Opposition leader calls Erdoğan Turkey’s top Gülenist

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of being the top figure in the political wing of the outlawed Gülen religious group, one of the most prominent terrorist-listed organisations sought by Turkish security forces, T24 reported.

Gülenists are widely thought to have played a key role in a coup attempt against Erdoğan’s government in July 2016.

But the formerly friendly relationship between Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the religious movement came back on the agenda this month when a former Turkish chief of general staff, İlker Başbuğ, accused AKP lawmakers of drafting legislation in 2009 that allowed Gülenist members of the judiciary to prosecute military officers in civilian courts.

Başbuğ was one of hundreds of secularist officers investigated for creating an illegal clandestine organisation to overthrow the AKP government in trials that Erdoğan later admitted were a plot. The president says Gülenists were wholly responsible, but many observers have noted that the trials aided the Islamist-rooted AKP in its struggle against secularist officials who had dominated the state and military.

The AKP and its coalition partners voted down a bill demanding an investigation into the political wing of the Gülen movement.

Erdoğan responded to Başbuğ’s comments by calling on his party’s lawmakers to file lawsuits against the ex-military chief for insulting public officials.

Kılıçdaroğlu kept the heat on the ruling party at a speech to his parliamentary party on Tuesday, saying that after coming to power as prime minister in 2003, Erdoğan had neglected a warning by Turkey’s National Security Council, at the time one of the key drivers of Turkish policy, that the Gülen movement was dangerous and should be treated as a terrorist organisation.

In the years after Erdoğan and the AKP took office, the Gülen movement infiltrated vital state institutions including the security forces, judiciary and military, the CHP leader said.

“I say infiltrated, but they were placed there … They put FETÖ operatives in the most sensitive institutions of the state one by one,” he said, using an acronym commonly used in Turkey to refer to Gülenists.

“The Turkish parliament was used as a means to implement FETÖ’s demands. This paved the way for mass appointments” of Gülenists to state institutions, Kılıçdaroğlu said.

The opposition leader also took aim at Erdoğan for preventing the intelligence chief and chief of staff from appearing before a parliamentary commission that investigated the coup attempt, an act he said amounted to a deliberate attempt to obscure the truth.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s accusations come as no shock to many in Turkey, where the ruling party has been accused of collaborating with the Gülen movement since long before the two sides split when Gülen-linked prosecutors launched corruption investigations into AKP ministers in December 2013. Before that, many AKP lawmakers, including Erdoğan, had expressed admiration for the movement’s leader, Fethullah Gülen.

After the 2016 coup attempt, more than 100,000 public sector workers were dismissed over alleged links to the Gülen movement and tens of thousands were arrested. But politicians have been markedly absent among the victims of the purges.

Nevertheless, supporters of the AKP government took to social media after Kılıçdaroğlu’s speech, making #FETÖnünSiyasiAyağıCHP, “the CHP is FETÖ’s political wing,” the trending topic on Twitter.