thousands of dedicated volunteers had been running schools and other activities in more than 100 countries around the world. This, his followers believe, is retribution for Gulen’s 2013 criticism of the corruption scandal hanging over Erdogan, his family members and prominent politicians and bureaucrats. Others see it differently. They believe that Gulen “was an ally of Erdogan” who helped him “consolidate power”.

In 2013, Hizmet’s volunteers in India (who run educational and peace-building activities under the banner of the Indialogue Foundation) invited me to visit Turkey to give a series of talks on Mahatma Gandhi. There is something mystical about Turkey, a land of fabulous beauty that is the civilisational confluence between Asia and Europe and between Christianity and Islam. To me, this visit was an opportunity to see the penetration of Gulen’s followers in Turkish society. What followed was an invitation from the Journalists and Writers Foundation and Alliance for Shared Values, two of the most active organisations in Gulen’s movement, to participate in a conference on sustainable development in New York, coinciding with the UN General Assembly in 2018. I accepted the invitation with a request to the organisers to arrange my meeting with Gulen. I was overjoyed when they conceded my request.

Conference over, they took me to New Jersey, where their sister organisation runs the largest of its 100 charter schools in the US. Nestled in a forest, the school has an ideal setting for implementing Gulen’s holistic philosophy of education. (“Education through learning and leading a commendable way of life,” he writes in his book Toward a Global Civilisation of Love and Tolerance, “is a sublime duty. By fulfilling this, we are able to attain the rank of true humanity and to become a beneficial element of humanity.”)

They had arranged my stay at a hostel with frugal facilities on the top floor of the school, which is meant for Hizmet volunteers from around the world. In New Jersey alone, they were running over half a dozen organisations, among them a nice bookstore and a publishing house that brings out a bimonthly magazine called The Fountain, a disaster management training centre, a centre for promoting Turkish culture, and a centre for organising dialogue among various religious and ethnic groups in the US.

What struck me was that, despite being deeply religious, they were modern in their outlook and admirably professional in their voluntary jobs. Indeed, this is how Gulen wants Turkey – and all Muslim societies – to be: To know that “the interpretation of Islam [by others] depends on our behaviour and conduct”. And that conduct is perfected with the practice of “jihad”, which, unfortunately, is the most misunderstood Islamic concept. Professor Anwar Alam tells us in his book: “Within the Hizmet movement the notion of jihad is associated with Greater Jihad, which calls for the inner struggle to purify one’s heart and undertake positive action that is beneficial for Islam and humanity.”

Two days later, Suleyman Kaya, who used to run Indialogue Foundation’s activities in Mumbai, drove me to Gulen’s residence at the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center on Pocono Mountains, where he still teaches interpretation of the Quran, jurisprudence in Islam, among other courses. The entrance to the property was heavily guarded and the security procedures were extremely rigorous. (“Erdogan’s people…,” I was later told in hushed tones.)

As the sun had already set, I regretted that I couldn’t see how Gulen’s “ashram” looked. When we entered the main building, which includes his living quarters, we were told: “We’re sorry the meeting cannot take place. Hodjaefendi is not keeping well. The meeting may not take place tomorrow too, since the doctors have advised him complete rest.” We drove back, uncertain whether we would be lucky the following day.

‘Gandhi’s life had a deep influence on me’

We took our chances. The evening was glorious. The estate and the mountains beyond were aglow with golden sunlight. Silence and serenity filled the pure air. As we entered the main building, good news awaited me: “Even though Hodjaefendi is still unwell, he wants to meet you.” We were led to a large prayer hall, which, though full of devotees, was tranquil. Being the only non-Turk and non-Muslim among them, I sat in a far corner. But as Gulen walked into the hall, he spotted me and signalled with his hands to sit next to him. He then led the Islamic prayer, which was long and interspersed with deep spells of meditative silence.

Anwar Alam’s book tells us that “Gulen does dhikr [rhythmic repetition of the name of God and His attributes] for five hours, in addition to reading the Quran in a silent manner.” Here is yet another significant bit of information from his book: “Hizmet, unlike the Tablighi Jamaat, is not a proselytising movement.”

After the prayer, I was led to another hall, where Gulen receives his visitors. Welcoming me with a warm handshake, he surprised me again, asking me to sit in his chair. He himself took a less prominent chair and, with the help of a translator, said that he was very happy to receive a “friend” from India. He praised India as the land that cradled an ancient and rich civilisation, and one that became home to people of many religions coexisting peacefully. I said, “Thank you, Your Holiness, for giving me this rare honour to meet you, in spite of doctors’ advice to take rest. I have come here as a devout Hindu and a self-appointed representative of all the people in India who believe in the noble values you cherish – above all, the value of dialogue and mutual understanding for peace in the world.”

I then told him about my passionate conviction in, and my activities aimed at promoting, Hindu-Muslim harmonisation and India-Pakistan normalisation, the two being inter-related parts of a common historical agenda. When he heard the word Pakistan, the look in his eyes grew more intense. I therefore briefly explained the nature of the problem between our two countries, the wars we have fought, the fruitless search for a just and humane solution to the Kashmir dispute, the bloodshed due to terrorism and other types of violence, the shameful reality of poverty and socio-economic inequity in both countries, and the imperative need to find a lasting solution for peace and development in all of South Asia.

“I pray for peace between India and Pakistan,” Gulen said. “Indeed, the entire world is restless for peace.” At this point, I presented to him my book on Mahatma Gandhi and said, “Gandhi was a pious Hindu, but he had the highest regard for Islam and Prophet Mohammed. He sacrificed his life for Hindu-Muslim unity.” Gulen remarked that he had great respect for Gandhi and his philosophy of nonviolence. “It strongly resonates with Islam’s message of peace, mercy and universal brotherhood. His life, especially his insistence on peaceful resolution of conflicts and his efforts to build bridges between Muslims and Hindus, has had a deep influence on me.” I then made an appeal: “Your Holiness, 2019-’20 marks Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. May I request you to send a commemorative message to Indians?” He agreed. His tribute, sent on Gandhi Jayanti, is reproduced here.

Fethullah Gulen’s message on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

In deference to his health condition, I took his leave sooner than I wanted. But before I left, Gulen said, “Come again, and next time stay with us here.” I was later told by his associates that I was one of the very few Indians to have met him.

Said Nursi: Gulen’s guru and his jihad of nonviolence

What explains Gulen’s deep faith in peace, nonviolence, human dignity and inter-faith tolerance and dialogue as the cornerstones of Islam? For answer, we have to know something about the ‘Guru’ who influenced him – Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1878-1960), one of the greatest Islamic theologians of the last century (Bediuzzaman, an honorific, means “the wonder of the time”.) Nursi’s Risale-i Nur (Message of Light), a 6,000-page commentary on the Quran, on which he worked for 40 years (many of them spent in Ataturk’s prisons) is regarded as a definitive treatise on Islamic modernity.

In his book Insights from the Risale-i-Nur – Said Nursi’s Advice for Modern Believers, Thomas Michel, a Catholic priest who worked under Pope John Paul II as head of the Vatican Office for Relations with Muslims, writes: “[An] aspect of Nursi’s thought I find attractive is his strong rejection of violence. He came to the conclusion that the days of the ‘jihad of the sword’ are over. The only appropriate way for Muslims to struggle for their beliefs was the ‘jihad of the word’ or the ‘jihad of the pen’, that is, through personal witness, persuasion and rational argument. Nursi was convinced of the primacy of love in Islam. The time for enmity and hostility is finished.” In particular, Nursi urged unity between Muslims and Christians for the common purpose of achieving peace and global fraternity.

Nursi gave this call in a famous Friday sermon he delivered in 1911 to over 10,000 worshippers at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. This sermon is as historic as the place where he delivered it. The Umayyad Mosque, one of the oldest and largest in the world, was built on the site of a Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist, where he was laid to rest. He is honoured as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims. I had an opportunity to see this mosque when I accompanied former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his visit to Syria in 2003.

In his book An Islamic Jihad of Nonviolence: Said Nursi’s Model, Salid Sayligan, a scholar of inter-religious studies, puts Nursi in league with Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela. “Where Gandhi’s legacy is emblemized by the Salt March, Mandela’s by his election to presidency, and King’s by his speeches like I Have a Dream, Nursi’s resides in his magnum opus, the Risale-i-Nur, and the community that nurtured its formation, disseminated it, and continues to embody its teachings in the present. That community upholds jihad as he understood and taught it: striving on the Godward path via positive action.”

In the venerable tradition of Nursi and other great teachers of Islam, Gulen has been continuing, both individually and through his Hizmet movement, to practise and propagate the true meaning of Islamic jihad. He and his followers have encountered many hurdles and hardships along the way, the worst of all being the brutal crackdown by Turkey’s dictatorial president. Once Gulen’s admirer, Erdogan has become his sworn enemy, even branding him a terrorist. Tens of thousands of Gulen’s followers have been jailed in Turkey, and a large number of them have sought refuge abroad. Surely, the Gulen movement will learn the right lessons from this most painful experience and emerge stronger in service of humanity.

Ramadan is a month for offering prayers to the Almighty. I pray for the good health of Hodjaefendi Fethullah Gulen and for more power to his army of peacebuilders.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, who served as an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is the author of Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age. He is the founder of Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-China-Pakistan Cooperation. His Twitter handle is @SudheenKulkarni. He welcomes comments at sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com.
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Growing number of Turkish citizens apply for asylum in Germany

By Christina Goßner | EURACTIV.de | translated by Daniel Eck

Since the attempted coup in Turkey in summer 2016, the number of asylum applications by Turkish citizens in Germany has increased significantly. In 2019, Turkish asylum seekers were the third-most-registered group, after Syrians and Iraqis, according to the country’s agency for migration and refugees (BAMF). EURACTIV Germany reports.

“On the basis of the information available, we assume that the high number of asylum applications by Turkish citizens is also due to the political situation in Turkey,” the ministry of the interior, building and community (BMI) stated at the request of EURACTIV Germany.

According to BAMF figures for 2019, about a quarter of all Turkish asylum seekers were granted refugee protection because they were recognised as fugitives due to persecution, which is more often the case than for refugees coming from other countries.

As the number of asylum applications increases, so does the rate of protection. However, this does not apply to all asylum seekers.

Different rates of protection

“For many groups in Turkey, state persecution has intensified in recent years,” according to Wiebke Judith of the NGO PRO ASYL. While until 2015 it was mainly members of the Kurdish minority who applied for asylum in Germany, according to current figures from the BAMF, most asylum applications are now filed by non-Kurdish Turkish citizens.

Since the attempted coup in 2016, mostly journalists, academics, members of the opposition parties and (alleged) supporters of the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is wanted by Turkey, have been persecuted and their applications for asylum are most frequently granted.

“This is due to the fact that all repressive measures against supporters of the Gülen movement in Turkey are documented in an accessible system,” Christopher Wohnig, who represents Turkish asylum seekers, told EURACTIV Germany.

In contrast, members of the Kurdish minority find it harder to prove persecution, which is why, according to the lawyer, the rate of positive asylum decisions for this group is significantly lower.

Many state officials have fled

Civil servants accused of being close to the Gülen movement have a particularly good chance of being recognised as refugees in Germany, says Wohnig. According to the country’s interior ministry, almost 2,000 holders of special civil servant passports applied for asylum by the end of last year, and more than 300 of them hold diplomatic passports.

However, an increase in asylum applications by Turkish citizens is not observed only in Germany. While in 2017, some 15,500 applications of Turkish citizens were registered throughout the EU, the following year, there were already about 23,000. Throughout the EU, Turkish nationals rank as the seventh biggest group of migrants.

Meanwhile, Europe is particularly concerned about the significant deterioration in the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, particularly with basic procedural rights being suspended, as the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, noted in a report published in February this year.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]
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