Long Knives in Ankara: Victorious Erdogan begins Purge of Judiciary, Army

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) – –

President Tayyip Erdogan is taking advantage of the failed coup against him to purge the judiciary and security forces of anyone who is lukewarm toward or actively critical of him.

These steps are, of course, the opposite of the ones Erdogan should be taking– he should be attempting to bring the country together in unity and to re-include in the polity those he has isolated and excluded in recent years. Instead, he is scapegoating and purging.

Erdogan characterizes this purge as against the secretive and cult-like Gulen movement, one element in Turkey’s landscape of the religious Right. He blames the Gulen movement for the attempted coup, though its leader (in exile in Pennsylvania), Fethullah Gulen, denies the allegation.

Erdogan has suspended 2745 court judges suspected of ties with the Gulen movment. These judges cannot be shown to have been involved in the coup, but Erdogan’s secret police apparently suspect them of Gulen tendencies. This is a purge, not justice.

Erdogan pursued the purge in the ranks of the military, as well.

Erdogan’s pro-Muslim coalition that began coming to power in 2002 included a number of constituents on the religious Right. These were small town and rural Muslims who felt excluded by the secular elites of Ankara and Istanbul. Some were small organized groups such as the Naksibendi Sufi orders, others were vaguer circles of Muslim entrepreneurs.

One of the larger groups was the Neo-Sufi Hizmet movement. Sufi Islam centers on visits to tombs of saints in search of blessings, figurative interpretation of scripture, the “warm heart” of ecstatic worship, group chanting or dancing, search for union with God, and loyalty to the mystical leader. The Gulen movement updated Sufism for Muslim modernist purposes. In a modern society, some aspects of Neo-Sufism look a lot like a cult, including the demand for unquestioning obedience to the leader and forms of corporate solidarity.

Here is an entry on it (scroll down):

It appears that, rather on the model of Stalinist cell formation, the Gulen movement has focused on getting its members into key positions in the Turkish government, including the police, army and judiciary, and possibly the intelligence services.

Gulen is alleged to have told a gathering in 1999:

“You must move within the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centres … You must wait until such time as you have got all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institution in Turkey.”

The movement maintains that the tape was doctored, but that should be easy to prove.

They have also surreptitiously funded trips to Turkey for many in Congress.

They secretly gathered dirt on Erdogan and his associates, though the public just yawned at the revelations.

Since Erdogan broke with Gulen a few years ago, he has been convinced that the Hizmet members are still secretly positioned in the government and plotting against him. He sees the failed coup as a reasonable grounds on which he can polish off his critics and brand them as dangerous cultists. But democracies require loyal oppositions. Erdogan needs his critics, and they should not be prosecuted or fired if they haven’t committed a criminal act.  (If someone is found to be acting criminally by posing or engaging in illegal wiretaps, then fine).   Just firing people en masse for “sympathies” is contrary to every human rights norm– it is the creation of thought crimes.  That path is a slippery one, and Turkey has already lost its footing.

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Related video:

Euronews: “Turkey coup: mass arrests after uprising crushed, government says”

21 Responses

  1. I am happy the coup apparently failed….regarding who Erdogan is blaming, he subconsciously wants to blame Gulen because if he blames some military faction, then it is hard for him to tease out and differentiate it from army in the general sense…it is rhetorically convenient for him to blame a spiritual Muslim. I like Sufi focus on love of God and their kind and compassionate behavior…I don’t agree with some sufis who resort to intercession seeking type actions in terms of visiting graves, etc.
    There may be some cult like propensities in the Gulen movement but many years ago, I have read a few of his books by Fethullah Gulen and found them to be very enlightening. His books have been translated in english and are easily accessible.
    I am happy that the coup failed since military rule would have been much, much worse than a democratically elected leader who is trying to resort to autocratic methods when he can. Sad about hearing that thousands of judges were purged because of Erdogan’s McCarthyism. Sad to hear about the long lives against innocent opposition.

  2. Fethullah Gulen’s name surfaced in connection with a story about former CIA official Graham Fuller, who helped Gulen obtain political asylum in America after he had been indicted in Turkey.

    Fuller had publicly disavowed a CIA link to a relative of the Boston bombers. FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds had related mismanagement as described in the article.

  3. What Erdogan is doing to the military is perfeclty perdictable. What he is doing to the judiciary is, hmmm. the word escapes me. well, smart, at least in the short term.
    Now he will have more than 2,000 fierce critics with no doubt reasonable amounts of financial assets floating around Turkey. Will he be able to dampen their anger by giving them unimportant but decent paying jobs in other sectors of the economy? Will he pay 2000 squads of goons to keep these former judges under 24 hour survelience? Will he send them to Germany? I think that the Marx Brothers made a movie, called Utopia that tries to anwer these questions.

  4. The ‘coup’ appears to have been somewhat hastily organised considering the relative enormity of the purposed undertaking. Then again, is it likely Turkey’s Labor and Social Security Minister would accuse the US (presumably the CIA) of complicity without such a claim being countenanced at the highest level? Tangentially, it is interesting that such a claim, even when sincerely doubted, should be widely received without any meaningful degree of incredulity. The timing of this ‘coup’ is also fairly acute considering Erdogan’s recent moves to improve relations with Russia, Syria and Iran. It’s ever dangerous to concentrate on trees and miss the wood but there are an awful lot of odd ones in there. I wonder is it true the US has nuclear warheads at incirlik? If so, they are presumably stuck there for the time being.

  5. Goldstein did it! Goldstein has secret supporters all over Turkey! (with apologies to George Orwell)

  6. Sketches of democracy-loving people power
    “Most of the people who went out in the streets to oppose the coup d’état did not use democratic language,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a research organization.
    On Sunday, Turkey’s nearly 85,000 mosques, in unison, blared from their loudspeakers a prayer traditionally recited for martyrs who have died in war and called for people to continue to rally against the plotters of the coup.

    Erdogan Emerges Strong After Coup Attempt, but Turkey Awaits Next Steps

  7. People said the same about the Ergenekon trials and what happened?

    The overwhelming majority were found innocent and their sentences quashed and jobs restored.

    The people who were suspended (not arrested) will get their day in court and the majority of the 100 or so special prosecuting judges appointed are well known Kemalists appointed to the HSYK well before Erdogan became PM. I trust that they will not be taking orders from him or his partisans anytime soon.

  8. But professor, do you buy Erdogan’s view that Hizmet was behind the coup? Who were the plotters? The secularists? The Alawis? The Islamists?

  9. Gulen says Edrogen was behind the whole enterprise. He is channeling Alex Jones. Erdogen says Gulen was the mastermind. Politicians always look for a scapegoat.

    Any reasonable person would reassess the policies that lead to increasing popular dissent. Authoritarians just crush their opponents. Erdogen is no worse than Putin. Mr. Trump has these same impulses. Pure democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

    People still pine for a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary.

    • as the highly respected Cengis Candar notes — indeed, as anyone paying attention would realize — there are lots of questions.
      link to al-monitor.com

      Why do you bomb the hotel two hours after Erdogan has left, roughly six hours into the coup? it’s a a much shorter run, even by chopper
      Why bomb the Meclis, which Candar notes is a first. And if you can do that, how the hell do you miss the Saray?

    • Yes, he is, but on the very small chance that this coup drives him toward democracy, this coup will have to be called a success. After all, he was not headed in that direction

  10. the rhyme of history could bring us a strongman government in turkey as a center post for all the militant splinters across north africa and the mideast..all while america and russia blow up themselves and all that lies in between them… and i was worried about climate change !

  11. I want to make a correction to my earlier post…when I mentioned long lives above, I meant “long knives.”

    I think there is a connection to Israel which hates the Turkish government and which wants Turkey weakened.

    1. It is interesting that the suspected leader of the coup served as military attache to Israel (link below).

    link to haaretz.com

    2. It is also interesting that Michael Rubin, who appears to be a neocon and probably a Netenyahu supporter, and is with the American Enterprise Institute, (a neocon outfit that I believe supports Netanyahu that pushed for the Iraq war), essentially called for a coup to occur a few months ago in Newsweek (links below).

    link to targetliberty.com

    link to newsweek.com

  12. “It appears that, rather on the model of Stalinist cell formation, the Gulen movement has focused on getting its members into key positions in the Turkish government, including the police, army and judiciary, and possibly the intelligence services.”

    Reminds me of the American Religious Right.

    • This is the secon major purge of Gulenist elements. It’s entirely possible that more of them have been purged than actually exist. Prosecutors, judges, and police were all subject to massive purges in response to the graft allegations of December 2013 against government ministers.

      Those allegations never came to trial. Davutoglu wanted to place AKP in favor of anti-corruption (one of the planks AKP ran on back in the day) but Erdogan rejected it saying you’d never get people into government.
      Regardless of what may or may not be true about Gulen — people suspected him for years but were alleged to be Islamophobes, even by Erdogan himself, this is an extremely corrupt government with massive benefits accruing to the Erdogans and his inside circle.

  13. After the quashed coup, as furious crowds demanded the return of the death penalty for captured soldiers, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım assured them he “heard their message”. On Sunday Erdoğan added his own voice, saying: “We are not vengeful, but in democracies you cannot put the wishes of the people to one side.”

    — Not when they’re saying what you want to hear, certainly. Otherwise, just sue them or arrest them.

    Smart take on the consequences from Alev Scott in the Guardian
    link to theguardian.com

    We now have a situation where violent mobs are sanctioned as “protecting democracy” by the president, whose prestige and power is now cemented more firmly than ever. This coup was the equivalent of an unhappy wife being kidnapped by a misguided and incompetent lover – a botched coup-nap. She – the 50% of Turks who would like to see Erdoğan voted out of power – never asked for such a rescue. After all, a civilised divorce is one thing, but no one actually wants a return to such medieval methods as the coup of 1980.

    This will never happen again, at least in Erdoğan’s time. The wife will be “safely” locked away, and the lover will be disposed of – perhaps humanely, perhaps not.

  14. I have been reading a lot and there may be some truth to the involvement of some so-called Gulenists in the coup. So it may be more than just a convenience for Erdogan to blame his former ally and now clear enemy.

    So please disregard my earlier post putting Erdogan’s allegation all on a subconscious desire.

    If there is any truth, I am surprised since the books that I have seen by Gulen are spiritual and enlightening and calling for the highest of virtues and not political in the least. Even if hypothetically some of his supporters are guilty it is not necessarily clear that he is associated with the coup.

    It’s all too complicated for me to understand since I am not a Turk and I have not been following all the information of the politics in Turkey over the years.

    I hope there is the efforts for forgiveness and highest of reconciliation in Turkey and everywhere whenever it is possible for the greater good.

    May God do what is best for peace, goodness, justice, and truth in Turkey and all over the world. Amen

  15. It is not elitist nor European centric to say that in order for democracy to flourish you need a civil society with strong judicial institutions and robust and prosperous middle class. As noted, those who came to street were not chanting pro democracy slogans but Islamist ones. There is a danger here. Let me cite two examples. In Iranian revolution, part of the population that demonstrated against Shah later become backbone of repression and oppression. In Egypt mostly secular masses supported the coup which was fascistic in many respects. Yes, military coups are bad – although not all are as bloody as Egypts’s but please do not praise uncritically the “masses” who throng to streets to demonstrate. These masses have the potential to become fanatic mobs at a later stage. (Yes, I am critical of uninformed spontaneity. That is why I am afraid of Trumpism.)
    Turkey has a flourishing middle class, but not strong enough to withstand to a demagogue of Ottoman Islamist of Erdogan who has backing of the vast rural areas of Anatolia and the petty bourgeois of Bazaar.

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