INTERVIEW: Erdogan's nemesis Gulen was cause of the coup

INTERVIEW:  Erdogan's nemesis Gulen was cause of the coup
Zeynep Jane Louise Kandur, board member of Justice and Development Party's (AKP) Istanbul branch. / Photo: Middle East Eye
By Carmen Valache in Istanbul July 16, 2016

bne IntelliNews’ Carmen Valache speaks exclusively with Zeynep Jane Louise Kandur, board member of the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) Istanbul branch, about the attempted coup d’etat on July 15.

CV: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen of being behind the coup, but he denied the accusation. Who was behind this coup and what do they want?

ZK: Of course Fethullah Gulen denied that he was behind the coup, but 99.9% of Turks are sure that the Gulenists are behind it. Everybody knows that the Gulenists have infiltrated the military, judiciary and police for a long time, and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration has been working to purge these institutions of Gulenist elements. The purge started with the judiciary and police, and the military was going to be the last institution in line for a cleanup, but plotters attempted to preempt the purge with this attempted coup.  The coup was staged to prevent the removal of these [Gulenist] people from the military.

The way the Gulenist movement works is that, starting some 30 years ago, they would pick bright middle-school and high-school students [from the thousands of schools they run worldwide]. They would give these students the answers to exams beforehand, so that they got high scores, and would then feed them into the military and police academies or law schools. For such students, their first loyalty is to the Gulen movement, instead of the institutions they come to work for, the country or the people. The movement works like a cult. 

[Gulenists] have been shifted around in the judiciary and police, but this had not happened in the military yet, and how to go about changing them has been a topic of debate in Turkey for the past two to three weeks. The coup occurred in the midst of this discussion.

Gulen wants control of the government not necessarily to further his ideology or business interests, but for the sake of power. AKP and the Gulen movement worked together for a [decade] before 2013, but the movement became undemocratic and started to have ever higher demands to control various institutions, and that is where the line was drawn and the conflict between the AKP and Gulenists started. 

CV: The coup seems to have been poorly planned and executed. While the situation remains fluid, the coup has clearly failed. What happens next?

ZK: The soldiers implicated [in the uprising] have been arrested and will be put on trial. Turkey does not have the death penalty, so they will be tried and sentenced to jail terms if found guilty; I would imagine to life sentences.

The four leaders of the main political parties - AKP, the Republican People’s Party CHP, the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party MHP and pro-Kurdish and left-leaning Peoples’ Democratic Party HDP - are all coming together in defence of democracy for the first time ever. I do not think that this has ever happened before; that the four leaders would come together to show unity, instead of trying to score political points against one another. The coup has had a unifying effect on Turkish politics.

What will happen next is that the parliament will likely pursue a new constitution. The old constitution dating back to the time of the military junta needs to be changed to ensure that democracy survives in Turkey.

While the debate continues as to whether the solution is a presidential or parliamentary system, everyone is in agreement that the constitution has to go because it was written by the military and empowers the military.

I think that the likeliest scenario is that the constitutional changes will be the subject of a referendum. If political parties continue in the spirit of cooperation, they will come up with a solution. There is now an urgency to cooperate politically. And I believe that the cooperation will be more lasting this time around.

CV: The coup came out of the blue. What are the main lessons learned from this experience?

ZK: What happened last night shows how much Turks treasure democracy. This is the bloodiest coup in Turkey’s history, because never before have people come out into the streets to protest against a military coup. On this occasion, they refused to stay at home; they fought for democracy. It wasn’t just AKP supporters that demonstrated, but supporters of other parties as well.

It will take a while for the economy to recover from the effects of the coup, but political stability will underpin sustainable and lasting growth. The government will be better equipped to fight terrorism once it comes out of the current crisis.

The government might have exaggerated with its crushing of dissent at times, but we have to understand that it is fighting two terrorist organisations at the moment, three if the Gulen movement is taken into account. In the past, the Erdogan administration was more liberal. But under recent conditions, a strong, autocratic, but not dictatorial stance, is required to maintain stability.

We have faith that the president will go back to his previous ruling style once the fight against terrorism is over. One cannot fight terrorism and be liberal-minded at the same time. This is not a time of law and order, it is a time of terrorist attacks, which require a strong hand.

Turkey has a tradition of military coups, and until 10 years ago people tended to distrust the police and military, but that faith is now being restored. It is significant that Deputy Chief of Staff Umit Dundar vowed on July 16 that this will be the last military coup in the Turkey ever. This promise is coming from a military man, not the government. If the military does not use taxpayer money to turn their guns against people, trust in the institution will grow.