United States (US) Spokesperson John Kirby made clear that the US does not consider the Gülen movement a “terrorist organization” in response to a question regarding the politically motivated efforts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to frame the social movement as “terrorist.”
During a daily press briefing on Wednesday, Kirby was asked “Turkey has officially designated the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization. The leader of the group, Fethullah Gülen, is based here in the United States; he lives here. Where does the US Government stand on his organization? Do you support it? You don’t consider it a terrorist organization, do you?”
Kirby replied to the question “The Gülen movement has not been designated as a foreign terrorist organization. We’ve seen the reports you’re talking about, and I’d refer you to Turkish authorities for more on that, on their decisions.”
When asked if whether the US is concerned that Turkey may accuse it supporting not one, but two terrorist organizations, partly referring to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, Kirby said “Well, that’s up for the Turkish officials to decide how they’re going to treat this. Again, we don’t consider it [the Gülen movement] a foreign terrorist organization.”
Another question concerned whether there has been an official extradition request for Fethullah Gülen from Turkey. “We don’t talk, as you know, about the specifics of extradition cases one way or the other. I wouldn’t do that,” Kirby said.
The Gülen movement is a grassroots social initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and carries out charitable activities all around the world, including education, distributing humanitarian aid and providing drinking water especially in African countries.
Last Friday, Erdoğan announced that he is expecting a Cabinet decision that will officially declare sympathizers of the Gülen movement as a “terrorist organization” in order to put them on trial.
Since a massive corruption scandal that implicated then-ministers of the Cabinet erupted on Dec. 17, 2013, Erdoğan and the AK Party government claimed that the graft investigation was a “coup attempt” against his government and accused the Gülen movement of being behind it. The sons of ministers, well-known business people, a district mayor, a director of a state-owned bank, and many high-profile figures, who were arrested as part of the investigation, were released and the prosecutors who initiated the case were later imprisoned as a result of political interference. However, four Cabinet ministers were forced to resign.
The major graft case was closed by other prosecutors who replaced them, with all the charges against politicians and business people being dropped. A parliamentary investigation against the four ministers was also dropped with AK Party votes. The graft probe had implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, members of his family and senior Justice and Development Party (AK Party) figures.
Erdoğan refers to the movement as “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization,” which is used by the government-backed judiciary to frame sympathizers of the Gülen movement. Erdoğan also coined the term “parallel state” after December 2013 to refer to people believed to be inspired by the ideas of Gülen, especially those within the state bureaucracy.
Following the Dec. 17 corruption and bribery scandal, Erdoğan and the government launched a witch hunt against the Gülen movement and its sympathizers. Erdoğan personally declared he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the movement. Thousands of prosecutors, judges and police chiefs were reassigned, dismissed or imprisoned either for taking part in the corruption investigation or based on allegations of having links to the movement. Also there have been many police operations carried out targeting shopkeepers, teachers, members of the judiciary, journalists and police officers who are accused of being affiliated with the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement.
The Gülen movement strongly rejects the allegations brought against it. There is not a court decision which declares the movement as a “terrorist group” either.