Turkey: if Islam Enters the Barracks

Turkey: if Islam Enters the Barracks

Turkey: if Islam enters the barracks

The Ankara army has always been a bulwark of the secular values ​​of Kemalism. The failed coup of July 15, according to the government, reveals instead the infiltration of a religious movement in the armed forces.

On 15 July 2016, Turkey suffered an attempted coup by the army. The country is not new to government overthrow. Three military coups took place in the second half of the twentieth century (1960, 1971, 1980), and in 1997 the government was forced to resign, following the decision of the National Security Council, in what is called the ‘post coup modern’. The intervention of the army is motivated each time by the need to guarantee the country political stability and above all the safeguarding of the secular and democratic values ​​of the Kemalist nation. In the most recent case, however, the government immediately attributes the responsibility to a religious organization that infiltrated the armed forces: the movement of Fethullah Gülen, already included in the list of terrorist organizations in Turkey and now called FETÖ (Fethullahçı terör örgütü, «Terrorist organization of Fethullah»). Beyond the numerous political and social consequences of the attempted coup, this seems to shake the opposition, which seemed irreducible in Turkey, between military forces and Islam, denoting, moreover, how the army was not only not very compact but had its internal components attributable to religious groups.

A country known for having made secularism a founding element of the republic and of the crucial transformation from empire to nation-state, Turkey in recent decades has undergone changes that have frequently prompted us to reconsider the complexity of relations between Islam and politics and their repercussions in institutions and society.

When the Republic of Turkey was founded, on October 29, 1923, by Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk, “Father of the Turks”) it was immediately marked by secularism. The construction of the nation-state is based on a radical process of modernization and Westernization which, articulated in an intense program of wide-ranging reforms, intends to found a new Turkish nation, in step with the other European nations. The common reference systems are modified, the Latin alphabet is introduced, while with the civil code, based on the Swiss model, gender equality is affirmed and family law is modified with the abolition of polygamy. In 1934 universal suffrage was introduced. With Mustafa Kemal these transformations aim to sever the link with the pre-existing political and social order,

The attack on religion is also part of this nationalization strategy. After having abolished the sultanate, one of the first decisions of the Grand National Assembly was the abolition of the caliphate (March 1924).

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

The secularization of the state does not correspond, however, to an annulment or denial of religion as to the implementation of a policy to place religion under full state control: on the one hand, relegating religious practice to the individual sphere, with the ban of all forms of popular Islam, including brotherhoods (tarikat), very common in Anatolia; on the other hand, by creating state institutions with the task of managing and controlling religious matters, first of all the Directorate for Religious Affairs (known as Diyanet), still today the most important body in the field.

Despite the strong secularism of the institutions, Islam persists in Turkish society and politics. The brotherhoods in many cases continue their activities in clandestine form, representing an important place of social cohesion, intellectual elaboration and political propaganda, as demonstrated by the weight and degree of pervasiveness that the community itself has reached (cemaat) by Fethullah Gülen. Furthermore, since the end of the one-party regime (1945), political parties have resorted to a political use of Islam, in search of consensus and to respond to a persistent religious sentiment, widespread above all in rural areas and then in the suburbs of large city. The continuous attempts to avoid a politicization of religion by the institutions, promulgating laws in defense of secularism and banning political formations of marked religious reference, in fact, from the second half of the twentieth century did not prevent Islam from assuming not only a certain relevance in politics, but establish itself as a distinctive and identifying trait of the Turkish nation.

In the 1970s, in conservative circles linked to the business world, the ideology called the ‘Turkish-Islamic synthesis’ was developed, proposing a reformulation of national culture based on the combination of nationalism and Islam. This ideology found widespread affirmation in political and military circles during the 1980s, during the government of Turgut Özal which in 1983 took over from the military regime imposed with the coup of 12 September 1980. It is a period characterized by a liberal policy and a decisive depoliticization of a society which, however, is accompanied by the rise of civil movements and identity claims, from feminist and environmental groups to Alevis and radical Islamic ones.

In the same years, a slow penetration of an Islamic-style ideology into the institutions began. And religion acquires spaces of visibility through the affirmation of organizations, forms of political activism – such as the demonstrations of female students for the use of the veil in universities – and the development of a specific cultural production and consumer goods.

Between the 1980s and the 1990s a series of Islamic parties, all linked to the Millî Görüş (“National Vision”) movement of Necmettin Erbakan, followed one another on the political scene after being regularly closed by the Constitutional Court for violating the secular republican principles of country. One of these, the Refah Partisi (“Welfare Party”) – of which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of the major exponents -, arrives in the mid-nineties to win the elections, first gaining important cities such as Ankara and Istanbul (1994) and then leadership of the government, entrusted to Erbakan (1996). This statement meets the hostility of the military leaders and causes an open conflict between the army and the Refah party ending in 1997 with the ‘process of February 28’, which requires the resignation of the government, the closure of a series of associations and trade unions and the arrests of Erdoğan, then mayor of Istanbul. It is a decision that marks the political life of the time and that affects the victory of the AKP party in 2002.

Founded by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül in 2001, this party, which cannot hide its roots in previous Islamic formations, manages to construct a discourse based on the defense of individual rights and the democratization of the country.

Erdogan speaks through a smartphone

It is proposed in rupture with the political subjects that have dominated the entire republican history, suggesting margins for political action also for other groups, in particular the progressive group and the minorities, who no longer recognize themselves in a democracy controlled by the military and by the Kemalist opposition linked to a still monolithic vision of the nation. During the AKP legislatures, Turkey carried out important reforms in the political, social and economic spheres; launches the European accession process; implements an important foreign policy in the region and globally. A conservative and neoliberal line emerged over time. Several times the military leaders hold back or contain regulatory changes calling the government to respect republican principles.

However, the army was hit during the 2000s by a series of mega judicial investigations (Ergenekon, Balyoz) leading to numerous arrests of high officials accused of conspiracy. Although these investigations subsequently lead to the groundlessness of the accusations and the release of the accused, this causes a strong weakening of the army and a downsizing of its political influence, in a process that nevertheless undergoes a partial turnaround after the attempted coup. The relations between politics, the judiciary and the army have been quite complex in recent years and are intertwined with the controversial relationship that the AKP establishes with the movement of Fethullah Gülen, formerly its ally for a long time (to the point of being able to penetrate pervasively into the institutions state), and then his archenemy. More generally, the AKP, also hit by a major corruption scandal (2013),

These criticisms often lead to mobilizations and in 2013 give rise to a large protest movement known as Gezi, with which new alliances are established between left-wing groups and minorities, Kurds in particular, and the idea of ​​citizenship is promoted. plural. In 2015 for the first time a party of pro-Kurdish derivation managed to enter Parliament thanks to the electoral barrier. After these last elections, political tensions have worsened in the country in a polarization of the alignments, within a context aggravated by the intensification of the conflict with the Kurds, particularly violent and worsened by the Syrian war, and by the numerous terrorist attacks that have affected the population.

The network of the ‘respectable teacher’

The Gülenist network has its roots in the past of the ‘respectable teacher’, as his followers call him: influenced by the thought of Said Nursi – according to which Islam, science and reason were compatible and ignorance was among the greatest enemies of man – Gülen combined the activity of preaching with strong support for young people, supporting them in their formation and arranging – thanks to the contribution of donors – places of study and dormitories. From that first ‘sprout’, focused on the importance of education, a network thus began to develop linked to the concept of ‘service’, a network that over time managed to grow and consolidate: at the beginning of the 1990s, there were over 100 schools founded in Turkey by members of the Gülenist movement, alongside study centers and institutes for preparation for university entrance exams. The ‘service’ was not then confined to the Anatolian territories, but managed to expand abroad, starting from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia – which share linguistic and cultural affinities with Turkey – and arriving in Africa, Western Europe. and to America.

By penetrating the social fabric through the formation of a ruling class in its schools, the network was able to cultivate interests in the broadest sectors, from education to the mass media, from entrepreneurship to finance: framing the functioning of the network in this perspective, it is therefore not surprising that today the Gülenist movement is present in more than 100 countries, has millions of supporters – between 3 and 6 – and relies on assets worth billions of dollars.


“We are a small group of young journalists trying to be the voice of the Turks who are suffering under an oppressive regime.” This is how the founders of Turkeypurge.com describe themselves, which aims to document “in real time” the purges in Turkey after the failed coup on July 15.

The numbers:

105,023 employees made redundant

72,198 people detained

32,314 people arrested

39,448 teachers suspended or removed

4618 military personnel suspended or removed

3640 judges and prosecutors removed

127 journalists arrested

1284 schools closed

15 universities closed

Erdoğan and Gülen: from allies to enemies by Vincenzo Piglionica

“You have betrayed this nation enough already. Go back to your country, if you have the courage ». President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has just won his toughest match, but he already has clear ideas: the ‘mastermind’ of the coup is in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. It is there that Fethullah Gülen resides, an influential preacher but above all leader of that vast organization – known as Cemaat (“community”) or Hizmet (“service”) – which the Turkish government has recognized as a terrorist group. The president’s judgment is peremptory: the Gülenist network has crept into the institutions and created a ‘parallel state’, with the aim of overthrowing the democratically elected government.

For this, it would be similar to P2 and the mafia.

A strategic alliance.

Yet the contrast between Erdoğan and Gülen represents a recent evolution of the Turkish socio-political landscape, and the times when they were united in a convenient partnership are not far off.

As early as 2000, before Erdoğan came to power, Gülen was accused of having formed an organization aimed at undermining the republic’s age-old foundations. “You must move through the arteries of the system without anyone noticing, until you reach the centers of power”: these were the words spoken by the preacher in a video released in 1999, from which it would seem to emerge – despite his followers claim that the footage has been altered – an attempt to infiltrate the ganglia of power. Meanwhile Gülen – officially for health reasons but probably also for fears of a judicial initiative – in 1999 had moved to the USA, making Saylorsburg in Pennsylvania the place of his ‘voluntary exile’. For Turkey 2002, please check commit4fitness.com.

The Gülenist network, with its roots in the media system and bureaucracy, thus supported Erdoğan’s demands for renewal, while the AKP allowed the network to continue to expand. The agreement was further strengthened with the passage of time: the Ergenekon and Balyoz operations – to which the magistrates affiliated to the Gülen movement were said to have been strangers – in fact allowed the AKP-Hizmet alliance to oppose both the military and those who were opposed the association, while the constitutional changes approved with the referendum of 2010 made it possible to limit the influence of the army both in politics and in the judicial system.

The breaking up of the partnership.

Like all alliances of convenience, even the one between Erdoğan and Gülen was destined to crumble once the common enemy was weakened and the conditions that guaranteed its functioning disappeared: after 2011, mutual mistrust grew, and on a series of issues – from the Mavi Marmara incident, to the peace negotiations with the Kurds and the PKK, to the Gezi Park protests – the positions of the 2 leaders were in evident contrast. Then the escalation, from the announcement of the closure of the Gülenist schools for university preparation to the violent rupture in December 2013, when Erdoğan accused the magistrates of the Gülen network of being behind the investigation into the vast corruption scandal in the government.

The strong man of Turkey thus decided to use an iron fist, from the first purges of 2014 until the government took control of the Zaman newspaper and companies connected to the Gülenists. Then the coup in July, on which, however, there is no definite evidence. The purges in Gülen’s circuits, however, suggest that the president has no doubts and is ready for the ‘definitive solution’ against the preacher’s network and anyone suspected of being part of it. And the Turkish people seem to have decided which side to take: in a poll conducted at the end of July, 64.4% of those interviewed said they were convinced that Gülen was behind the coup.

Turkish Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

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