The Gulen movement in Turkey

Creating an elite to lead the state

The movement of Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen has relied on schools, educational institutions and clubs to expand to many countries. Many experts view the movement with scepticism, however. They claim that it has cult-like structures and is pursuing a secret agenda, only pretending to be an open-minded education initiative with a moderate take on Islam. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers Gulen public enemy number one. By Timur Tinc

Seventy-six-year-old Fethullah Gulen became an imam at the young age of 18 and built a large following as an itinerant preacher in the 1980s. Operating under the motto "build schools, not mosques", he enjoyed the active support of Turkey's secular governments between 1986 and 1997. Tutoring centres, dormitories and universities sprang up like mushrooms, becoming the financial basis of the movement. The finances were managed by Kaynak Holding. Media companies, clinics and a bank – Bank Asya – were added as well.

At the same time, wealthy business people opened more than 1,000 schools in 160 countries, including in the former Soviet republics, particularly in the Caucasus and the new Balkan states, as well as in Africa and Central Asia. These institutions offered a modern, secular education. Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported their construction, and the qualifications were recognised by the Ministry of National Education.

"Gulen was styled as a 'model Muslim' who offered a synthesis of Islamic values and the separation between Islam and politics prescribed by Kemalism," explains Islam expert Bekim Agai of Goethe University Frankfurt, who adds that a close examination of Gulen's writings reveals that his version of Islam is oriented towards the conservative mainstream and his arguments are traditional. His goal, the scholar says, is to educate a pious elite that is capable of leading and ultimately controlling the state.

Thus the Gulen movement managed peu à peu to undermine Turkey's state apparatus, writes Günter Seufert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in a study: "Because the network refrains from ostentatious displays of religious identity, and because Gulen cooperated with the state in the past, supporters of the movement were able to survive a series of purges and build insider relationships within the state bureaucracy." They are believed to be particularly strong within the police force, the justice system and the military since the early 1990s.

This situation took on a new dimension with the electoral victory of the conservative Islamic AKP in 2002. The party of then-Prime Minister Erdogan joined forces with Gulen's supporters who were already civil servants. Both groups were pursuing the same goal: they wanted to turn Turkish society away from the hated Kemalist ideology and towards a religious identity. AKP politicians lauded Gulen as "honoured teacher". At the time, the imam was already living in exile in Pennsylvania, USA. He had left Turkey because his movement was accused of Islamising the military following a coup on 28 February 1997.

Students and AKP supporters take part in an anti-Gulen movement demonstration, Ankara, July 2016 (photo: Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan)
According to Timur Tinc, the alliance between the Gulen movement and the AKP took on a new dimension after the latter came to power. "The party of then-Prime Minister Erdogan joined forces with Gulen's supporters who were already civil servants. Both groups were pursuing the same goal: they wanted to turn Turkish society away from the hated Kemalist ideology and towards a religious identity." But things changed. Pictured here: Students and AKP supporters take part in an anti-Gulen movement demonstration, Ankara, July 2016

No connection to Turkey or Islam

Abroad, the Gulen movement functions as a global representative of conservative Islamic values and Turkishness. "Its goal is to spread the Turkish language and culture around the world," says Bayram Balci, a political scientist from the French institute Sciences Po. Its foundations, educational and cultural institutions in other countries are not only concerned with reaching the Turkish diaspora, but also catering to members of the host community. These people often have no connection to Turkey or the Islamic religion.

More on this topic
In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: reserves the right to edit or delete comments or not to publish them. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English. Comments submitted by readers using fantasy names or intentionally false names will not be published. will not provide information on the telephone. Readers' comments can be found by Google and other search engines.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.

Comments for this article: Creating an elite to lead the state

I have many concerns on Timur Tinc's article on the Hizmet Movement and Gulenists.
First, Timur Tinc is a fresh name I have heard. I am not sure whether he really met with Gulenists and visited any of their institutions. I think he tried to write on an issue he never knew exactly and correctly. He has asked a few experts but all are critics and dissidents of Gulen movement. None from the Gulen movement including academics, journolists he spoke to. Besides, Ahmet Sik, a prominent Turkish journalists, Timur wrote his article mainly on his views, is now jailed by Akp for more than one year, and was jailed again by Akp a few years ago but this was presented as it was Gulenist people made him jailed, not Akp. Maybe after his release, Ahmet might change his mind about Gulen movement. These thoughts are from his former approach. Finally the first picture was announced as Akp supporters in anti-Hizmet march is a big lie. They are not Akp suppporters but also Akp dissidents.
Qantara must not publish such jerk and inaccurate, non-objective articles.....

Mustafa Bursali02.01.2018 | 13:45 Uhr

"Gulen movement is not good". Yes this is the message of the article and the "belief" of the author.

The rest is to try to justify this belief with distant, discord, and distorted cherry picked comments.

There are tons of articles and experts including from USA and EU, however the authors only selected a few that have

opposing claims. The article is not scientific, is written as a baseless comments to try to justify the belief of the author.

It is our right to demand an article free of prejudice and false and unproved claims. It is also important to note, Why

on the earth there was not a single positive sentence about the movement. Every single sentence leads to distorted

realities. In its mildest term, this is a very naive and biased article written by a gulen hater!

Please help publish unbiased, scientific, based-on proven facts articles.


Hasan Dent03.01.2018 | 22:26 Uhr

Why my previous comment was not published? What is the policy not to publish comments?

Hasan Dent04.01.2018 | 00:37 Uhr