The administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long portrayed former imam Fethullah Gulen as the sinister mastermind who orchestrated last year’s failed coup attempt from his home in Pennsylvania.
Turkey demanded Gulen’s extradition from both the Obama and Trump administrations and denounced their failure to hand him over as outrageous. On Monday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus appeared to throw in the towel and accept house arrest as an alternative to extradition.
“What we’re telling American authorities is that the nature of our relationship, our alliance in NATO for years, our strategic alliances in the Middle East, the intense history of Turkish-American relations and friendship requires this man to be immediately arrested,” Kurtulmus said at a press conference after a cabinet meeting, as reported by Hurriyet Daily News.
“If you are saying ‘This is a judicial process,’ then you should arrest the man where he is and if you’re not extraditing him to us, at least limit his activities by bringing him under house arrest,” he added.
Kurtulmus made it clear his government still regards Gulen as the leader of a dangerous terrorist organization with “blood on its hands” and called upon the United States to stop him from spreading “treacherous and hostile attitudes towards Turkey.” In fact, he accused Gulen of sending covert “threats against the state of the Turkish Republic” via text messages from his cell phone while he was being interviewed by France24 television this week.
Presumably, Kurtulmus thinks “house arrest” would involve holding Gulen incommunicado, since managing a global conspiracy via the Internet and text messages would be possible from one of those HGTV Tiny Houses, let alone a home as spacious as Gulen’s gated estate in the Poconos.
As Gulen himself noted in that France24 interview, the Turkish government’s claim that he masterminded the July 2016 coup rests largely upon a single meeting at his estate with a former student of his, an enigmatic individual named Adil Oksuz who seems to have vanished after Erdogan defeated the insurrection.
At his press conference, Kurtulmus continued the Erdogan government’s defense of its wide-ranging Gulenist purge and perpetual state of emergency, arguing that Gulen’s movement – formally known as Hizmet, but dubbed the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) by the Turkish state – is so powerful that even seizing 966 corporations, arresting 50,000 people, and firing or suspending 3.5 percent of the public workforce has been insufficient to root them all out.
Gulen, for his part, told France24 that his movement would endure despite the Turkish government crackdown.
“In 170 countries, our movement’s schools are still operating, including in the US, Brussels, Europe. So I think this is a sign that this movement, whose core value is love, will continue. The politicians, their time is limited. They will go by democratic means. But this movement, which is anchored in love, will continue,” he said.
Gulen was also confident that President Trump will not extradite him to Turkey. “I don’t think either him or any other U.S. president will risk tarnishing the reputation of the United States around the world and submit to these unreasonable demands by the Turkish president, so I’m not worried about that possibility,” he said.