Turkey is no stranger to military coups. Traditionally coups were staged late at night to minimise the possibility of civil resistance, and when successful, which many were; the coups were followed by a period of human rights abuses.
The failed prime-time coup of July 15 is ironic. The putsch was thwarted and the world, together with the Turkish population, applauded the apparent survival of democracy. But in its aftermath the civil government seems to have embraced the very anti-democratic activity and human rights abuses that it claimed to have saved Turkey and its people from experiencing.The Erdogan regime has chosen to suspend the European Convention on Human Rights; has issued state of emergency decrees which cannot be contested in courts of law and instead of identifying the perpetrators of the putsch, has chosen to use all of the state’s resources to harass a movement known for its works of charity and emphasis upon education.
More than a month has now passed since the failed coup and the perpetrators still have not been identified. Instead President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered his judiciary to arrest and detain thousands of people with no evidence of involvement in the coup attempt from many areas of Turkish civil society including teachers, academics, businessmen and members of the judiciary.
King George III once infamously said “a traitor is everyone who does not agree with me”, Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian President is directing most of the government's energy at a global social and civic movement called the ‘Hizmet’, inspired by the teachings of the Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan blamed Gulen for masterminding the coup as soon as he appeared on TV, even while the coup was ongoing. The criticism by Erdogan’s Islamist political group of Gulen and Hizmet has a medium term history and ironically appears to have its genesis in Gulen’s insistence that secularism and democracy are foundational to Turkey’s inner cohesion. I understand Erdogan has previously referred to democracy as a “train which can be got off when the desired destination has arrived”.
Turkey now boasts the dubious honour of having more journalists arrested than any other nation. Hizmet is an apolitical movement primarily involved in education, dialogue and charity, and has an active following in many parts of the world. It has thousands of followers from different religions, nations and walks of life across the globe, and in the last quarter of a century, has developed a positive reputation in all nations of the Turkish diaspora including Australia.
Recently the US State Department confirmed that official documentation has been filed by Turkey for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen. Apparently the documentation provides no evidence of Gulen’s alleged connection to the failed coup of July 15. The Turkish Prime Minister is alleged to have said “friends don’t ask for evidence”. From the outset Gulen has asked for the formation of an international body to investigate the events leading up to the coup attempt, and is willing to accept the findings of the proposed body no matter what the result.
It is clear that Turkey has no conclusive evidence that Gulen or the Hizmet played a role in the coup attempt, presumably because there is none. Rather, the state of emergency declared after the coup has been the perfect opportunity for the AKP to stamp out voices that might be critical of them. Labelled as a member of a terrorist organisation, anybody who is affiliated with the movement is charged, detained without evidence, in many cases their assets are seized and their lives are turned upside down. Amnesty International has expressed its concern about torture and maltreatment of detainees in Turkish prisons and evidence of detainees dying because they could not access their medication is rife. A Turkish Minister Mr Zeybekci, declared at a public rally that the arrested Gulenists “ will beg us to kill them”.
The Turkish diaspora in Australia have also been affected by this environment of paranoia. People are disassociating themselves from Hizmet affiliated organisations, especially its schools, apparently out of fear of the possible consequences of association from the Turkish government.
Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to get to know members of the Hizmet movement and took part in a study tour to Turkey in 2012. I greatly admire the Hizmet leadership I have come to know both in Australia and in Turkey. Their educational work has a non-partisan liberality and freedom about it that one could only wish existed throughout the world. Their charitable work reveals a generosity of spirit that I do not think is the norm within Australian society, at least is not obviously present amongst the wealthy one percent. Their religious outlook is one of deep respect for people of other faith traditions with considerable investment having been made in dialogue. As a Christian leader they expect me to take my Christianity seriously and to demonstrate its values and virtues.
I am saddened to witness the post-coup Turkish developments and the passive manner in which Australia and the rest of the world are watching the massive scale human rights abuses that are now occurring. Neither Turkey nor the rest of the world can afford such a promising civil society movement, inspired from the Muslim world, to be torn apart.