The Gulenists Are Everywhere!

A month after the Turkish army failed to overthrow the country’s democratically elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an enormous and unprecedented witch-hunt against all potential dissenters is overrunning the country. A general atmosphere of hysteria has seized the Turkish press where most recently accounts of shady secret witnesses -called “confessionists”- are flourishing.

In the past month since the coup attempt of July 15 against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed by a massive crackdown on individuals believed to be affiliated with Fethullah Gülen, the US based Muslim cleric whom Turkey accuses of having masterminded the coup, as well as on the country’s Kurds and left-wing groups, pro-government newspapers and television stations mostly ignored ongoing concerns about fair trials and rights violations, but rather fixed their focus on the alleged role of the US in the coup.

A major theme in post-coup coverage is extensive testimony delivered by former followers of Gülen who have turned into informants (called “confessionists” in Turkish) as well as testimony by some of the suspects in the coup investigation. The ex-Gülenist informants along with government-aligned strategy experts, were given maximum air time sharing sometimes what seems to be very dubious information about the Fethullah Gülen organization, such as Sabah suggesting it is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Pro-government newspapers and visual media also shared testimony from “secret witnesses” delivered during the investigation into the July 15 coup attempt, although an İzmir court ruled for a partial gag order on broadcasting and printing testimony from the investigation, even on social media.

But Turkey’s nascent and refreshingly promising alternative media — mostly online news sites and Twitter accounts — have been more cautious and critical of the aftermath of Turkey’s darkest night. The details of Turkey’s widening purge in both public and private institutions were captured in great detail by alternative media, as in Diken‘s reporting on detention warrants being issued for all businessmen who joined a standing ovation after listening to a speech by the former head of the Gülen-affiliated businessmen’s group TUSKON.

These alternative media channels have also been crucial in keeping record of ongoing rights violations, the possibility of the post-coup investigation turning into a witch-hunt and attempts to keep full records on detentions, arrests or incidents of removals from office. The only columns and opinion pieces critical of the government’s post-coup practices also came from these websites.

For example, Diken writer Levent Gültekin in an article sarcastically titled “Should we hang Gülenists or put them in gas chambers?” wrote that he had always been critical of the Gülen Movement, even at a time when its former allies — the AKP government — didn’t let anyone voice any criticism against the movement. Gültekin said he had no idea that movement was potentially as dangerous as it has proved itself to be, and asked one question addressed to the Turkish Government, “I don’t understand what the government is trying to do. Really, are you aware of what you are doing? We have a humongous problem dragging the country into ruins. But you [the government]are committing such vulgar deeds, completely devoid of justice and conscience; everything you do is working to turn the problem into a gangrene, rather than solving it. People have spouses, uncles, aunts who have links to the [Gulen] Movement in one form or another. Looking at this this way, we are talking about millions of individuals. By demonizing those people who have somehow believed and followed the Movement, by condemning them to starvation and poverty and creating even larger wounds in society, where do you think will you lead us?”

The  columnist Murat Belge, in a T24 article about the practice of removing civilian office holders or confiscating their property under decrees having the force of law, sanctioned under Turkey’s State of Emergency rules. “Please explain, how can one remove a civil servant from office based on a black list? “ Belge wrote that the policy of “sorting out” the suspects is a grave mistake, which has resulted in the removal of tens of thousands of public servants, military officers, tens of thousands of civilians, and the closure of thousands of associations, student dormitories, hospitals, schools and other facilities. He further wrote, “Initially, you should have found at most 100 people [responsible for the coup attempt], and if further action was needed, this could have been done by court orders. The others would be tied to those 100 people. I think currently hundreds of thousands are being accused [of involvement in the coup], and as such, you are fighting the entire nation!”

These websites have been the only channels where comments and opinions from opposition politicians, including the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) — Turkey’s only Kurdish party in Parliament which has been excluded from Turkey’s post-coup detenté between the government and oppositions — were given voice.

Online website Diken has been trying to keep track of all the detentions, arrests and purges under the heading “The Coup Attempt,” Jiyan and Evrensel have been reporting extensively on detentions and arrests of journalists. Kurdish newspapers, TV stations and news agencies which have also been targets of Turkey’s State of Emergency with dozens of Kurdish reporters detained, the Kurdish newspaper Gundem shuttered, and some Kurdish journalists arrested since the declaration of the State of Emergency on July 20, have also been running reports about rights violations committed under state of emergency.

Evin Baris Altintas