Interview: The Implosion of the Erdogan-Gülen Family Devastates Turkey


BERLIN — Special Correspondent for the Mirror-Spectator Muriel Mirak-Weissbach recently interviewed prize-winning author Dogan Akhanli on the recent coup attempt in Turkey and its devastating purge in the country. Akhanli is a German of Turkish descent who escaped the military dictatorship and received asylum in Germany. A prize-winning author of novels and plays, as well as a human rights activist, he has come under attack for having dealt with the Armenian Genocide in his works.

The interview appears below.

MMW: The Gülen movement is accused of being behind the failed coup attempt of July 15, but Fetullah Gülen and Recep Tayyip Erdogan were close allies for a long time. How can this be?

Akhanli: In 2010, I was in prison in Turkey. At the time I was able to read newspapers in my cell. There was a referendum on the Constitution that had been decided after the military coup of 1980. The Erdogan government wanted to change the constitutional law through a referendum. On September 12, 2010 this occurred through the vote of the people. That evening Erdogan publicly expressed his thanks to Gülen, in front of the press. Gülen at the time was a wanted man, living in exile in the United States. As Prime Minister, Erdogan nonetheless must have found it necessary to thank him. There were very strong ties between Erdogan and Gülen. A complicity. Without the Gülen movement, naturally he could not have taken power. This collaboration fell apart in 2013 and since then a power struggle has raged between the two groups. The political and ideological differences between them are unknown to me. It is a power struggle within the Erdogan-Gülen family.

MMW: Since the coup attempt — which Erdogan called a “gift from heaven” — thousands of Turks have been arrested, from the military, police, judiciary, then school and universities, journalists and so on and so forth. Even actors in the Istanbul theatre, I have heard. Schools, media outlets and other institutions have been shut down. How is this to be understood? Is, or was, the Gülen movement so huge, that one could arrest 18,000 and dismiss tens of thousands? Even AKP members are being pursued, for sympathies with Gülen. If this is true, where will it end?

Akhanli: All schools, institutions, foundations and universities that more or less had anything to do with the Gülen movement have been attacked since the failed coup attempt. No matter whether they were communists, leftist liberals or social democrats, or even AKP members, they have been affected. They were, so to speak, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

MMW: What does this mean for the minorities in Turkey? Are they also threatened? Is it true that Gülen was branded as an “Armenian”? How is the situation for minorities at the moment, what is the mood?

Akhanli: This new suspicion, that Gülen is supposedly an Armenian, and that behind the coup attempt there was a Jewish or Armenian lobby, makes the situation more dangerous for the minorities, especially for Christians, Jews and Alevis. The basic problem of Turkey remains in this context: one third of the population is Kurds. And they have no rights. There is a danger that Turkey, which has been considered secular, and under Erdogan, has remained in part secular, may turn into a theocracy. On August 7, three million people demonstrated against the coup in Istanbul. Although the Kurdish movement associated with the HDP also took a clear position against the coup, it was still excluded. This is an issue that has to do with the history of the founding of the Turkish republic: one nation (Turkey), one religion (Sunni Islam) and one language (Turkish). In accordance with this state doctrine, entire Christian populations were exterminated in the process leading up to the founding of the Turkish Republic. When the Republic was established, there remained two large groups: the Turks and the Kurds. Since then Turkey’s assimilation policy has failed. It is an illusion to think that a stable society can be established without rights for the Kurds.

If Erdogan wants to have a future, he will have to sit down with the Kurds and negotiate.

MMW: In Germany there are over three million Turks and we saw recently in Cologne that up to 40,000 took to the streets to support Erdogan and the AKP. The Turkish government has called for the Gülen movement in Germany to be investigated, perhaps that members even be extradited. (It wants America to hand over Gülen himself). If this is true, what are the implications for Germany?

Akhanli: I do not believe that Erdogan wants to take Gülen to court. That would be a huge risk for him. Such a trial against Gülen, and with Gülen, could damage Erdogan severely. He wants to demonize Gülen and lay all the blame for everything on his shoulders. At the moment, the mood in Germany is not favorable to Erdogan. I cannot imagine that the German government would allow itself under these circumstances to extradite real or supposed Gülen followers.

Dogan Akhanli

Dogan Akhanli