Turkish media have picked up an opinion piece by key Trump foreign policy adviser Gen. Michael Flynn calling for the extradition of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, while at least one Turkish official has expressed eagerness to work with an incoming Trump administration to have the cleric returned to his home country.
Both moderate outlets like Hurriyet and pro-government operations like Sabah have run the comments Flynn made in a column for The Hill this week. Flynn referred to Gulen’s Islamic school movement, Hizmet, as a “scam,” adding that the United States “should not provide him safe haven.”
“We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests. Turkey is really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS], as well as a source of stability in the region. It provides badly needed cooperation with U.S. military operations,” Flynn argued.
His remarks are Friday’s front-page story of the Anadolu Post, the government newspaper.
Anadolu has also run remarks by Taha Ozhan, the head of parliament’s External Affairs Commission, who said he believes that the extradition conversation can resume in earnest as early as February, following the inauguration.
“Talks on this issue [extradition] can be done once it’s February. At this stage this expectation has to be voiced but the U.S. government transition has to go through,” he said. “Because Trump is [now] president-elect. After Trump assumes his duties, this file [on Gulen] should certainly be sent to him.”
“Ankara now expects the Trump administration to work closely with Turkey toward Gülen’s detention and his ultimate extradition,” a Sabah column argues, citing Flynn’s column. “Trump is expected to approach the FETÖ issue more positively for Ankara. He will collaborate more with Erdoğan on this radical group FETÖ,” the newspaper quotes Burhanettin Duran, director of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), as claiming.
Another Sabah column, an opinion piece by Hilal Kaplan, compares Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to President-Elect Trump. “Just as the left-wing and liberal stratum in Turkey never learned the reasons why Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been the leading political figure in Turkey for the last 15 years, treating the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) electorate as hillbillies and could not accomplish anything beyond insults, the Trump dissidents are behaving in the same way today,” she argues. Kaplan notes that Erdogan reportedly mentioned Gulen during his congratulations conversation with Trump.
The Turkish government view Gulen as a cult leader who has spent years plotting Erdogan’s overthrow and have accused him of orchestrating the July 15 failed coup against the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). Despite his opposition to Erdogan, Gulen himself is an Islamic cleric, responsible for maintaining a number of charter schools in the United States. While the FBI has raided several of these schools on suspicions of fraudulent economic activity, the U.S. government has yet to find any evidence that Gulen has engaged in unsavory political activity.
Following multiple official demands for Gulen’s extradition after July, Washington was forced to clarify that Turkey had not provided any evidence of Gulen’s involvement in the coup attempt. The Turkish government admitted that this was correct — rather than provide American investigators with evidence against Gulen, government officials and supporters compared Hizmet to the “CIA project” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and accused a “secret NATO army” of staging the coup.
Gulen currently lives in the Pennsylvania Pocono mountains. Erdogan has detained, arrested, or fired over 100,000 Turks accused of having ties to the Hizmet movement.