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Cablegate: Gulen - Turkey's Invisible Man Casts Long Shadow

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 001722

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/SE AND NEA/I

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/03/2019
TAGS: PREL PTER PGOV PHUM TU
SUBJECT: GULEN - TURKEY'S INVISIBLE MAN CASTS LONG SHADOW

REF: A. ANKARA 1029
B. ANKARA 834

Classified By: Ambassador James Jeffrey, for reasons 1.4(b),(d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Fethullah Gulen remains a political
phenomenon in Turkey. Although "exiled" in Pennsylvania for
the past decade, Gulen's impact continues to expand, aided by
legions of loyalist supporters and a network of elite
schools. The Gulen Movement's purported goals focus on
interfaith dialogue and tolerance, but in the current
AKP-secularists schism, many Turks believe Gulen has a deeper
and possibly insidious political agenda, and even some
Islamist groups criticize Gulen's lack of transparency, which
they say creates doubts about his motives. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Gulen was born between 1938-1942 (varying dates have
been given), and initially served as an imam and as an
employee of Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs
(Diyanet). He established his own movement in the 1970s
based on the teachings of Said Nursi, an Islamic thinker of
Kurdish origin, whose followers are called Nurcus. Gulen
then broke away from the Nursi framework. Gulen's own
philosophy emphasizes the role of science in Islam. He
supports interfaith dialogue and condemns terrorism. In the
past two decades, Gulen has focused primarily on education,
not only in Turkey but around the world. His schools have
earned a reputation particularly in Central and South Asia
for academic excellence and the advocacy of moderate Islamic
views.

Indicted, Then Acquitted
------------------------

3. (SBU) Gulen has been living in the U.S. since 1999 when he
went there ostensibly for health treatments (a heart
condition and diabetes). At the same time, however, he faced
charges in Turkey of plotting to overthrow the state. The
charges were based on a 1986 sermon where Gulen is heard
declaring that "our friends, who have positions in
legislative and administrative bodies, should learn its
details and be vigilant all the time so they can transform it
and be more fruitful on behalf of Islam in order to carry out
a nationwide restoration." This indictment gave his travel
to the U.S. the appearance of his being a fugitive from the
Turkish judicial system. A Turkish Court acquitted him of
all charges in 2006. That acquittal was appealed but the
acquittal was upheld in 2008.

4. (SBU) In the meantime, Gulen had applied for Permanent
Residence status in the U.S. Immigration officials initially
rejected Gulen's application to be classified as "an alien of
extraordinary ability," but a Federal Court ruled in late
2008 that this rejection had been improper. Gulen now holds
a Green Card, and lives in a secluded compound in
Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.

5. (SBU) The core of the Fethullah Gulen Movement is his
network of schools, which extend from South Africa to the
United States. The schools emphasize high academic
achievement, and they openly recruit and provide scholarships
to the brightest students from poor and working class
families. Gulenist schools in Turkey routinely produce
graduates who score in the upper one percent of the annual
university entrance exam. These top graduates often become
teachers themselves. The Gulenist doctrine, with its
conservative and religiously observant undercurrent, has met
fierce hostility in regimes such as Russia, which expelled
the Gulenists en masse in the 1990s.

6. (C) But it is within Turkey that the movement has its
roots, its largest following, and its greatest controversies.
The Gulen Movement includes not only educational
institutions, including the famous Samanyolu ("Milky Way")
school in Ankara and Fatih University, but also the

ANKARA 00001722 002 OF 003


Journalists and Writers Foundation, various businesses, and
media outlets such as "Zaman," "Today's Zaman" (English
language), "Samanyolu TV," and "Aksiyon Weekly." Gulenists
also reportedly dominate the Turkish National Police, where
they serve as the vangard for the Ergenekon investigation --
an extensive probe into an alleged vast underground network
that is accused of attempting to encourage a military coup in
2004. The investigation has swept up many secular opponents
of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), including
Turkish military figures, which has prompted accusations that
the Gulenists have as their ultimate goal the undermining of
all institutions which disapprove of Turkey becoming more
visibly Islamist. (COMMENT: The assertion that the TNP is
controlled by Gulenists is impossible to confirm but we have
found no one who disputes it, and we have heard accounts that
TNP applicants who stay at Gulenist pensions are provided the
answers in advance to the TNP entrance exam. END COMMENT)

Championing the Ergenekon Probe
-------------------------------

7. (C) Gulenist newspapers such as "Zaman" relentlessly
question the validity of the Ataturk legacy and argue that as
an EU aspirant country, Turkey must ensure the diminished
voice of the Turkish military in political issues. These
papers champion the Ergenekon investigation and continually
stress that the traditional dominance of the Turkish military
has been a negative factor in Turkey's history. Not
surprisingly, contacts close to the the Turkish General Staff
openly loathe Gulen, and contend that he and his legions of
supporters are embarked on a ruthless quest not only to
undermine the Turkish military but to transform Turkey into
an Islamic republic similar to Iran.

8. (C) Even among some Islamist organizations, the Fethullah
Gulen Movement seems to have a murky reputation. The former
head of the City Women's Platform, Hidayet Tuksal, told us
that her group regards Gulen positively, because he
disapproves of the use of violence, but that Gulen's lack of
transparency creates doubt about his motives and leads to
suspicions about what lies ahead -- even within the
communities where Gulen is most active. Gulen's purported
main goal is to bolster interfaith dialogue and tolerance,
but the notion is widespread among many circles in Turkey
that his agenda is deeper and more insidious.

9. (C) The Gulen movement has been described as a modernized
version of Sunni Hanafi Islam. It shares this orientation
with "Milli Gorus," the grouping associated with former PM
Necmettin Erbakan, but the two movements are otherwise
distinct: "Milli Gorus" is Turkey-centric; the Gulen Movement
has a broader scope and is more comfortable with the concept
of justifying the means for the end, such as discarding the
headscarf when necessary. Still, there is some convergence:
many of the founders of AKP came from "Milli Gorus," but many
officials within AKP are known to be close to the Gulen
movement.

10. (C) Most discussions in Turkey which touch on Gulen tend
to be somewhat delicate and deliberately artful. Our
interlocutors often seem reluctant to express their views,
seemingly uncertain if it will rebound on them to their
detriment. In addition, the political context for
conversations about Gulen is complicated because President
Gul is himself seen by almost all of our contacts as a
Gulenist, while Prime Minister Erdogan is not. Indeed, some
of our contacts have argued that Erdogan is so firmly outside
the Gulen camp that Gulen loyalists view him as a liability.
At the same time, the Republican People's Party and other AKP
opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party are
quick to accuse the U.S. of working covertly to prop up
Gulen, allegedly to weaken Turkey's secular foundation to
produce a "model" moderate Islamic nation. This accusation
relies on the premise that Gulen was given refuge in the
U.S., and ultimately permanent resident status, despite

ANKARA 00001722 003 OF 003


facing indictment in Turkey for illegal anti-secularist
activities.

11. (C) Gulen has his share of non-Islamic supporters, which
includes the Eucumenical Patriarch in Istanbul. In a recent
conversation with the Ambassador, the Patriarch reported that
he had visited Gulen during his last trip to the United
States and had spent more than an hour together in a
one-on-one discussion. He planned to see Gulen again on his
recent visit to New York. The Patriarch told the Ambassador
he had been "very impressed" with Gulen and commented on the
quality of Gulen schools, including a Gulenist University in
Kazakhstan named for Suleyman Demirel.

Comment
-------

12. (C) Given the current AKP-secularist schism in Turkey
today, it should not be surprising that any Islamist movement
in Turkey would choose to be circumspect about its
intentions. Unfortunately, this simply feeds the reflexive
tendency in Turkish society for conspiracy theories, and
magnifies suspicions about the Gulen movement itself. While
the purported Gulen goals of interfaith dialogue and
tolerance are beyond reproach, we see aspects of concern in
the allegations that the USG is somehow behind the Gulen
movement. Accordingly, we would recommend the following
standard press guidance:

Q:

Why is the U.S. sheltering Fethullah Gulen and doesn't this
mean that the US is promoting a non-secular Turkey?

A:

-- The U.S. is not "sheltering" Mr. Gulen and his presence in
the U.S. is not based on any political decision.

-- Mr. Gulen applied for, and received, permanent residence
in the U.S. after a lengthy process which ended in 2008 when
a Federal Court ruled that he deserved to be viewed as an
"alien of extraordinary ability" based on his extensive
writings and his leadership of a worldwide religious
organization.

-- As a Green Card holder, Mr. Gulen is entitled to all the
privileges which that status entails. His presence in the
U.S. should not be viewed as a reflection of US policy toward
Turkey.

JEFFREY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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