Pennsylvania-based imam Fethullah Gulen, who is one of the primary individuals blamed by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the attempt to overthrow him, weighed in on the matter with a New York Times op-ed this week.
Gulen writes that he condemned the coup in the “strongest terms,” such as declaring, “Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force.”
He calls Erdogan’s demand for the U.S. to extradite him, so he can face charges of masterminding the putsch, “irresponsible and wrong.”
Gulen says his movement, which calls itself “Hizmet” — but has been labeled the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” by the Turkish government — is dedicated to “inclusive and pluralist Islam,” and is, therefore, “antithetical to armed rebellion.” He later notes that he has been through four coups — they are roughly once-a-decade events in Turkey — and “would never want my fellow citizens to endure such an ordeal again.”
“At a time when Western democracies are searching for moderate Muslim voices, I and my friends in the Hizmet movement have taken a clear stance against extremist violence, from the Sept. 11 attacks by Al Qaeda to brutal executions by the Islamic State to the kidnappings by Boko Haram,” Gulen declares.
Gulen makes references to his onetime alliance with Erdogan but says he has “turned from democracy to despotism,” citing Erdogan’s crackdown on Turkish media and purges of the military, police, and civil service, which have grown far more vigorous in the days since the coup. He also criticizes Erdogan for taking “especially harsh measures against Kurdish communities.”
“As he seeks to purge still more dissenters from government agencies – nearly 70,000 people have been fired so far – and to crack down further on Hizmet and other civil society organizations, he is removing many of the remaining impediments to absolute power,” Gulen warns.
He further accuses Erdogan of trying to blackmail the United States into extraditing him, by threatening to cut back Turkey’s “support for the international coalition against the Islamic State.”
“For the sake of worldwide efforts to restore peace in turbulent times, as well as to safeguard the future of democracy in the Middle East, the United States must not accommodate an autocrat who is turning a failed putsch into a slow-motion coup of his own against constitutional government,” Gulen concludes.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Turkey’s Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, claims his government has “crystal clear” evidence against Gulen and his “terrorist cult.”
“We are heartbroken at the way that the U.S. has treated this matter. We simply cannot understand why the U.S. just can’t hand over this individual,” Yildirim complained.
The Journal notes that while Turkey has shared “some information” with the U.S. about Gulen’s alleged involvement in the coup, the information was deemed insufficient for extradition, and Turkey has not actually submitted a formal extradition request as of yet.