Seven Pieces to Read to Understand the Coup Attempt in Turkey

turkey-coup-attempt-is-no-laughing-matter

The Turkish Parliament After the Coup Attempt (Source: Sheknows.com)

Now that a major thing happened in Turkey, all TV channels in the West are flooded with Turkey “experts”. Also, social media is swarming with the op-eds of the expats living in their cozy bubbles in Turkey and the overrated analysts that are oceans away from the reality.

Assuming that you would like to avoid the righteous wrath of Ziya Meral, I selected some of the best pieces that are written by the people who really know and follow the country. For good quality analyses and stories, you would do well to follow them.

 

  • The view from Taksim Square” by William Armstrong – The times Literary supplement (TLS). William is an İstanbul-based writer and a journalist. He regularly writes a column for Hurriyet Daily News in which he reviews books on Turkey and has a blog that he uses to publish his podcasts/interviews with the authors of the books he reviews.
  • Turkey’s Baffling Coup” by Dani Rodrik – Project Syndicate. Dani Rodrik is a Turkish economist at Harvard University. In 2011 his father in law was jailed in Balyoz inquiry. His and Pınar Doğan’s relentless efforts exposed many unlawful practices -especially those in Ergenekon and Balyoz cases- of the Gülenists nested within the state institutions.
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What is behind Erdoğan’s Palace Fetish?

Definitely, Erdoğan has an obsession with palaces. Journalist Murat Bardakçı recently reported that Yıldız Palace, a 19th century Ottoman palace most famously used by Sultan Abdülhamit II, was now allocated for use of the Turkish presidency. In her last state visit to Turkey, Erdoğan hosted Chancellor Merkel there. Only in İstanbul, presently there appears to be three presidential residences: Huber Villa (Tarabya campus), Çengelköy Villa that is lately renewed and Yıldız Palace. Now I say “villa” and “residence” but you should know that they are actually compounds comprising of many buildings.

Mabeyn Pavillion at Yıldız Palace Compound.

The Great Mabeyn Pavillion at Yıldız Palace.

Çengelköy Villa is also known as Vahdettin Villa, named after the last Ottoman sultan who is regarded as a disgraced figure by many. Mostly because he ordered Atatürk’s death as he opposed İstanbul’s rule in his bid to start war of independence. The sultan eventually left İstanbul by a British vessel. Yet, unsurprisingly, in the “alternative” history writing of the Islamists, he is a revered ruler who actually sent Atatürk off to Anatolia to start the war of independence. But then the sneaky Atatürk betrayed him and abolished the sultanate, Islamists believe. Erdoğan’s choice to utilize Vahdettin Villa says a lot. The same thing goes also for the Yıldız Palace that is associated with Sultan Abdülhamit II who is another a poster boy for conservatives. A very smart leader, Abdülhamit II sought to unite whatever remains of the Ottoman Empire through Islamic identity as the Empire had lost most of its provinces in Europe and held generally Muslim-populated lands. Some Islamists go as far as seeing him as a saint and his rule as an anti-thesis for secular system. In addition to being a figure of greatness, he is also a victim as he was deposed by the progressive Young Turks that restored the Ottoman Constitution of 1876. Of course, Islamists do not know and/or go great lengths to overlook the fact that Abdülhamit was pretty much a European monarch: he loved opera, theater, Sherlock Holmes novels and, according to one of his grandsons Ertuğrul Osmanoğlu, drinking rom.

Changes in Ankara are pretty much in line with those in İstanbul. In an unprecedented move, Çankaya which was built in Atatürk’s time and had been the residence of the Turkish presidents since, was given to the Prime Ministry. In historic Çankaya’s stead, a new palace with 1150 rooms that could be rivalled by only Ceausescu’s palace in size and tastelessness, was built in 2014. The official cost was $615 million but Turkey’s Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) rejected to state the real cost of the presidential complex because it could “hurt the economy”. With a bigger palace came also a much bigger budget: from 55 million Turkish lira in 2008, the Presidency’s budget increased to 397 million ($137.7 million) in 2015. The money wasted was not the only cost, however. The complex was built on Atatürk Forest Farm. The construction destroyed much of the one of Atatürk’s most important legacies, hundreds of trees were cut down. Though from the Gezi Park protests, you may already know that Erdoğan is no big fan of green spaces. Nor is he a fan of the law. So the construction went on despite the court decision to halt it.

Much as I dislike the reasons behind choosing these specific historic structures for use of presidency, I support restoring and renewing them as well as occasionally using them for various state events. That would be a perfectly reasonable way to keep them alive. But does the office of presidency need this many palaces? Or is it one man’s ego that needs them so much? Erdoğan’s supporters seem to believe that the recent presidential extravagance displays “greatness” of Turkey. For them, it is a display of power both in international stage and in the domestic arena, a restoration of the former glory of the Ottoman Empire. Though I think the Ottomans fancied by them so much would have strongly disagreed with them. In the peak of its power, the vast Ottoman Empire was being ruled from Topkapı Palace that was indeed very modest compared to palaces in Europe and Russia. The greatest Turkish architect Sinan, the head architect of Suleiman the Magnificent, never really built a single mighty palace but many mosques, bridges and baths… Until the protocol of 19th century made it necessary, Ottoman emperors did not think to build and live in lavish palaces. Of course, the Empire was weak in the 19th century and perhaps, through the palaces matching those of Europe, it needed to show that it was still in the game. In the 15th and 16th centuries, might of the Empire could be observed in its mosques, military structures, fountains not in its original, practical but extremely modest palaces… So, a look at the history shows that there exists a negative correlation between power of the Turkish state and the level of fancy for palaces.

Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace

Restoring residences of Sultan Vahdettin and Sultan Abdülhamit II as presidential offices, destroying much of Atatürk Forest Farm, abandoning Çankaya as presidential residence and holding state events in İstanbul so frequently as if it were the capital of the country are intensely ideological choices. In the process, laws are ignored, as is economic rationality. The whole thing that is costing too much and gaining nothing for the people, is being presented as a necessary step to increase the country’s international recognition. The people who are still obsessively envisioning an Ottoman comeback are more than willing to swallow this.

Hence, behind every shining object in these palaces, there is a something very rotten.

Turkey: A Disaster and A Leader Beyond Redemption

Funeral of a mining accident victim, Çankırı. (Source: NTV)

Funeral of a victim, Çankırı. (Source: NTV)

First I saw the headline ’20 miners dead’, I was saddened and worried but not too shaken. When Mayor of Manisa told that there were at least 157 dead, I just didn’t want to believe it. ‘We are not exactly a developed country but such things don’t happen here, not on this scale’, I thought. I wished it to be a foolish manipulative move by the opposition-party mayor to hurt the ruling AKP. Clearly, I was in denial. On the Tuesday morning, it was all over the news that more than 200 miners deceased – it was actually on that scale. My sadness turned into rage.

The Prime Ministry declared national mourning for three days. National mourning, a national sense of solidarity, coping with the disaster collectively, feeling the pains of your countrymen… surely sounds very noble and dignified. Alas, that is not totally the case in Turkey. The disaster was followed by more indignities. And the greatest indignities of all goes by the name of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Imagine a prime minister coming into a disaster-hit town and slaps a citizen, his bodyguards horribly beating him afterwards. A prime minister with an army of guards surrounding him threatens the people booing him ‘come on and do it next to me, if you can!’, and whose aide brutally kicks a citizen on the floor who was held by two policemen. A prime minister that cites a mining disaster from Victorian Britain, to make the point that ‘such things happen even in developed countries’.

Is he stupid, is he thinking that people are stupid? Or is it an effect of the cancer some think that he has? I don’t know. Optimist fools still wait for him to be reasonable as he was in the first years of his rule. But no, he just keeps getting worse and worse. More paranoid, more despotic, more unbalanced every day.

Much as I wanted this short piece to display only a solemn grief, it is hard to separate this all from politics. When a man causes a scandal at a funeral, that has to be spoken.

A Possible Game Changer in Turkey’s Presidential Race: The She-Wolf of MHP

Meral Akşener at Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Meral Akşener at Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Turkey will go to polls to choose its first elected president on the 10th of August and still no party officially announced any candidates yet. Rumors are a lot, though. It is considered almost certain that PM Erdoğan will run for president. Whereas what the opposition’s choice will be remains more mysterious. The idea of a common candidate endorsed by both Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Republican People’s Party (CHP) is the hope of many who are weary of Erdoğan’s increasingly egoistical and authoritarian rule. Among the possible candidates mentioned, one name seems more distinctive than the others: Meral Akşener.

Undoubtedly, Akşener, currently serving as Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, is the best option of MHP. She is so adored by her party’s base that some even see her as their next leader. She is nicknamed Asena, that is, according to Turkic mythology, the female wolf that led the Turks out of their legendary homeland of Ergenekon. Unlike most Turkish female politicians, she doesn’t owe her position to male guilt of extremely male-dominated Turkish politics, or shallow and symbolic PR attempts to gain women’s votes. A historian by training, she holds a Ph.D and worked as an academician at three different universities. She has been actively in politics since 1994. She was the right hand of Tansu Çiller, Turkey’s first and to date the only female Prime Minister, and served as Minister of Internal Affairs in her government.

Gender, Modesty and Balkans

She was born in İzmit but her parents are from Drama, Greece. And there has always been a sense of solidarity among the Turks originating from Rumeli that is the European part of the Ottoman Empire. It is hard to give a number but suffice to say that they comprise of a good percentage of the country’s population. Akşener is likely to enjoy their support, if she decides to run for president. Also she addresses women quite masterly. Being able to hold key positions as a woman in Turkey’s harsh and male-dominated political climate has to inspire a special admiration among women. In an interview to daily Vatan in 2007, she described herself as an “ordinary, average Turkish woman”. She has lived a rather modest life, stayed with her husband’s crowded family in the same house for 12 years.

Akşener visiting Tatarstan.

Akşener visiting Tatarstan.

MHP-CHP Alliance?

CHP’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu dismissed the rumors that his party has decided to nominate Akşener but it is unclear whether they made up their minds on the matter. The official results of the 30th March local elections reveal that MHP and CHP have to partner up, if they have a hope of preventing Erdoğan from becoming Turkey’s worryingly strong president as described by his Putin admirer advisor Yiğit Bulut. There are signs that there could be co-operation between MHP and CHP. For example MHP’s leader Devlet Bahçeli talked of a candidate that addresses the all segments of the society and CHP’s leader seems to be open to the idea of nominating someone outside of his party. But the steps -if they are steps- are too slow, too little.

CHP understands that it doesn’t have much chance to consolidate wide support as a party that emphasizes its leftism. That’s why, wisely, it nominated Mansur Yavaş -a former member of MHP- for Mayor of Ankara and almost got the city. Seeing the perks of going a little right, CHP is likely to endorse or nominate a candidate from the right.

In case of a MHP-CHP partnership, HDP -the new pro-Kurdish party- could stand out as the player holding the key to the country’s future. Naturally, they would never support a Turkish nationalist candidate. However, depending on the AKP’s attitude towards the peace process with terrorist PKK, they may support Erdoğan. But HDP’s support could also prove problematic as it carries the possibility of upsetting nationalists thinking to vote for Erdoğan.

Consequently, Turkey’s opposition needs a presidential candidate that could unify non-AKP right and CHP, and also steal votes from AKP. I think, Meral Akşener, arguably the most influential female politician in the country, is the best option of not only her own party but also other opposition parties. With good campaigning and co-operation among opposition parties, she could become Turkey’s Margaret Thatcher and prevent Erdoğan from becoming its Vladimir Putin.

Erdoğan’s War on Koç Empire: How It Really Started and How It Will End

Claire Berlinski, a prominent journalist and a political analyst, has suggested me to write about the squabble between Koç Group (KG) and the government. I have accepted the challenge. So, late I may be but here I am, keeping my promise. On October 11th, Claire sent me Svante E. Cornell’s article “Erdogan VS. Koç Holding: Turkey’s New Witch Hunt” on Twitter which drew the attention of Turkey’s Finance Minister Mehmet Şimsek who dismissed what the title suggests.

I only partly agree with S. E. Cornell. But I strongly disagree with the Minister. Here’s my take.

Genes of the Turkish Bourgeois
When the Turkish Republic was founded 90 years ago, it was in need of a national upper class to realize Atatürk’s plan to have a private sector based economy. Moderately rich trading families enjoyed state support, flourished and over years some of them turned into the conglomerates that are now the biggest players in the Turkish economy. So, Turkey’s billionaires are not 1789 type bourgeois class whose interests historically clashed with those of the ruling class/state. And as a result, they didn’t really develop a tradition of standing up to the governments. Koç Group (KG), the biggest conglomerate of the country, more or less fits to this profile, too. Seeing it challenging the government for people would indeed be a very unusual thing. Though, as I will try to explain, that is not the case at all.

Ali Koç, member of Koç Group's Board of Directors.

Ali Koç, member of Koç Group’s Board of Directors.

People’s Desperation, the King’s Paranoia and Threats
During massive Gezi Park protests, KG’s Divan Hotel opened its doors to the protesters who had been terribly gassed by the police. This immediately sparked indirect and direct threats by the PM Erdoğan to the KG. “We know who sent food supplies to Taksim Square, who sheltered whom at their hotel. We know who collaborates with terror, welcomes it in their hotel. They’ll be brought to account for this.” he said in a speech to his voters. He also pointed out that “it’s against the law to harbor criminals.” In fact, Divan Hotel only did what common courtesy required and helped people, offering them space to breathe and get medical attention. We say ‘people’ or the ‘protesters’ yet the PM has a slightly different terminology (!) For him Gezi protesters aren’t just normal citizens using their rights to assembly and protest but criminals, rodents, looters and modern bandits, therefore helping them was defying his legitimate rule…

Although what Divan Hotel did was just a little more than a common good deed, protesters tended to turn it into a kind of legend. Stories of how Ali Koç heroically said “I’ll fire you all, if you don’t help people” to the hotel’s staff –which he denied–, rumors of him getting into politics –which also turned out to be false–, circulated in social media for quite some time. As politicization in favor of AKP and Gülen Movement got even deeper in judiciary and the police force, and the media ridiculously failed the public; in desperation, people romanticized Divan Hotel story and perhaps, I daresay, they saw the KG as a house of power that could speak for them. This is surely another reason that stirred up the paranoia of the PM whose deputy chairman and top advisor openly expressed that Gezi protests were a coup attempt.

İzmit Facility of Tüpraş.

İzmit Facility of Tüpraş.

Rain of Lawsuits
Then came the lawsuits and inspections… First, a tax probe on Koç-owned gas firm Aygaz and oil refinery Tüpraş, the largest company of Turkey, was launched by the Ministry of Finance. The probe drove the shares of the Koç-owned firms down, causing a 900 million-lira (around 450$ million) fall only in Tüpraş’s value. The reports of the probes being unprecedented and carried out by an army of inspectors, were denied by Finance Minister Mehmet Şimsek and Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, who claimed the inspections on Koç firms were “routine” and not related to Gezi protests. Understandably, because of the timing, what the probes cost to KG and Erdoğan’s open threats, the wave of inspections was perceived by the public as a punishment.

Pro-government daily Star reported that Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs demanded 30 million lira for the land on which Koç University is located and would act against the university. But KG denied the report saying that the land was not rented. Also, the $2.5 billion MİLGEM national warship contract that KG’s RMK Marine won, was cancelled. The decision was made by the Defense Industry Implementation Committee presided by the Prime Minister himself. But I also should point out that even before Gezi Park protests there were signs that RMK Marine would lose the contract, like complaints by suppliers and cheaper offers from other competitors. Another lawsuit accusing Koç and Doğan Group of backing 1997 military intervention was filed. It was initiative of an individual. As I know, the government didn’t make a statement about the case. But we know Erdoğan thinks that KG had an undemocratic influence in Turkish politics. While slamming KG but without specifically giving its name, he said “They were used to the governments that could be controlled. They used to bring down or lift up whomever they want.”

I think it would be wrong to present every lawsuit or a negative report as evidence of a witch hunt, as the details, in some cases, don’t support that argument. So, although there’s enough evidence to suggest there’s great pressure by PM Erdoğan on the KG, the examples above are partly open to interpretation.

F-511 TCG Heybeliada corvette, manifactured by Koç Group's RMK Marine.

Turkish Navy’s TCG Heybeliada (F-511) corvette, manufactured by Koç Group’s RMK Marine.

What is to happen next?
So, how is this going to end? Will Koç Family be finished off like really shady Uzan Family? It’s highly unlikely. Because KG is simply too big to fail, as statement of Ali Koç reveals: “As Koç Holding, we make 9% of the Turkey’s GDP, 10% of (the country’s) exportation and 9.4% of total tax revenues of the government.” Erdoğan would surely not want to kill the goose that lays golden eggs. That’s why the “strategic investment” incentives, mentioned in Minister Şimsek’s tweet, were given to Tüpraş. Not because Erdoğan and his party like KG, but it was not wise to exclude the largest enterprise of the country that has a new expensive project to produce higher performing fuel, from incentives for strategic investments. Especially unwise if that enterprise controls all of Turkey’s refining capacity and the taxes on fuel constitute a big source of revenue for the government. So big that because of this over-taxation Turkish people use the most expensive fuel in the world.

Traditionally, business dynasties get on well with governments and that’s what Koç Family intends to do. Just after Erdoğan accused the KG of making moves against him, Ali Koç explicitly told “We have no goal or desire other than developing Turkish economy, making Turkey the leader of its region and an important player of the global economy.”

In short, Erdoğan’s paranoia made him punish Koç Holding over a humanitarian action of Divan Hotel’s management. It’s not likely that he’ll go further than punishment. But going this far is more than enough to suggest that freedom of enterprise –along with freedom in many other areas– is not sufficiently appreciated by him. He gave good deal of foreign investors second thoughts about Turkey. He revealed that, like the model of presidency in his mind, the way he wants to run the economy is also very Russian-style.

Gülen Schools, Their Goals and How They Are Perceived in Turkey

A scene from a new Turkish school in Sendai, Japan.

A scene from a new Turkish school in Sendai, Japan.

Gülen schools is a strange subject, so much information is actually available on it but not the information you search for. For instance, we don’t even really know how many Gülen schools there are. Because there isn’t an organizational structure that ties the schools directly to Fethullah Gülen. (To get to know him, you should definitely read this piece by Claire Berlinski.) He’s more like an honorary leader who inspired them. The schools are generally founded by members of Gülen Movement (a.k.a. Cemaat in Turkey, meaning “the Communion”) that is neither an NGO nor a group that requires any kind of registration. But in 2011, Helen Rose Ebaugh of University of Houston, said on CNNTürk “the best estimate is that there are around 2000 schools, half of them are abroad.” These schools include universities, language schools, high schools, elementary schools and dersanes – that are privately owned schools that prepare Turkish students for university entrance exam (YGS), public personnel selection exam (KPSS) and so forth…

Gülen schools abroad definitely have more sympathy and respect in Turkey than those at home do. They enjoy quite a lot of intellectual support, not only from notoriously pro-government and pro-Gülen Movement (GM) authors, but also from truly respected names of various sides of the political spectrum.

“Bridges of Peace: The Turkish Schools That Opened to the World”, first published in 2005, contains articles and interviews of twenty seven academicians and writers on Gülen schools abroad, sheds some light on possible goals of the schools. A big proportion of the contributors are well-known supporters of AKP and the GM yet to see some names there might really surprise Turkish readers or informed non-Turkish readers. The first surprising name is the late Bülent Ecevit, former Prime Minister of Turkey, who was leading a left-wing party and was very fond of secularism. The first thing impressed Ecevit who was also a poet, was the importance given to teaching of Turkish language at the schools. For him, Ottoman Empire didn’t bother much teaching Turkish in its lands and these schools are now fixing that very mistake. It can be inferred from his statements on the interview that Ecevit saw Turkish way of Islam as the best alternative to Saudi Arabian and Iranian kinds, which, according to him, do not fit to our age and therefore Gülen schools representing Turkish Islam should be favored. In a trip to Albania he received teachers of a Gülen school there and he said “I know I will be criticized by some, but I appreciate the works done here.” And as he anticipated, he was criticized vigorously. Another name worth mentioning is the late Gündüz Aktan who served as Turkey’s ambassador to Kenya, Switzerland, Greece and Japan respectively, and was an MP from MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). Aktan argues that while judging merits of these schools, internal squabbles should be put aside. He tells how he was amazed by success of the language schools opened in Japan: “First they opened a language school. It was to teach Turkish, then they decided to add courses of other Turkic languages and Russian, imported teachers. When I was leaving Japan in middle of 1998, there were -if I am not wrong- three language schools in three different cities. And I saw reports in the Japanese press that Turkish was ranked as the 4th foreign language that the Japanese were most interested in.” He says that the teachers who made Turkish language popular there in just two years, had a missionary spirit and they were working for very low salaries. “I sometimes even wondered whether they were hungry”, he adds.

Prof. İlber Ortaylı.

Prof. İlber Ortaylı.

İlber Ortaylı, a professor of history who has a huge following in Turkey, also implies that Gülen schools could actually be called missionary schools: “A society that felt disturbed much by the missionary activities in 19th century… now spreads similar schools.” He argues that such schools abroad are a matter of political influence and should be supported, emphasizing “Secular France is behind its Catholic schools. Britain is behind its Protestant schools.” But he also notes that conversion is hardly observed, just like happened at missionary schools within the Ottoman Empire. For Ortaylı, perhaps the biggest perk of the schools is that they would create Turcophile communities in other countries, especially among the elites: “We have seen no Russian who became Muslim. But the kids learn Turkish and grow very fond of Turkey… In future, this will, of course, create a well-educated Turcophile class. Because those are smart kids, selected by exams and are being trained meticulously at low-size classrooms… They embrace Turkish traditions and lifestyle, like showing respect to the elders, being clean and not drinking alcohol… That’s why parents in St. Petersburg and Moscow -including the elites of the cities’ bureaucracy- fancy these schools much.” He also points out that the schools also help Turkish entrepreneurs who do or want to do business in foreign countries and in return, they are glad to make contributions to the schools. There other interesting names in the book: Strictly Kemalist academician Prof. Toktamış Ateş (one of the editors of the book); worldwide famous Kyrgyz author Cengiz Aytmatov and Prof. Büşra Ersanlı who is a socialist and a supporter of pro-Kurdish BDP…

Surely not everyone thinks these schools are such houses of endless goodwill. For instance; some Kemalists and socialists believe that Gülen schools, especially those in Central Asia, are actually tools of American imperialism and they were established to bring the people there a new ideology and identities that are pro-American. But the real dissidence surfaces when it comes to activities of GM within Turkey, which, of course, include its educational works.

To get the view, we need to mention ışık evleri (can be translated as “houses of light”) that are houses where the GM trains university students. These rented houses are supervised by older students called ağabeyler (elder brothers) and ablalar (elder sisters). The GM, in general, selects especially poor, smart and hardworking students when they are preparing for university entrance exam (or much earlier) and when the students get in a university, they transfer them to an ışık house. In these houses, they have to obey their supervisors which often means they have to read certain newspapers like Zaman, journals like Sızıntı; watch TV channels like STV and some religious channels, join religious conversation meetings, study and practice their religion, avoid wearing open clothes and having a girlfriend or a boyfriend… Although they do not bluntly force the students -anyone is free to stay on or leave-, they constantly suggest to pray and be religious. A study titled “Being Different in Turkey: Religion, Conservatism and Otherization” done by Boğaziçi University in 2008, presents some interesting stories from students who stayed in ışık houses and the GM dormitories. A teacher from Aydın complains about one of his/her 6th grade student’s decrease in performance and constant sleepy look. After investigating, the teacher finds out that the student’s dormitory makes him wake up very early for the morning prayer and read books of Said-i Nursi, a deceased cleric that the GM hugely respects. Another teacher from Batman, who found out that one of his students suffers from the same problem, says “The kid wakes up 4:00 am in the morning to perform morning prayer, then studies Arabic. He hardly has any time left for the school’s lessons.” The teacher also points out that the GM “catches” bright students from rural areas when they are at 6th or 7th grade. There are also complaints that some kids estranged and turned hostile to their families after staying at GM’s houses.

And there’s the matter of dersanes. Since public schools ridiculously fail to train their students for university entrance exam (YGS), there are private schools focuses specifically on preparing students for such exams and they’re called dersanes. The GM is known to have many of those. According to a report by daily Cumhuriyet, there are 4.000 licensed dersanes in the country and 60% of them are the GM’s. 80% of dersane publications are also theirs.

In 2005 and 2006, I also attended to a dersane that is said to be tied to Gülen Movement. I chose that school not because I had a great sympathy for the movement but because it wanted the lowest tuition. So my choice was entirely economical which was perhaps a sign of that I would end up being an economist. As I observed, teachers were very warm, friendly and doing their jobs pretty well. I never witnessed any direct indoctrination based on religion or the GM but I have seen some out-of-the-ordinary things, too. For example; there were some religious references even in math problems (like choosing names from Islamic sagas) and in the biology book, along with the evolution theory, there was mention of creation which the teacher preferred to skip… There was a praying room in the dersane, something cannot be had at public schools. Some of the female teachers wore headscarves but not at the class. There were also headscarved students -again something cannot happen at public schools- who were once sent off to their homes when inspectors of the Ministry of Education came to pay a visit. And when we were watching the movie Troy at the dersane’s conference room, a teacher incompetently attempted to censor sex scene of Orlando Bloom and Diane Kruger, which actually made us see the scene twice instead of once. Thus, based on my own observation, I can say that the GM’s dersanes are not such conversion centers. I had two close friends there, one from high school and another I have met there, and all three of us were very very distanced to AKP and the GM. And in 2013, our thoughts on the two remain unchanged for the better.

Of course, there have been more serious developments than the funny little things I have personally seen. For instance; in 2010, head of ÖSYM (Student Selection and Placement Center) Ünal Yarımağan resigned due to allegations of cheating in KPSS (Public Personnel Selection Exam). The allegation was that the questions were stolen and given to GM’s dersanes. After Yarımağan who publicly complained about the changes imposed on ÖSYM by the government was replaced by Ali Demir, about a dozen of scandals occurred including shady exams allegedly tied to the GM and its dersanes and a plagiarism accusation to Prof. Demir. (The British academic who made the accusation accepted a written apology published in a magazine, aborted the investigation on Demir.) A report also revealed that majority of ÖSYM personnel are first and second degree relatives of each other. The scandals stained reputation of ÖSYM that supervises all the exams that select and place personnel for state institutions, and increased existing suspicions about the GM. It’s widely believed these current corruption cases including the ones in the police organization (some of them were revealed and documented in a book by Hanefi Avcı, a former chief of police) are related to the GM. We have a disastrous educational system and many corrupted state officials but in past we at least knew that exams and selection processes were fair. Now hardly anybody thinks so. A poll published in 2011, suggests that 72% of people do not trust ÖSYM and only 18% think that Ali Demir should not resign.

A scene from 10th Turkish Language Olympiads, 2012.

A scene from 10th Turkish Language Olympiads, 2012.

Having said all this, I also see a structure that takes young students early, injects them a certain lifestyle (or in most cases ensures that students retain conservative lifestyle of their parents); helps them get in good universities through providing studying opportunities and shelter either for free or at very low costs; and expects support (financial support or various favors) of the students when they reach good positions in the civil service and private sector.

In conclusion, whether Fethullah Gülen is a benevolent man or not, whether his schools are exporting an ideology based on religion or not, whether they have an ultimate plan of turning Turkey into an Islamic state or not; existence of an entity this big and influential and has its arms and legs in business, police organization and elsewhere in the state; is doomed to alienate others. That is why, while at annual Turkish Language Olympics GM shows off its muscles by shipping its students from 140 different countries and all pro-government media -including the state television TRT- covers the event, a very good proportion of the Turkish society really creeps out. (Though 2013’s event was overshadowed by Gezi Park protests.) Not because they don’t like foreigners learning Turkish; not because, as some would like to assert, they dislike and look down on rural people and Islam and therefore AKP and the GM; but because they feel besieged. And they have very good reasons to feel so.