Unlike Erdogan, Gulen wanted to hold fast to the alliance with Israel and rejected the idea of a rapprochement with Iran. Above all, however, he was opposed to Erdogan's overtures to the Kurds. In February 2012, Gulen supporters in the judiciary tried to put Hakan Fida, head of the country's intelligence service, in the dock for his peace talks with the PKK. Erdogan struck back, giving orders for the cemaat's centres of private tutoring to be shut down.
Head to head
When Gulen supporters in the police and judiciary launched corruption investigations into people close to Erdogan in December 2013, the conflict became visible for everyone. Back then, many in the West were sceptical about Erdogan's claim that the Gulen movement had tried to topple him. After all, as far as the West was concerned, the movement was dedicated primarily to dialogue and education. In Turkey, on the other hand, few were in the least bit surprised. After all, journalists like Ahmet Sik had long warned that the state was being infiltrated by the cemaat.
By July 2016, the government had secured control of most of the schools, media and companies belonging to the cemaat and had begun removing its supporters from the civil service. The movement feared for its survival. Reason enough for a coup? M. Hakan Yavuz answers this question with a resounding yes. In his opinion, the cemaat had to act in July 2016 in order to prevent itself from being destroyed, particularly as it was expected that the Supreme Military Council would agree to move against Gulen supporters in the military at its annual meeting in August.
Yavuz is convinced that although the attempted coup got underway at very short notice, it was certainly not "amateurish" as some in the West claimed. Indeed the deployment of thousands of soldiers with dozens of tanks, helicopters and aircraft hinted that the coup had been carefully planned well in advance.
With Gulen's personal blessing?
Moreover, because of the hierarchical structure of the cemaat and its tendency to self-sufficiency, Yavuz is also convinced that the attempted coup had the personal blessing of Gulen himself and that his supporters acted without consulting the Kemalists or other groups in the military.
Not all the other authors in the book agree. David Titterson, for example, doubts that any Gulen supporters had risen so high through the ranks of the military as to become generals. After all, after 2002, all budding officers suspected of any religious tendencies had been weeded out. Moreover, there are indications that Erdogan got wind of the Gulen supporters' plans before the attempted coup got underway and let them go ahead so that he could deal severely with the cemaat when it was all over.
One of the book's weaknesses is that Yavuz and other authors devote hardly any space to such alternative scenarios and swiftly gloss over any discrepancies in the government's narrative. Ultimately, many questions regarding the night of the failed coup remain unanswered.
Nevertheless, the book impressively illustrates how naive it is to classify the cemaat as a harmless educational organisation. In Germany in particular, where the movement runs dozens of schools, a critical reassessment is urgently needed. This book would be a good place to start.
Ulrich von Schwerin
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
"Turkey's July 15th Coup – What Happened and Why", edited by M. Hakan Yavuz and Bayram Balci (published by The University of Utah Press)