Turkey fights lobbying war in the U.S.

The Turkish government is engaged in a “lobbying war” against followers of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen in the United States, according to Liz Essley Whyte’s report for the Politico news site.

Turkey blames Gülen and his followers, which it terms the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation”, for a series of overt and surreptitious attacks on its government, culminating in the July 2016 coup attempt.

Since then, thousands of suspected Gülenists have been jailed in Turkey under the ongoing state of emergency, and Turkey has also been aggressively pursuing them overseas.

Gülen, 76, resides in a vast estate in Pennsylvania, and his organisation operates educational companies around the world, including nearly 200 charter schools in the United States. The Gülenists have lobbied U.S. lawmakers extensively to support these schools, including funding tours of Turkey for at least 151 state legislators, Whyte reports.

The Turkish government has retained the services of Amsterdam and Partners LLP, a law firm specialising in cross-border disputes and white collar crime, in an effort to counter the Gülenists’ influence in the United States.

The law firm is spearheading Turkey’s campaign to “inform state leaders of what it calls “suspect” hiring of Turkish teachers and contractors” by the charter schools.

Ankara has also engaged an experienced political campaigner and lobbyist, Jim Arnold, to work against Gülen’s schools, according to Whyte's report.

A spokesman for Gulen, Alp Aslandogan, also apparently spoke to Politico and said they are not worried about Amsterdam’s efforts with state officials because he is pushing “a toxic brand” — Erdogan. “The moment they realize it they will see the political and monetary motivation behind this,” he said. 

While spokespeople for the schools who spoke to Politico have said they aren’t affiliated with Gulen, Aslandogan told they were “started by individuals who are sympathetic to the Gulen movement.” He said the schools should be judged by their performance, and “by and large, they are doing a very good job.”