Turkish Food Festival seeks to teach Greenville about Turkey’s culture and cuisine

Alex Cooper

Since 2016, the Turkish Food Festival has brought a variety of Turkish dishes and cultural activities to Greenville. This year, though, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the festival will be serving food in a drive-thru at the Phillis Wheatley Center while hosting virtual activities from 11 a.m.-4 p.m on Saturday, Sept. 26.

The Atlantic Institute, The Istanbul Center and Upstate International will partner with local churches to help put together the event highlighting the Turkish American population in the Upstate. There is a corresponding event in Columbia, South Carolina, each year as well.

“We thought that introducing our community to the variety of [Turkish] foods through the festival will be excellent, and it will increase more awareness about different cultures. It will help people to understand about what’s going on in Turkey,” says Akif Aydin, president of the Istanbul Center. Aydin notes Turkey’s worsening record on human rights. 

Virtually, Aydin says there will be some cultural activities, including art, music and dance to highlight Turkish culture. 

Over the last few years, the event has seen a couple of thousand people participate, says Aydin. While this year will be different from years prior, Aydin still hopes to see as many people as possible come out and learn more about the country that seems to always be found in East-meets-West and Europe-meets-Asia discourses. 

Since 2016, the Turkish Food Festival has brought a variety of Turkish dishes and cultural activities to Greenville.

The menu

During this drive-thru festival, individuals can order a variety of meat dishes for $10, which include gyros, grilled chicken and kofte, a Turkish meatball dish. Side combo boxes featuring dolma, sweet peppers with rice, sarma, stuffed grape leaves, eggplant salad or chickpea salad will be on sale for $8. Dessert boxes, including baklava, will also be available for $8. Those who to go the festival will also have the opportunity to order Turkish tea for $2 and Turkish coffee served with Turkish delight for $3. 

Individuals can pre-order their food via the festival’s website at atlantic-institute.square.site. 

Turkish Food Festival Drive-Thru and Live Streaming Event

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020

11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Phillis Wheatley Center
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Source: Hizmetnews

Demonization of the Gülen movement unfair and baseless

Prof. Mehmet Efe Çaman

The Gülen movement is one of two marginalized groups in present-day Turkey along with the with Kurds. However, the situation was quite different 10 years ago. The people who launched a fierce campaign to “finish off” the Gülen group in today’s Turkey once considered it their closest ally.

The politicians who currently rule the country used to send their own children to schools run by the movement. They were subscribers of the Zaman daily. They often appeared on Gülen-affiliated TV channels, calling Fethullah Gülen “Hocaefendi” – a title his followers use to refer to him with reverence.

Whenever someone criticized Gülen, the same politicians rushed to denounce those critics even before his own followers did. These politicians issued commemorative coins for the Turkish Olympiads, a series of annual cultural events the Gülen movement had been organizing. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a speech to thousands of attendees during one of these events and invited Gülen back to Turkey after he expressed his “longing” in the stands of an Istanbul stadium in June 2012.

The Gülen movement supported the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a long time. For the movement, which had never engaged with any political parties, to follow along after a political party could sound hollow. But it’s not fair to ignore the irreconcilable differences between the AKP’s discourse, political goals and actions in its first decade, namely the 2001-2011 period, and the same party’s discourse and actions today.

Back then the AKP used to be a reformist political party striving to accomplish European Union reforms in its first years; the party seemed to embrace liberal democracy and uphold the rule of law. Not only the Gülen movement but also liberals, Kurds, minorities, leftists and pro-EU circles supported the AKP in those years. On the other hand, some of the other political parties were dragging their feet when it came to incorporating EU reforms in the same period.

For instance, nationalists in the Republican People’s Party (CHP) regarded EU reforms aiming to improve the country’s institutional democracy as concessions given to the West. Therefore, the CHP never supported the AKP in its steps to realize reforms. Likewise, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) detested the EU reforms. The MHP opposed the progressive agenda – particularly the intention to resolve the Kurdish issue politically rather than militarily – just as the nationalists in the CHP did.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Kurdish political circles were happy about the AKP’s pro-EU political stance. A positive step to direct dialogue between the Turkish state and the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) gratified the Kurdish politicians. They saw the move as the most critical opportunity in Turkey’s history to resolve the Kurdish issue. In brief, blaming the Gülen movement for supporting the AKP, thus paving the way for today’s AKP regime, is manifestly ill-founded and unfair.

The AKP considered the Gülen movement in those years a fairly legitimate element of Turkey’s civil society. On the other hand, the Gülen movement regarded the AKP as a genuinely democratic, favorable political party. These approaches set up a natural plane of cooperation.

Zaman Daily Broke the Media Monopoly

The Gülen movement had a certain influence on Turkish politics between 2002 and 2011, which was possible with the help of the group’s human resources and its power in the media sector. As a civil society movement with its primary focus on education, the movement gave weight to establishing schools, procuring scholarships for high-ranking students and founding universities.

Its power in the media came into effect as its several media outlets, including the Zaman daily, offered an alternative to the settled secular/Kemalist elite media. There used to be a lack of alternatives in the Turkish media landscape due to that Kemalist monopoly, but Zaman broke the ice. Zaman not only opened its doors to writers from the movement but also to liberal-democrat columnists. This unique selling proposition ensured that the Zaman daily’s audience was as diverse as it gets. Apart from the followers of the movement, the newspaper attracted readers from other religious and liberal groups.

Between 2002 and 2011, the primary motivation shared by both the AKP and the Gülen movement was to make Turkey a democratic country. Both the AKP and the Gülen movement had a strong view to ending the military-bureaucratic veto regime that had presided over the country since its foundation and of upholding the rule of law based on EU-style liberal democratic principles. In fact the closest the country ever approached a functioning liberal democracy was without any doubt the period between 2002 and 2011.

It would not be wrong to claim that the modern political history of Turkey is a history of a corrupt partisan spoils system. The AKP has also worked to set up its people in public office, which is not odd. All ruling parties in Turkey have attempted to install their own people in the bureaucracy. For many, “getting into the body” of this giant and powerful “Leviathan” was the only way to avoid the Turkish state’s wrath. This understanding is the core of the political fight in Turkey’s history.

While the AKP started employing people close to its Islamist ideology, it also embraced the seasoned human resources of the Gülen movement, considering the group “on the same page” with them and sharing a similar world view. As a matter of fact, the Gülen movement had much more qualified human resources than the other religious or Islamist groups. Verily, even if the AKP did not prioritize Gülen followers in the public sphere, the percentage of public officers close to the movement increased over the years, anyway.

The Gülen Movement did not Infiltrate the State

The Gülen group did not infiltrate the bureaucracy but participated in it. If there is to be a “responsible” party, then it is the AKP government that made the political choice to hire the movement’s followers. Besides, it’s relevant to highlight that employment requirements in the state are designated in the law. And the government is fully responsible for the hiring process in the bureaucracy and public sector. Accordingly, just as the constitutional order determines in any democratic country, any citizen regardless of her or his personal worldview can become a civil servant in Turkey. Discrimination based on non-objective criteria cannot be done.

What is important is whether a person is qualified according to objective job requirements or not. The AKP has been the sole decision-maker for years. If there was any irregularity during the hiring of skilled employees, the responsibility is with the AKP. The AKP should have presented objective evidence and started an investigation regarding any alleged extralegal practice during the hiring processes in the Turkish public sector for which it was constitutionally responsible.

It’s unacceptable to persecute a whole group based on unfounded allegations nourished by persisting bias. However, this is what we witness happening in Turkey today. Allegations about the movement that it “stole” the questions of some centrally run entrance exams to register in a university or hold public positions are widely accepted in Turkish society, whereas the claimants have yet to put the evidence on the table to back these allegations. Numerous people have been labeled and dismissed from their posts with presidential decrees over baseless allegations.

For sure, prosecutors should investigate the claim that “the Gülenists stole the exam questions.” But they must set forth evidence if a crime was committed, and if it was, who committed it and whether or not it was organized or personal misconduct. However, we have a “small problem” in that context: Today’s Turkey, where the judiciary is de facto entirely under the government’s control and the constitutional order is not abided by, doesn’t facilitate fair and lawful investigations. The very biased and widely accepted discourse claims that all “Gülenists in public service” acquired their posts by “stealing the questions.”

This conviction without evidence and a trial cannot be questioned today, since everybody who criticizes it is labeled as a “Gülenist” and purged. Ankara’s mass crackdown on the alleged followers or supporters of the Gülen movement includes dismissing and terrorizing hundreds of thousands of people without evidence of a crime. People are simply persecuted and are expected to “prove their innocence” as in Third Reich Gestapo procedures.

Claims of Conspiracy against the Military

Some circles in Turkey claim that the Gülen movement conspired against the Turkish military by masterminding corrupted investigations such as the Ergenekon, Balyoz (Sledgehammer), Sarikiz and Military Espionage cases. They claim that the criminal investigations in these cases and court procedures were fabricated plots to topple then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Those circles deliberately overlook the fact that these cases were based on serious evidence, including voice recordings of military meetings and official documents. They manipulate the public on purpose through massive propaganda to make people forget about Erdoğan and his cabinet’s open support for those legal cases. They attempt to artificially correlate lawsuits against the alleged coup plotters and corruption cases of December 17, 2013, which came up with massive corruption and money-laundering allegations against AKP ministers and Erdoğan’s inner circle.

The conspiracy theory of the Turkish government that has become the mainstream perception in Turkey claims that the Gülen movement was the mastermind of all of those cases. However, there are some basic questions to be asked in order to understand what happened in those legal investigations.

1-  How can anyone hide the concrete shreds of evidence in the Ergenekon cases?

2-  How can anyone ignore the concrete shreds of evidence in corruption investigations targeting AKP officials?

In a bid to whitewash the existing evidence against them in the Ergenekon cases and the December 17, 2013 corruption cases, the government and the suspected individuals and groups assert that the Gülen movement launched those investigations and that it was a setup. Their cooperation against and targeting the Gülen movement as a scapegoat is based on their common interest to hide the ugly truth.

What is Terrorism? Who is a Terrorist?

The AKP claims that the Gülen movement is a terrorist organization. Calling dissidents “terrorists” and cracking down on everybody who disagrees with them is widespread in authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. In fact, under the rule of law non-violent groups cannot be accused of being terrorists since resorting to or complimenting violence is the essential decomposition point separating a terrorism act/group from the others.

The AKP blames the Gülen movement for instigating a July 2016 abortive coup. But the Turkish government still has not been able to prove the affiliation of the soldiers involved in the coup with the Gülen movement. It has not been able to prove whether any soldier received instructions from the movement. Moreover, it’s unclear if the coup of July 15, 2016 was a real military coup or a government-controlled staging. No members or followers of the Gülen movement were involved in any violent act even after hundreds of thousands of them were detained, arrested and dismissed from their jobs. Countless criminal investigations have failed to find a weapon or object to use as a weapon during raids on the homes of the group’s alleged members. Is the Turkish government seriously expecting that the whole world is supposed to believe there are (imaginary) “terrorists without weapons” simply because it wants it to be so?

“‘FETO’ Acronym is conjured up to Reinforce the Witch-Hunt

There is no evidence showing the Gülen movement is an organized crime group or a terrorist one. The movement is a scapegoat in today’s Turkey, pointed to as a target both by the state (regime) and the opposition.

The grass roots of the AKP, MHP, CHP, IYI Party and partly the HDP support this idea. The AKP hates the movement for two reasons and wants to suppress it. 1- Erdogan laid the responsibility for the corruption investigation into himself and his party at the Gülen movement’s door. 2- The AKP saw the movement as a rival. The nationalist MHP hates the movement due to the Gülenists’ pro-EU and pro-West positions. The secular CHP’s nationalist/Kemalist base hates the Gülen movement due to their bias against all Islamists of non-secular groups and considers it a radical, fundamentalist and anti-Atatürk religious sect. The CHP accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the coup-plotting cases such as Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and Sarikiz. The pro-Kurdish HDP doesn’t want to be entirely excluded from the “state” and uses anti-Gülenist discourse from time to time. And the Gülen movement’s cultural Turkish nationalist stance in the past disturbs supporters of the HDP. 

No doubt the Gülen movement should evaluate its positions in the past in light of allegations about itself and initiate a purification. The mass punishing and unlawful prosecution it faces, on the other hand, are violations of fundamental rights. It’s time for all social factions in Turkey to question human rights violations and the discrimination and persecution the Gülen movement faces.

Source: Turkish Minute, August 26, 2020.
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Source: Gulenmovement

Did the Gülen Movement Infiltrate the State?

The Gülen group did not infiltrate the bureaucracy but participated in it. If there is to be a “responsible” party, then it is the AKP government that made the political choice to hire the movement’s followers. Besides, it’s relevant to highlight that employment requirements in the state are designated in the law. And the government is fully responsible for the hiring process in the bureaucracy and public sector. Accordingly, just as the constitutional order determines in any democratic country, any citizen regardless of her or his personal worldview can become a civil servant in Turkey. Discrimination based on non-objective criteria cannot be done.

What is important is whether a person is qualified according to objective job requirements or not. The AKP has been the sole decision-maker for years. If there was any irregularity during the hiring of skilled employees, the responsibility is with the AKP. The AKP should have presented objective evidence and started an investigation regarding any alleged extralegal practice during the hiring processes in the Turkish public sector for which it was constitutionally responsible.

It’s unacceptable to persecute a whole group based on unfounded allegations nourished by persisting bias. However, this is what we witness happening in Turkey today. Allegations about the movement that it “stole” the questions of some centrally run entrance exams to register in a university or hold public positions are widely accepted in Turkish society, whereas the claimants have yet to put the evidence on the table to back these allegations. Numerous people have been labeled and dismissed from their posts with presidential decrees over baseless allegations.

For sure, prosecutors should investigate the claim that “the Gülenists stole the exam questions.” But they must set forth evidence if a crime was committed, and if it was, who committed it and whether or not it was organized or personal misconduct. However, we have a “small problem” in that context: Today’s Turkey, where the judiciary is de facto entirely under the government’s control and the constitutional order is not abided by, doesn’t facilitate fair and lawful investigations. The very biased and widely accepted discourse claims that all “Gülenists in public service” acquired their posts by “stealing the questions.”

This conviction without evidence and a trial cannot be questioned today, since everybody who criticizes it is labeled as a “Gülenist” and purged. Ankara’s mass crackdown on the alleged followers or supporters of the Gülen movement includes dismissing and terrorizing hundreds of thousands of people without evidence of a crime. People are simply persecuted and are expected to “prove their innocence” as in Third Reich Gestapo procedures.

Source: Excerpt from an article, titled “Demonization of the Gülen movement unfair and baseless,” by Prof. Mehmet Efe Çaman, published on Turkish Minute on August 26, 2020.
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Source: Gulenmovement

Chestnut Retreat Center offers a look inside their Saylorsburg facility and its mission

Brian Myszkowski

Monroe County United and the Chestnut Retreat Center offered the public a window into the world of Fethullah Gulen and his followers in an effort to build bridges with the local community during a special online event on Sunday evening.

Hosted by Monroe County United, “Meet our Muslim Neighbors” welcomed intrigued individuals to hear from members of the Saylorsburg center who explained the ideals of their movement, the ways in which they utilize their facilities, and how they contribute to the community as a whole.

The center, formerly known as the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center, was founded in 1993 by New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania-based Turkish-American Muslims inspired by the Hizmet movement.

“Hizmet is a Turkish term which quite literally means ‘service,’ so the Hizmet Movement is centered on serving humanity,” Busra T, a CRC volunteer who handled the first portion of the evening’s presentation, said. “Hizmet is a transnational civil society initiative that advocates for the ideals that human rights, equal opportunity, democracy, nonviolence, and the emphatic acceptance of religious and cultural diversity.”

The movement began in the 1970s, growing and broadening its mission across the globe. Though religion is a core element of the movement, Busra noted that it is not restricted solely to Muslims – all religions are welcome to participate.

“CRC is a nonprofit organization that organizes educational programs, offers a space for spiritual development and religious activities, that provides community services to both the Hizmet community and the larger community. CRC also organizes interfaith and intercultural programs.”

From 1993 through 1999, the retreat mainly functioned as a summer camp that focused on “sciences and spirituality.”

READ MORE: Gulen followers encourage education, awareness from Saylorsburg

“1999 was a turning point for the center, with the arrival of Mr. Fetullah Gulen,” Busra said. “It started serving more as a retreat center, and welcoming visitors who came to came to see Mr. Gulen from all around the world on a reservation basis.”

Gulen, who Busra described as a “Muslim scholar, a preacher and social advocate whose decades-long commitment to education, altruistic community service, and interfaith harmony has inspired millions around the world” has helped to adapt the Quran for a modern audience.

“In 2016, there was a staged coup, which the Turkish government has chosen Mr. Gulen as the scapegoat to some other illegal activities, and therefore, CRC has been receiving some threats related to it,” Busra said. “Mr. Gulen has consistently denied any involvement and has condemned the coup even as it was happening.”

Busra said the allegations were baseless, but by 2016, pressure from the Turkish government necessitated the hiring of security guards for the gated center.

What sets Gulen apart from other traditional Muslim leaders, Busra said, is his devotion to the education and empowerment of women. Furthermore, diversity is a central theme in his ideology, Busra said.

“One of the core tenets of his teachings is the celebration of religious, cultural, social and political diversity,” Busra said. “Gulen considers this diversity divine will, and he has a famous saying, and I quote: ‘You must have a seat for every person in your heart.’”

Gulen has been commended by Christian and Jewish leaders in Turkey, and even had a personal audience with the late Pope John Paul II. In 2008, Gulen was included in Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines’ joint poll of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals.” In 2011, he was awarded the 2011 peace award from the East West Institute. In 2015, the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel bestowed the Gandhi King Ikeda Peace Award on Gulen.

CRC outreach coordinator Ali Ak offered a rare glimpse inside CRC during his portion of the presentation, showcasing the two central buildings and the eight guest houses, along with the surrounding “natural beauty” offered by nature.

On of the main questions that often arise, Ak said, is how these facilities are used.

“There are some misconceptions about what goes on behind the doors at CRC, but we have always been, and will always be transparent about its function,” Ak said. “We can categorize the activities of CRC into the following groups: First, accommodation for the guests; second, education of the community; third, dialogue and civic engagement; and finally, social responsibility projects.”

Each of the guest houses has about five guest rooms, which are able to accommodate a few people or a small family, Ak said. A commercial kitchen and large-scale dining room provide meals for guests.

“The guests usually stay one or two weeks,” Ak said. “The majority of the guests are the participants of the Hizmet Movement. Many non-participants also visit the center and stay a few days for various reasons, such as a retreat, participating in the activities, and visiting Mr. Gulen.”

With those accommodations addressing physical needs, Ak moved on to discuss how education at CRC “feed(s) the soul.”

“In Mr. Gulen’s philosophy, education is vital,” Ak said, noting that learning helps one “free your mind from many misunderstandings” that plague the world.

“The most important educational activity that CRC has is what we call ‘Halaqa,’ the Study Circle,” Ak said.

Gulen mainly instructs visitors – mostly graduates focused on Islamic studies – on classical Islamic texts, seven days a week. But the circle is not strictly limited to religion, Ak said.

“In the circle, in addition to classical Arabic texts, some other books on psychology, sociology, philosophy and science have been summarized and discussed by these students,” Ak said.

Gulen also provides sermons on Fridays and Sunday, depending upon the state of his health, and those events are not exclusive – community members are welcome to join as well.

“You may attend these services too,” Ak said. “Just keep in mind that you need to make reservations, and also, the sermons are in Turkish.”

Those sermons are posted online at herkul.org, a website that features content in both Turkish and English – though Ak advised that articles in Turkish are more prevalent at the moment, though the English side is improving.

Outside of that, special youth sermons are conducted on a monthly basis, and groups often come together for books discussions and summer and weekend schooling sessions.

“There might be some misconceptions that these people live in isolation, but this isn’t really the case,” Ak said. “The truth is that CRC has been very active in terms of outreach and civic engagement. Every year, it organizes Thanksgiving and Ramadan dinners. Some of you may have attended these dinners. Older neighbors and friends are invited to these events. Next time you see a post about a dinner here, just come. You will not regret it, I assure you.”

Some other activities with the surrounding community include annual picnics, interfaith prayer sessions, and other events. Ak noted that anyone is welcome, despite the appearance of the guarded gate, which is present for safety and capacity issues.

In 2018, guards fired what was later called a “warning shot” at an unknown suspected intruder.

Ak said that CRC has engaged in social responsibility projects for years, working with neighboring organizations to make a difference in the community by distributing food to the needy or offering volunteers for any number of efforts.

Currently, the center is closed off from the public, gathering sizes are limited to comply with state and federal guidelines, and many events are online, but that didn’t stop CRC’s students and visitors from reaching out to help the community in the midst of the pandemic.

“Around 400 meals were distributed to the hospitals, 250 meals to the post offices, 1,000 meals to the food pantries, and 1,000 masks were also distributed to several places,” Ak said.

Ak also showcased two photos of Gulen’s rooms at the center to illustrate that despite assumptions he is living in luxury, Gulen’s accommodations are actually more along the lines of those rooms found in the guest homes: comfortable, but small and modest. And despite the fact that he is a world-renowned leader in the Muslim community, Gulen still pays his fair share, Ak said.

“He makes sure to pay rent for both the rooms and everything he uses at the center,” Ak said. “His income is mainly from the publishing royalties of his books.”

Bringing his portion of the presentation to a close, Ak summarized the ideology of CRC by explaining their ideal world, based upon their tenets of education, camaraderie and charity.

“CRC envisions a society in which everybody is respected for who they are, people live in peace, everybody is included, the poor and needy are taken care of, and people of different background(s) can have friendly conversations in peace,” Ak said. “CRC believes in the importance of celebrating the commonalities and respecting differences. CRC also believes in the importance of universal values such as solidarity, peace, human rights, equity, respect, so on and so forth.”

Busra also noted that she looks forward to a future in which further meetings with the community can be held face-to-face to help facilitate a strong and lasting relationship between the center and its neighbors.

“Thank you all again for coming, and everyone else with MCU who has put so much into this, and have a great night,” Busra said, with a guest responding with the term “shalom,” or peace, and a smile.
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Source: Hizmetnews

Erdoğan’s overarching purge is not a road accident

Dr. Ismail Sezgin

The Economist recently published an article entitled “Fethullah Gulen shares blame for Turkey’s plight” about Turkey, Erdoğan, and Gulen, in which it argues “no one helped him [Erdoğan] cripple Turkey’s democracy more than Mr Gulen and his sect [the Hizmet Movement].”

As the co-director of the London-based Centre for Hizmet Studies, and also a part-time Research Assistant at Regents Park College, Oxford University, where I follow all Gülen/Hizmet related publications as part of a project to produce an annotated bibliography on Gülen/Hizmet, this article interests me professionally.

It is heartbreaking to witness Turkey, a country with so much potential, collapsing into authoritarianism. So, I’d personally like to thank the Economist for its concern for Turkey’s democracy and its future. Undoubtedly, the responsibility for the demise of Turkey’s already fragile democracy rests on many shoulders, and the Hizmet Movement is no exception; however, the arguments and assumptions in the article do not portray this responsibility either objectively or fairly.

In citing examples of how Gülen and the Movement helped Erdoğan “cripple Turkey’s democracy”, and how Gülenists played “a big part” in the July 15 coup attempt, the author is convinced that the public officials who were allegedly responsible for the arrests of “thousands of Kurdish activists, army officers, secular types and journalists” and those who took part in the coup attempt, were solely acting on their Gülenist convictions — whether to serve the Movement’s own political agenda, or to obey a direct order from Gülen. Each case cited by the article requires a separate discussion of its own. However, assuming that the existence of a Gülenist conviction is possible, why doesn’t the article apply the same lines of argument to those cases that contradict its arguments?

Firstly, the author ignores how coups have taken place in Turkey in the past. While some participants from the Hizmet Movement said, in the aftermath of the coup attempt, that “Gülenist” people — like others — may have been involved in the coup, it was never a statement of a fact, nor was it based on extensive investigation. It was an attempt simply to entertain the possibility that, given how a coup is usually attempted by an army, it was likely that Gülen supporters — like others — may have been involved in the coup as mere soldiers, not necessarily from their “Gülenist” motivations. They expected, as did many people, including Turkey’s Western allies, that the Turkish government would conduct an effective investigation into the coup attempt and bring those responsible to justice, regardless of their affiliations and motivations. Unfortunately, President Erdoğan accused the Movement of plotting the coup on the very night that the coup was taking place, and the investigation into the coup has turned into the persecution of the alleged members of the Movement, regardless of any actual wrongdoing on their parts, an important detail which I am happy to see that the article also highlights.

Secondly, the author claims that “…there is no doubt that the Gülenists played a big part. At least some of the officers who directed the violence turned out to be graduates of the Gülen system”. It would be nice to see how the article could particularise its conclusion that “the Gülenists played a big part”, and give the names of those “officers who directed the violence”, so that their accounts could be checked and verified. More importantly, however, there are many cases  where army officials, who were later arrested for allegedly being Gülenists, fought against the coup attempt and prevented the mobilisation of army cadets under their command, protected Erdoğan and flew him to Istanbul, clashed with the putschists and were injured. According to the Turkish Armed Forces’ own statement, on the night of the coup, there were 8,651 personnel on the street. 2,890 of them were cadets, which suggests that they were most likely ordered to take it to the street. It is also clear that all the remaining officials were not Gülenists, which was also noted in the article. The government purged almost 15,000 army officials, almost ten thousand of whom did not take part in the coup. This is in addition to the fact that there was no police participation in the coup attempt. 31,000 police officers were later purged by the government. This is particularly important given the general perception of an overwhelmingly Gülenist presence in the police, which the author also seems to believe, saying that “By one estimate, Gülenists held 30% of top jobs in the judiciary and 50% in the police”. If we follow the author’s logic, above, why is the author not convinced that these army officials and police officers might also have acted from their Gülenist convictions when they acted against the coup attempt? If the presence of some allegedly Gülenist army officials in the coup attempt is enough to hold the Movement and Gülen culpable, to some extent, the cases that suggest otherwise should surely be noted as demonstrating the plausibility of their innocence.

Thirdly, by insinuating on the way in which a Hizmet person would only act within their professional capacity, the article essentialises the issue and sees a Gülenist conviction as the sole explanation for the alleged failures or wrongdoings of Gülenist public officials in upholding fundamental human rights, for example, in relation to the Kurdish question. More importantly, he doesn’t recognise the agency of a Gülenist in conducting their profession — both in a good and bad way — but ignores the systematic shortcomings in the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey. For example, has there ever been a time in Turkey’s modern history when Kurds’ rights were categorically recognised and their freedoms protected? The answer is “no”. This is not to obfuscate the Movement’s, or a Hizmet person’s, responsibility in any way, but to recognise that the Kurdish question is Turkey’s single most important issue, having implications for almost every aspect of its democracy and the state of its human rights. The presence and absence of a particular person, group or ideology in the state bureaucracy unfortunately has a limited impact on the progress towards Kurds’ rights, not least because Turkish nationalism is deeply ingrained in society, and the Movement is also thus affected. We could, therefore, only speak in relative terms by comparing different periods of Kurdish rights in order to understand whether any particular period is better or worse than another. Otherwise, all we have in the context of the Kurdish question is a big failure, in every sense of the word. As per the article’s argument, if we are also then convinced that the Movement has had a direct impact on how the Kurdish question and the so-called peace process have progressed, the question is how would this period compare to the ‘90s, and more recent years, but, more specifically, has there ever been a policy or law that the AKP government wanted to implement in order to recognise the Kurds’ rights in a meaningful way, but which the Movement chose to oppose?

The Movement could, and should, surely have done much more in relation to the Kurdish issue and the advancement of fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey. However, seeking a Gülenist conspiracy in every shortcoming or wrongdoing of Turkey’s justice system is unhelpful, since, if we really follow this logic, how do we then explain Turkey’s last seven years, when human rights violations of any kind have become not only possible, but also increasingly regular? We can’t possibly argue that those officials — police officers, judges, prosecutors, etc., — whose decisions and actions cause these human rights’ violations, are all hardcore Islamists and Erdoğan supporters. Should we really rely on these officials’ religious or secular inclinations and social or cultural traits to explain why they act in a particular way? It is clear that this not only hinders the possibility of identifying the underlying issues that affect the wider society, but also dislocates the responsibility of the political actors.

Fourthly, the article, perhaps inadvertently, parrots the Kemalist narrative of “they are everywhere” by exaggerating the Hizmet people’s presence, power and influence in the state bureaucracy, albeit by successfully avoiding the use of the term “infiltration” to describe those Gülenists in the state bureaucracy. This argument exemplifies the pretence behind the ongoing persecution of Hizmet participants by the Turkish government “to restore law and order”, and incriminates Hizmet participants, attributing malevolence to their very existence in the state bureaucracy, regardless of any actual wrong-doings on their part. However, the way in which the allegation of infiltration is formulated, and its historical context, also explain both the ideological and social fault lines in Turkish society, as well as the arbitrary social hierarchies.

The Turkish Republic’s modernisation policies, in its initial years, resulted in ideological and social fault lines and deep social divisions in society due to the reimagining of the newly founded state as a monolithic nation state, in terms of its religious beliefs, ethnicity and language. The new Republic’s secularist and monolithic policies discriminated against linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities, and adamantly punished the public manifestation of identity of any kind that was outside the state’s secular and Turkish nationalist perception of a modern society. The transformative, yet totalitarian, policies of the new Republic created arbitrary social hierarchies in which some were entitled to enjoy more rights at the expense of those from an unfavoured  identity group in the eyes of the state, such as Kurds, Alevis, non-Muslim minorities, or religiously observant and socially mobilised Muslims.

The projection of Turkey in this way as being a modern secular nation state, and the privileged position of certain ideological convictions that arises out of this projection, inadvertently led to the creation of “gatekeepers” in Turkish society. A self-entitlement to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms emerged among those who supported the Republic’s modernisation project and who considered those who belonged to the unfavoured identity groups who are unworthy of holding important positions in the state bureaucracy. This has manifested itself in the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms, where some were entitled to enjoy more rights than others.

In fact, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party’s (the AKP) rise to power in 2002, and its subsequent success in elections, is often partly attributed to the ongoing support of those who were alienated by the state and were then mobilised due to the party’s promise to undo the legal and political barriers that the modern Republic’s modernisation project had set for them. Published in the August 6th, 2011 edition, the Economist described the AKP’s rise to power and its increasing popularity thus:

When AK [The Justice and Development Party] won power in 2002 the generals and their allies continued to hound him [Erdoğan]. They allegedly cooked up coup plans, including the bombing of mosques and murder of Christians. With AK becoming ever more popular, prosecutors sought to ban the party on thin charges that it was trying to impose religious rule. Such intrigues only added to Mr Erdogan’s popularity. In June, riding on a wave of sustained economic growth, democratic reforms and mounting global prestige, AK won a third term in government, winning a record 50% of the vote. (Emphasis added)

It is also important to underline that Turkey’s ideological discontent with a Muslim identity was not necessarily related to Islam or Muslimness; rather, it was with religious groups that had practices and an understanding of Muslimness that encouraged participants to become religiously observant and socially mobilised. It is, therefore, not surprising that firstly Fethullah Gülen, and later the Movement, have been perceived as a threat by the Turkish state since the ‘70s, long before the AKP, or any actual presence of Gülenists in the state bureaucracy.

Erdoğan conveniently used this already accumulated suspicion and mistrust against the Movement, firstly to persecute thousands of Hizmet participants, since December, 2013, and then to denounce the Hizmet Movement as a terror organisation in May, 2016, and, finally, to undertake a relentless purge from July 15, 2016, in the aftermath of the coup attempt. It is thus quite astonishing to witness the article lending an unquestioned legitimacy to Erdoğan’s purge by the following:

No one, however, is worse placed to preach about the dangers of Gülenism than Mr Erdogan, whose government was once joined at the hip with the movement. By locking up everyone linked to it, including lawyers, teachers and charity workers, Mr Erdogan has ditched the rule of law in favour of a vendetta. He has not helped his case by accusing nearly all of his other opponents of treason or terror.

The article appears to be so convinced of the regime’s legitimacy, if not of the necessity of a Gülenist purge, that it treats Erdoğan’s overarching purge as if it were a road accident and does not entertain the possibility that this was perhaps Erdoğan’s case all along. He has ditched the rule of law in favour of a vendetta because this was the only way to persecute Gülenists. Otherwise, how could you punish someone in the absence of an actual crime being committed, which is, by and large, the case in the Gulenist purge?

Some will, perhaps, think that I am being melodramatic and am exaggerating the impact of the Gülenist purge. If so, consider the following quotation in April, 2013, from the then AKP Istanbul Provincial Organisation’s Chairman, Aziz Babuşçu, and compare his depiction of the AKP’s new Turkey at the time with today’s Turkey, in order to see if his description has proved to be accurate:

Those who were partners with us in one way or another during our ten-year period of government will not be partners with us during the next ten years. The future is a period of construction. The construction period will not be to their liking. Therefore, those partners will not be with us. Those who walked together with us yesterday in one way or the other, tomorrow will be partners with the forces that are against us. Because the future that will be constructed, and the Turkey that will be built, will not be a future and a period which they will accept.[1]

Erdoğan has successfully operationalised “the dangers of Gülenism” narrative and has, step by step, realised his vision of a new Turkey with the help of those who have inadvertently or willingly subscribed to his narrative. The purge of the Hizmet Movement is what the Kurdish question was to Kemalism, a necessary tool with which to construct a new national identity, a tool to silence those who question it, and to design a social and political system that will foster it. Unfortunately, Turkey has no chance of going back, even to its fragile and dysfunctional democracy, without this narrative being completely rejected.

Dr Ismail Mesut Sezgin, born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey was awarded his PhD at Leeds Beckett University on the subject of Moral Responsibility in Contemporary Islam. He is a research assistant in Religion and Society, Regent’s Park College, Oxford and a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Governance, Leadership and Global Responsibility at Leeds Business School. Dr Sezgin’s research expertise and interests in relation to political Islam, extremism, ethics and religious movements (the Hizmet Movement in particular) have led to him speaking at conferences internationally and offering comment and interviews on various media platforms, including the BBC’s Hardtalk.

[1] Özbudun, E. (2014), ‘AKP at the Crossroads: Erdoğan’s Majoritarian Drift’, South European Society and Politics 19 (2), 155-167.
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Is Gulen the scapegoat of Ankara crisis?

Felix Kaiza

In the language of the learned brothers, now the world knows something beyond any reasonable doubt. The fall of the Berlin Wall did not mean the end of the Cold War; just as the hair-split and almost insignificant phonetic difference between wall and war still makes the whole big difference on the global ground.

Three decades on, West and East bloc countries are on each other’s neck more than any time during the hot Cold War period. Relations between China and the US stand testimony to this. As I was writing this piece, the US President Trump was reported as amassing troops targeting Russia — all being done under the so-called post-Cold War umbrella.

Turned in the direction of the Turkish state of affairs what does one see? The people and country’s economy stand very negatively impacted. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lays the blame essentially on the orchestrated failed July 2016 coup attempt, which he places squarely on the brains and shoulders of Muslim Cleric Fethullah Gulen living in US exile and his Hizmet (service) movement.

Turkish history chronicles hold a period of very close ties between Gulen and Erdogan. The two were so close that one would be right to state that Erdogan took hold of the Turkish power reigns because of Gulen backing. But an argument emanating from some quarters at this point in time that Gulen is responsible for what is currently afflicting Turkey and its people, is rendered incorrect.   

A critical mind would instead look into and establish the point at which Erdogan and Gulen parted with each of them assuming the same charge and repelling to the present day, if chemistry could be overstretched to cover politics practices as well.  

In his book titled “Fethullah Gulen: A Life of Hizmet”  and sub-titled “Why a Muslim Scholar in Pennsylvania Matters to the World”, Prof. Jon Pahl points to five peace-building findings associated with Gulen. These are learning literacy, non-violent practice of Islam, engaged empathy, principled pluralism and social enterprise – all targeting to “live well and do good.”

Said Nursi professed basically three enemies of Turkey as being ignorance, poverty and disunity. Along these lines, the Hizmet (Gulen’s) Movement spirit became one of bridging faith and science through engaged empathy, discussing how the world can be made of nations with homes enlightened and prosperous as schools and schools as warm as homes besides today’s world state of generating more heat than light leading to all sorts of fatal conflicts as dialogue and consultation enter the society’s list of lost items. The family becomes as a sacred school like a mosque.

The result is what sociologists view as social bonding capital. Empathy-driven education, business and health social enterprises come on board to establish a new power balance of justice, love, respect and equality among people.

It is here that those in political power – those with dictatorial tendencies in particular– don’t trust whoever tries to mould a cohesive and disciplined community through education, mass media and financial networks.  

One Tanzanian Sheikh Ismail Mohammed Salim, founding chairman of the Ishik Education and Medical Foundation that works on the Gulen principles, had time to caution world leaders against demonizing people the like of Gulen “who stand for peace and common good because at the end of time, truth shall prevail.”

The point of truth is virtually nigh. Four years after the coup, whose real perpetrators remain a puzzle, the world is told nearly 600,000 people, most of them suspected Gulenists, have been investigated. About 100,000 have been arrested, some of them for having an account at a bank associated with Gulen.

Former PrimeMinister Binali Yıldırım said: “… July 15 was a project I did not like at all.”  Why? Purge lists were prepared in advance and to be affected immediately after the attempt. About 3,000 judges and prosecutors had been earmarked for arrest.  In the absence of ‘anticipated’ criminal evidence, 2,745 ended up being dismissed any way.

After a coup he was not aware of, one Rear Admiral and top officer at the NATO training command in Norfolk was, two weeks after, charged with taking part in it and dismissed, ending up as an asylum seeker in the US.   

Figures released by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar put the number of servicemen dismissed since the coup at 20,077.  In the echoes of the fourth-year commemoration activities, at least 41 people, many of them soldiers, were detained and warrants issued for more than 25 others. More than 150,000 public employees have been suspended or sacked as part of the Turkish government’s global crackdown on the Hizmet group.

Turkey democracy, according to one professor, “is moving in the other direction now. It looks like freedoms are being curtailed while the ruling party protects its own interest at the expense of others…”  Another professor says: “My experience with the Hizmet Movement has been that it is committed to the most idealistic notions of dialogue, education and social justice and not at all really political in its orientation… When leaders get themselves into difficulty, they might look for a scapegoat. They might look for someone to blame. And this is very unfortunate.

Another opinion argues, “the Hizmet Movement is not interested in attaining power; it is not interested in political power in Turkey or elsewhere in the world, but it wants to adhere to a certain pro-democratic, pro-liberty and freedom agenda so that those who are elected to political power not only have a responsibility to provide economic development and to provide education to their people but, at the same time, are held to the highest ethical standards of conduct.

The above opinions point to the Gulen-Erdogan departure line, which has had effects on the Turkish soil and spilling over to other countries, where the Hizmet Movement has extended its service spirit. It is only unfortunate that the government has taken measures even to curtail the movement’s presence in those countries, Africa and Asia in particular.  

Clearly put, Gulen and Erdogan repelled after the unearthing of the 2013 grand corruption scandal traceable to the presidency, family members and close associates. This was the start of the purges which were accelerated after the coup because the list was there already in advance. And it is ever growing.

Turkey is where it is today, not because of Gulen and the Hizmet Movement but rather as the product of a change of heart in the current government leadership, flushing good governance and tolerance components from the country’s management affairs running systems. Solution to the Ankara crisis can only be found through establishing its root cause rather than finding a scapegoat. The Berlin Wall is indeed no more; but the Cold War on the ground remains hotter than as ever!  It’s far from over.    
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Post-coup purge in Turkey leaves children parentless after mother and father are put behind bars

Turkey’s post-coup purge is continuing to hit children, leaving them parentless in myriad cases, shattering their families, disrupting their education and upending their emotional life.

Enes (5), Mesut (7) and Tarık (10) are three of them.

Their parents are imprisoned as part of the sustained purge, which has been carried out since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and in which some 150,000 civil servants have been dismissed from state jobs and almost 600,000 people investigated, with half of them detained or arrested on trumped-up terrorism-related charges.

Enes, Mesut and Tarık have been fatherless since February 12, 2017, when their father, Murat Özonur, was arrested on accusations of membership in the Gülen movement, a faith-based dissident group and the nemesis of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The post-coup purge, although negatively affecting all dissident groups, hit the movement, inspired by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom President Erdoğan accused of masterminding the failed coup, the hardest. Gülen categorically denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

Their mother, Dilek Özonur, was arrested on May 28, 2020 on similar charges. They are being held in separate prisons in the Aegean city of Manisa, where the Özonur family lives. The three children have been left to the care of their grandmother (70) and grandfather (72).

“I feel at a loss as to how to console them,” says the grandmother, adding, “Since I myself am unable to grasp why their parents were arrested, how can I get them to make sense of their situation?”

“My daughter and son-in-law were wrongfully and unjustly arrested. I cannot express how sad I am. I cry every day without letting my grandsons know it. We try to look after them without hurting their feelings or breaking their hearts. Had their parents deserved this punishment, I would not have felt so heartbroken.”

Although gaining momentum after the abortive coup, the persecution of members of the Gülen movement started well before it. President Erdoğan began to target the Gülen movement after what is widely known as the December 17 and 25, 2013 corruption investigations that implicated him, four of his ministers and his close associates.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist plot aimed at overthrowing him, Erdoğan whitewashed the accusations, purging and eventually imprisoning all the police officers and prosecutors involved in the probes. Then he designated the movement a terrorist organization and deemed any connection to the movement on par with membership in a terrorist organization, thereby making Gülenism a crime by association.

Dilek and Murat Özonur were convicted of membership in a terrorist organization, that is, the Gülen movement, based on informant testimony and the use of a messaging application called ByLock. Dilek was sentenced to six years, three months and Murat to eight years. Their sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, which means the Özonur brothers will be separated from their mother for four years and from their father for three more years in accordance with Turkey’s regulations on the execution of sentences.

“They know their parents are in prison and that people who commit crimes such as theft and murder are sent to prison. The younger ones behave very maturely; yet they avoid speaking. Sometimes they wonder why their parents are there and what they did to deserve being locked up,” says the grandmother.

The Özonur brothers are not an exception. There are many other children who have been likewise separated from their parents. Caught between loving their grandchildren and caring for them, the grandparents who have to take care of their young grandchildren despite their advanced age and in some cases serious disease, making them dependent on the help of others, have also suffered some sort of trauma.

Ahmet Eşref Deveci, 5, is another example. After his parents Abdullah and Dilek Deveci were detained in the southeastern city of Gaziantep on July 8, 2020 on accusations of membership in the Gülen movement and formally arrested shortly thereafter, he was handed over to the care of his grandparents, with the grandfather struggling with bladder cancer for the last six years.

The two sons of Emine and Hamit Eker are another case in point. They have been taken care of by their grandmother Zeynep and grandfather İdris since their parents were arrested on March 9, 2018 and sentenced to eight years, six months in prison on Gülenist charges. Their sentences were also upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Zeynep Eker has to look after her two young grandsons.

Ömer (14), Nihal (10), Bilal (8), Fatma Nur (5) have also been left behind by their imprisoned parents to be looked after by grandparents. They have been living with their grandparents Ümmü and Ali Tüter in the Aegean city of Denizli for three-and-a-half years, since their parents, Kamile and Ali Tüter, were arrested on July 28, 2016. They are incarcerated in separate prisons in two different cities hundreds of kilometers apart, the mother in İzmir, the father in Afyon.

Ümmü and Ali Tüter with their four grandchildren

In some other cases, children have to accompany their mother to prison if they are too young or lack someone to look after them. Azra Kaya, the one-and-a-half-year-old daughter of Leyla Kaya who is still being breastfed, had to accompany her mother to prison. Her mother was detained in Bursa on July 9 and arrested the next day, also on charges of Gülenist links.

The detention and arrest of pregnant women and mothers with young children have seen a dramatic increase in the aftermath of the coup attempt. Currently, more than 700 infants are currently accompanying their mothers in Turkish prisons.

The post-coup purge is continuing unabated despite objections by international courts and organizations. A UN body recently found that people with alleged links to the Gülen movement are being targeted on the basis of their political or other opinions, constituting a prohibited discriminatory ground according to UN human rights conventions.

According to the same body none of the activities attributed to members of the Gülen movement could be construed as criminal acts, but rather as the peaceful exercise of rights granted under human rights treaties, finding that the deprivation of liberty due to Gülen links on similar grounds was arbitrary and lacked a legal basis.
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Turkey’s post-coup purge and persecution makes no exception for children

A post-coup purge in Turkey is continuing to take a huge toll on human life, making no exceptions for children. Mehmet Fatih, Selman, Eymen and Ali İhsan developed cancer after their fathers were arrested. Mehmet Akif’s leukemia, from which he had recovered, made a comeback when his father was arrested. Receiving dialysis three times a week, Azra Nur’s condition is getting worse by the day. There are also those who were unable to cling to life and succumbed to their illnesses.

As part of a purge after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government dismissed more than 150,000 civil servants from state jobs and investigated almost 600,000 people, detaining or arresting half of them on trumped-up terrorism-related charges.

A database compiled by the Stockholm Center for Freedom reveals that no less than 183 people have succumbed to the purge for various reasons such as suicide, torture and denial of or belated medical treatment in prison, to name just a few.

Hundreds of others, robbed of their liberties on fabricated charges, stripped of their livelihoods, exposed to formal or informal discrimination and devoid of all hope that things will improve any time soon, have proven to be easy prey for mortal diseases such as cancer.

The persecution also hits children who have been caught up in the massive purge. Ahmet Burhan Ataç, an 8-year-old boy who lost his life to cancer while his father was jailed and his mother was standing trial, was one of them. He had grappled with bone cancer for almost two years, an illness he had developed at a time when his parents were sought by authorities on terrorism-related charges.

Ahmet Burhan, after having fought for almost two years to cling to life, finally succumbed to cancer on May 7.

His father, Harun Reha Ataç, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment because he had worked at a student hostel affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, a dissident group designated as a terrorist organization and put in the crosshairs by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

President Erdoğan accuses Fethullah Gülen, a US-based cleric and the spiritual leader of the movement, of masterminding the failed coup despite his categorical denial of any involvement, and deemed any connection to the movement on par with membership in a terrorist organization, thereby making Gülenism a crime by association.

Ahmet Burhan’s treatment in Germany was delayed because his mother, who had been released from jail pending trial on charges similar to those of her husband, was prohibited from traveling abroad, a ban authorities several times refused to lift despite repeated calls from human rights defenders.

Furkan Dizdar went through a similar experience. Furkan was to travel to Cuba for brain cancer treatment with his parents but returned from the airport because their passports had been canceled as part of the purge of members of the Gülen movement.

While his parents were trying to get the travel ban lifted, Furkan’s face became paralyzed, resulting in the loss of one of his eyes. He died on February 7, 2017, at the age of 12.

Ahmet Burhan Ataç (left) and Furkan Dizdar. Even when Ahmet Burhan was on his death bed, the authorities would not allow his father to see him one last time.

Ahmet Burhan and Furkan are not exceptions. There are other children who have fought cancer. They generally developed the illness after their fathers were imprisoned. There are also children whose cancer recurred after their fathers were arrested, although they had recovered earlier. According to the doctors, their fragile bodies are not equal to the sorrow and affliction caused by the persecution of their fathers.

The hands of imprisoned fathers are tied. They cannot be with their children and wives in their time of greatest need. Yet, the mothers’ situation is grimmer given that they have to take care of their sick children and provide for the family at the same time. In a sense, the mothers are punished along with the fathers.

However, according to a regulation on the execution of sentences, the sentences of prisoners whose first-degree relatives are seriously ill may be postponed for one year. But the authorities refuse to apply this regulation when it comes to Gülenists.

The fact that international courts and organizations do not agree with the Turkish government on its definition of terrorism and its accusations against members of the movement makes no difference. The government continues to disregard the findings and rulings of these bodies.

Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights and some UN bodies found on a number of occasions the arrest of Gülenists to be unlawful and arbitrary. In a recent ruling, a UN working group even declared that those with alleged links to the Gülen movement are being targeted on the basis of their political or other opinions, constituting a prohibited discriminatory ground. No matter what they say, the government is persisting in its Gülenist witch hunt.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom has compiled the following data regarding seven children struggling with a mortal disease in the absence of their fathers.


Mehmet Akif Gökdağ,13, had been diagnosed with leukemia two years before his father was put behind bars. He recovered after one year of treatment and had been going to the hospital only for routine medical checkups. However, after his father, Hasan Gökdağ, was detained on July 27, 2016 and arrested one week later on Gülenist charges, Mehmet Akif’s illness recurred.

His mother Sema had to see to the treatment of her son alone. She had to take her son from the Central Anatolian city of Konya to the neighboring capital of Ankara for a bone marrow transplant.

Sema Gökdağ takes her son Mehmet Akif twice a week by train from Konya to Ankara.

Doctors transplanted his mother’s bone marrow in Mehmet Akif despite the fact that his mother’s bone marrow was not compatible, and the doctors said Mehmet Akif had a 20 percent chance of survival.

In the meantime, Sema tried to secure her husband’s release from prison by invoking the regulation on the execution of sentences allowing for the postponement of prison sentences.

Sema and Mehmet Akif went together to the prison to meet with a prosecutor about the possibility of the father’s release. However, the prosecutor urged Sema to persuade her husband to inform on fellow Gülenists in return for his release. The prosecutor called the father, allowing Mehmet Akif to see his father there. After a one-on-one between the father and the prosecutor in which the latter repeated his offer — “Give me 10 names and leave here with your family” — Sema and Mehmet Akif left the prison without the father.

After the transplant Mehmet Akif’s body started to produce blood, but lesions also appeared on his skin. He could not move his arms and legs because of the lesions. Mehmet Akif has not been able to walk for a year now. They have to go to Ankara two days a week for treatment.

Mehmet Akif Özdağ and his family.

His father Hasan, who had been arrested in Konya and sentenced to seven years, two months in prison pending appeal, has meanwhile changed prisons four times, making the lives of Mehmet Akif and his mother more miserable since they had to travel to different cities to visit him.

“The success of cancer treatment is dependent on the patient’s mood. My son’s illness recurred because of his sorrow. I applied to social services, but they refused to help us because my husband is under arrest. A bag on my back and Mehmet Akif in my arms… We go every week like that to Ankara… I have no shoulder to lean on…” Sema said in explaining her feelings.


Ali İhsan Başer was diagnosed with leukemia on August 16, 2019. According to his doctors, he had suffered a severe trauma. He was two and a half years old when his father was arrested.

Ali İhsan during one of his latest medical checkups on March 30, 2020.

His mother Rukiye says he remembers everything about his father, of whom he is very fond. The police storming their home and taking his father away, the sudden deprivation of his father’s presence and the disappointments he suffered when he left the prison without his father after their visits proved to be too much for him. He could not forget his father, whose name he kept repeating even after his surgeries.

His father İsa Başer, a noncommissioned officer who was dismissed from the military, was arrested on November 7, 2017 based on the testimony of an informant and sentenced to six years, 10 months in prison on accusations of membership in the Gülen movement. His sentence has yet to be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Ali İhsan Başer and his parents.


Mehmet Fatih Dedeoğlu, 14, has been receiving treatment for lymphoma since June 1, 2020. In that short period of time, his body has become weak and fragile. He has lesions in his mouth due to chemotherapy.

His father, Salih Dedeoğlu, was arrested four years ago and sentenced to 12 years in prison on Gülenist charges based on informant testimony and membership in a Gülenist trade union and association as well as using a messaging application called ByLock. His sentence has yet to be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

He has been allowed to visit his son only once during his incarceration.

Salih himself is sick, too. Blind in one eye, he also has only one kidney. He has implored the authorities to release him, saying that his son needs him during his treatment. He believes his imprisonment caused his son’s illness. His requests for release have been refused.

Mehmet Fatih’s mother Ayşe, who has two more children aged 3 and 8, feels helpless.

Mehmet Fatih was able to see his father only once after the onset of his illness.


Azra Nur Ağır, 14, who was born with Jourbet Syndrome, a rare genetic disease, has been dependent on dialysis for nearly a year due to kidney failure. Her mother Nevin Ağır, who has two children, has taken care of Azra Nur Ağır for 13 years as if she were still a baby. Since her husband was arrested on July 24, 2016, she has been looking after her without her husband’s help.

Children with Jourbet Syndrome have low intelligence and perception. With treatment, their walking, speaking, vision and perception can be developed to some extent. Yet, the midbrains of these children do not work, making the homeostasis of the body dysfunctional. Their pupils do not sit in the middle of the eye, slipping left and right. In adolescence, kidney failure occurs. Azra Nur, who appears at first glance to be without problems, is in reality unable to meet her own needs because her muscles do not work. Her mother provides her personal care. According to her mother, Azra Nur’s disease has progressed considerably since her father’s arrest.

Azra Nur Ağır suffers from Jourbet Syndrome and is dependent on dialysis, which she receives three days a week at a hospital.

Her father, Mevlüt Ağır, has been in prison for nearly four years. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison pending appeal because he had worked as a teacher in a Gülen-affiliated preparatory school.


Selman Çalışkan, 7, was diagnosed with brain cancer in June 2019. He has been grappling with this disease for a year now without his father. His mother, Emine Çalışkan, while taking care of her three children on the one hand, is also trying to financially support her husband, who has been imprisoned for 38 months, on the other.

Selman and his mother have traveled every week for the past year from the western Anatolian city of Manisa to neighboring Izmir for chemotherapy. They have taken these trips — over an hour’s drive one way — with the help of friends, who have been kind enough to give them rides back and forth from the hospital.

Yet, his treatment was terminated by his doctors two weeks ago because Selman did not respond to drugs brought from Cuba. Selman is now trying to cling to life at home.

His father, Rasim Çalışkan, a teacher who was dismissed from his job, was arrested on May 17, 2017 and sentenced to seven years, six months in prison pending appeal on Gülenist charges. He was able to see his son only once after he got sick. Emine Çalışkan says she feels helpless when her son asks, “Mom, when will my father come home?”

Selman Çalışkan, 7, is also fighting brain cancer without his father’s support.


Eymen Küçükaydoğan, 6, was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2019, one year after his father was arrested. His mother has been struggling to care for her son alone for one-and-a-half years. Eymen has had a very hard time without his father. According to his mother, he shuts himself in his room and cries, calling for his father. There are periods when he cannot walk and his body becomes extremely weak. Sometimes he vomits constantly, and his mouth and stomach are full of lesions.

Now he is continuing his treatment at home in the western Anatolian city of Afyon. His mother takes him to Ankara for medical checkups once a month.

Describing a day at the hospital where Eymen was receiving treatment, his mother said: “The hospital was allowing fathers to visit children undergoing treatment two or three times a week. I kept Eymen inside his room on those days, making sure he didn’t see the other children spending time with their fathers. They got really happy when they saw their fathers, laughing, playing with toys brought by their fathers, or eating special foods. We always remained in his room so he did not see the other children.”

Eymen’s father, a dismissed police officer, had gone to the courthouse to check on the status of his case when he was arrested by the prosecutor, in January 2018, as part of the Gülenist purge. He was sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison, and his sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals in October 2019.

Another problem for sick children is visiting their parents in prison. Eymen has been able to go to the neighboring city of Isparta, where his father is incarcerated, only two or three times. “This is a serious problem,” says his mother, as he is subject to a body search. “Those children are very vulnerable. They have to mingle with the crowd there and subject themselves to an X-ray scan, which is very harmful to them.”

Eymen is suffering from leukemia.


Akif Daştan, 6, has been treated for leukemia since 2015. His parents were arrested almost simultaneously by a court on November 15, 2019 based on informant testimony and on the grounds of using ByLock. The judge did not even take Akif’s medical reports into account when arresting his parents. In their absence, the grandmother has been taking care of their only child, Akif.

Akif Daştan has been treated for leukemia since 2015.
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Source: Hizmetnews

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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Source: Hizmetnews

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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Source: Hizmetnews