Turkey added another 24 arrests on Friday to the 50,000 or so people detained after the July 2016 coup attempt. A total of 40 arrest warrants were written based on the lengthy investigation of an alleged plot by followers of exiled Imam Fethullah Gulen to infiltrate the police force.
The Associated Press reports that arrests were made in Ankara, Istanbul, and three other cities, bringing in suspects who have already been fired from government jobs as part of the post-coup purge.
The Turkish government fired thousands of police officers after the coup was thwarted, effectively beginning its purge with the police and judicial officials. As the BBC noted at the time, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration knew the police force was filled with Gulen supporters because Erdogan’s AKP party helped put them there, during happier times when Erdogan and Gulen were allies.
After Erdogan’s relationship with Gulen turned sour, the Turkish government began worrying about Gulenists using police and military academies as recruiting grounds. A number of police academies were shut down for this reason as far back as 2014.
One reason for the prominent role of the police in the Gulenist conflict is that Erdogan’s friendship with Gulen officially ended after Gulen-supporting judges tried to convict Erdogan of corruption in 2013, an event often pictured by Erdogan supporters today as a dry run for the July 2016 overthrow attempt.
The specific offense behind this week’s police academy arrests dates back to 2012, when Gulenists were accused of leaking questions from the entrance exam to their fellow cult members, in a bid to flood the police force with Gulen recruits. Members of the Gulen movement have been accused of using such tactics with a variety of civil service exams to fill government agencies with group members.
“In order to infiltrate the bureaucracy and fast-track the careers of fellow Gulenists, several indictments and witnesses show that FETO operatives stole exam questions at police colleges, the Police Academy, military schools, judgeship examinations and the Public Employee Selection Examination, in addition to manipulating oral examinations,” political science professor Mehmet Zahid charged in a July editorial.
“According to the Turkish Parliament’s Investigative Commission on the July 15 Coup Attempt, this method made it possible to expedite the infiltration of state institutions by FETO operatives and paved the way for the group to gain near-total control over the institutions they targeted,” Zahid added.
Hurriyet Daily News reports there have been so many arrests during the post-coup purge that eight new “terror courts” have been established to deal with the cases. (The Turkish government’s preferred term for the Gulen movement is FETO, the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization”).
The Turkish Justice Ministry is in the process of imposing a new requirement that all suspected members of FETO must wear simple brown uniforms when they appear in court because some of them have been showing up for court appearances wearing politically provocative T-shirts labeled “Hero.” Fortunately for the suspects, the uniforms will be made from alpaca fabric in prison workshops, so they will “suit Turkey’s climatic conditions.”
Also feeling the heat this weekend is the Turkish Ministry of Science, Industry, and Technology, where 59 arrest warrants have been issued for current and former officials. A key piece of evidence against them is that all of the suspects use an encrypted smartphone messaging app called ByLock that is said to be favored by Gulenists. The encryption was cracked by government security forces shortly before the coup attempt was launched last July, according to the state-run Andalou news agency.
Erdogan’s wide-reaching action on Gulen supporters has been criticized as an abusive crackdown against all of his political opponents. Irked by these accusations, Erdogan supporters have been pushing back against foreign critics, claiming they either do not understand how powerful and insidious the Gulen organization is, or are secretly in league with Gulen in a bid to topple Erdogan.
In an example of the latter, Ibrahim Karagul at Yeni Safak writes that FETO is “the first stage of multinational intervention for Turkey,” accusing Western intelligence agencies of using Gulen supporters as a “javelin” at the heart of the Turkish state while violent Kurdish separatists from the PKK try to tear the country apart.
Karagul refers to the Gulenists as an “internal occupation organization” working on behalf of U.S. intelligence, European governments, and Israel, framing the battle against FETO as a “struggle between the indigenous and the invaders,” and warns that the United States and its partners are planning to attack Turkey from Syria in a “second July 15th,” i.e. another coup attempt.
Others take a less confrontational approach, urging the international community to help Turkey’s government finish off the Gulenists before their influence grows around the globe. Professor of international relations Mehmet Ozkan, a frequent lecturer at the Turkish Police Academy, warned in a Friday interview with Hurriyet Daily News that FETO is rallying its forces in Latin America, using Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia in particular as refuges for Gulenists who fled Turkey after the coup.
“In a sense, they are using the region as a stopover point. They are very comfortable there as there are not many Turks to monitor their moves. Therefore, they can operate there more easily,” said Ozkan, noting that Turks can travel easily to Latin America, and from there to the United States.