Melih Ulueren is the Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria. In this interview with KINGSLEY OPURUM, he speaks exhaustively on the failed coup attempt that claimed the lives of 250 Turkish citizens in 2016 and the dangers posed by the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO). Excerpts:
What is the significance of July 15 in Turkey?
We are commemorating the third anniversary of the thwarted coup attempt of July 15, 2016. We are still struggling to overcome the trauma of this existential threat to our country. July 15 was not a typical military putsch.
Can you briefly explain how the incident transpired?
At the first sightings of fighter jets flying over Ankara and Istanbul, we recognized that there was something amiss. In the ensuing hours, this feeling was intensified by the horrifying realization that it was beyond a military coup d’état and that the perpetrators of this hideous undertaking actually consisted of the disciples of Fetullah Gulen, the man who calls himself “Imam of the Universe”.
To judge the deeds of Fetullah Gülen and FETÖ (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation) only with what transpired on July 15th would be a mistake. The crimes committed on the night of July 15th were just the tip of an iceberg.
It all started under the guise of a charitable education effort back in the 1970s. Fetullah Gülen and his followers disguised themselves as a benign education movement, when they started the campaign of establishing schools in Turkey and later around the world. At the peak of their power, they controlled thousands of schools in Turkey and more than eight hundred educational institutes worldwide. In terms of their reach, they were unprecedented.
We now understand that this was the first step of an infiltration campaign where kids and their parents were recruited with the seemingly innocent promise of a better education and a good job. These kids were put through school with academic and financial help and mainly a heavy hand in indoctrination.
They turned into unquestioning foot soldiers of Fetullah Gülen who claims to be the “Chosen One”. The goal was to subvert the democratic foundations of the Turkish state and establish a new anti-democratic one under the absolute rule of Gülen. His students were also told that, to achieve their main goal of taking the control of the state, they should remain hidden and they could eschew all ethical, religious or personal beliefs.
Attaching great importance to confidentiality in its structure and calling the confidentiality as a “precaution”, the organization gives “code” names to its members apart from their real names to ensure secrecy. In this way, this is a unique and peculiar armed terrorist organization where its lower level members know each other by their code names and which has a “cell-type” structure.
There were mass-scale exam cheatings as well: In order to infiltrate the critical government posts, FETÖ affiliated students were provided with the answers to entrance exams. There are currently many investigations into mass-scale exam cheatings in Turkey, including the Police Academy entrance tests, the Centralized Public Service Admission Tests, Military Schools and other governmental jobs.
The handlers of those FETÖ members staffed at critical governmental posts kept their indoctrination up-to-date and passed on the instructions of their leader. As civil servants or military personnel, FETÖ members’ loyalty was not to the nation or to the state they served. They did not care about upholding the constitution or the legal system of the country.
Thus, the organization that disguised itself as an education movement gradually turned into a secretive operational structure aiming to transform the society by taking control of the Turkish state from within.
As its strength grew, the organization began to claim a global messianic mission, depicting Fetullah Gülen as the “Imam of the Universe”.
What’s FETO’s source of funds?
The crime syndicate behind all this devised and ran an integrated system that took care of recruitment through schools and cram schools; financing was taken care of by holding companies and donations from business people. The organization also established media houses to shape the public opinion for and against any person, group or idea. Many people in Turkey who saw the organization for what it really is got lynched through these media houses. These media houses became the focal point of actions taken against journalists, academicians, bureaucrats and military officers who opposed them, or tried to expose them. They were lynched and purged.
As the organization became more affluent, it started meddling in business transactions and government tender processes. Laundering enormous sums of money, arranging illegal transfers of cash and other financial crimes became business as usual.
The FETÖ members infiltrating critical state posts abused their power to eliminate who opposed the organization, by illegal wiretapping, fabricating evidence, unlawful arrests, thereby intimidating and blackmailing a large segment of the society including politicians, businessmen, journalists, even athletes and artists among many.
Having alleged that FETO now operates globally, which countries is it present?
FETÖ is present in around 160 countries, with thousands of schools, businesses, NGOs and media houses. Their modus operandi is the same all around the world. As they aim to infiltrate and enlarge their global economic and political influence, they constitute a direct security threat for any country where they operate.
You may think that, FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation) is a benign civic education movement, as some circles try hard to portray but that would be a huge mistake. It would be a huge mischaracterization to think of Gulen merely as a peaceful Islamic scholar and preacher.
These so-called Gulenists constitute a typical case of radicalization by a cult of personality. They believe that Gulen is the Messiah and that they are the golden generation. Their loyalty is to him only, making them violate any legal, religious or ethical codes in order to advance the interests of this group. Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation is a new generation terrorist organisation that is based on hypocrisy, concealment and secrecy.
Hizmet is Fetullah Gulen’s social movement based on moral values and advocation of universal access to education, civil society, tolerance and peace. What’s your take on that?
This is an organization that has two tiers. The first layer is the legal and visible side. On appearance Fetullah Gulen leads a civil movement called “Hizmet”. On paper, “Hizmet” is a moderate, tolerant, non-violent and pro-dialogue social movement. The variety of associations in media, education, humanitarian work, banking and business associations etc. were established first in Turkey and later in different parts of the world.
But there is another tier, a darker underbelly of this organization. Under the guise of legitimate social service efforts, Gulen and his followers gained access to vast financial resources, human capital, political and social influence.
Such vast wealth and influence have not been accumulated through legal conduct of business. It involved money laundering, bribing and operations through shady firms. It also involved destroying rivals through abusing state authority, which they acquired by infiltrating state structures, including the police, judiciary and finance.
Let me say loud and clear; FETO is a mafia-like cultish organisation, with clandestine political aims.