Who really has been trying to take over Turkey for years?

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The History of Erdoğan and Gülen

Fethullah Gülen, the alleged mastermind of July’s events, currently lives in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. After a public falling out with Erdoğan in 2013, the Turkish government has consistently accused him of constructing a “parallel state” within Turkish society. These claims are not entirely baseless. Gülen and his followers hold immense influence around the world by owning multifarious businesses, running charter schools (including the New Harmony Schools in the US), and lobbying governments around the world.

Gülen has been living in exile since the 1990s inside the United States. Given his close association with Erdoğan for nearly a decade and actually being one of the AKP’s closest political allies until recently, it is strange to see that he rarely visited Turkey even during his period of close relationship with the government. During this time, both groups had a common enemy, the secular elites, known as Kemalists, which staunchly oppressed the underrepresented Anatolian majority and firmly controlled the military and civilian government.

After the decisive Sledgehammer and Ergenekon trials, many of the Kemalists were eliminated. At this point though, a divergence of interests emerged with Erdoğan and Gülen both presenting opposing views on the future of Turkish politics and society. Keep in mind that in order to replace the Kemalists, many Gülenists took their spots in institutions such as the military, police, and judiciary during the alliance. The escalating tensions between Erdoğan and Gülen culminated in the releasing of alleged evidence of corruption within the AKP by Gülen’s followers in 2013.

With the 2013 corruption scandal and subsequent Gezi Park Protests, it became evident that Erdoğan and Gülen had irreconcilable differences. Gülen ostensibly wanted to eliminate Erdoğan by destroying his public popularity and then removing him from office. Given then Prime Minister (now President) Erdoğan’s strong support amongst the public for his actions in empowering the Muslim majority and steering Turkey into becoming an economic powerhouse, his counter accusations against Gülen’s attempt to undermine the AKP worked.

Since 2013, Erdoğan and Gülen have incessantly been quarreling over control of Turkey. Erdoğan sees him as a dangerous enemy and since 2013 immediately began a campaign to cleanse the state of Gülen’s sympathizers. From shutting down his schools to labelling his movement (known as Hizmet) as a terrorist organization, Gülen’s influence began to rapidly dwindle.

Seeing the opposition to Gülen and the damage being done to his organization, it is not implausible to say that his followers actually initiated the coup in an effort to save himself. Erdoğan and Gülen have openly been in an internal power struggle over the future of Turkey. Since the coup failed, it will be interesting to see how the events will play out in the coming months. Erdoğan has purged almost 70,000 people and issued an extradition request for Gülen while Gülen himself is now strongly opposing the Turkish government’s official statements.

This is an introductory installment on a series of the dynamics and development of Turkish politics.