On the day when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet with his US counterpart, Donald Trump, at the White House, Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen penned an article for prestigious US daily The Washington Post in which he called on Turkey’s European allies and the US to help Turkey stop its slide into authoritarianism and restore its democracy.
Gülen and the movement he inspired are being accused by Erdoğan and the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, which resulted in the killing of 240 people. Gülen strongly denies any involvement in the coup.
In the article, Gülen said the Turkey that he once knew as a hope-inspiring country on its way to consolidating its democracy and a moderate form of secularism has become the dominion of a president who is doing everything he can to amass power and subjugate dissent.
“The West must help Turkey return to a democratic path. Tuesday’s meeting, and the NATO summit next week, should be used as an opportunity to advance this effort,” he wrote.
The Islamic scholar stressed how Erdoğan has systematically persecuted innocent people since the failed coup attempt — arresting, detaining, firing and otherwise ruining the lives of more than 300,000 Turkish citizens, be they Kurds, Alevis, secularists, leftists, journalists, academics or participants of the Hizmet or Gülen movement, the peaceful humanitarian movement with which he is associated.
“As the coup attempt unfolded, I fiercely denounced it and denied any involvement. Furthermore, I said that anyone who participated in the putsch betrayed my ideals. Nevertheless, and without evidence, Erdoğan immediately accused me of orchestrating it from 5,000 miles away,” Gülen said.
According to the Islamic scholar, Erdoğan’s persecution of his people is not simply a domestic matter.
“The ongoing pursuit of civil society, journalists, academics and Kurds in Turkey is threatening the long-term stability of the country. The Turkish population already is strongly polarized on the AKP regime. A Turkey under a dictatorial regime, providing haven to violent radicals and pushing its Kurdish citizens into desperation, would be a nightmare for Middle East security.”
“The people of Turkey need the support of their European allies and the United States to restore their democracy. Turkey initiated true multiparty elections in 1950 to join NATO. As a requirement of its membership, NATO can and should demand that Turkey honor its commitment to the alliance’s democratic norms,” he wrote.
Gülen said two measures are critical to reversing the democratic regression in Turkey.
He suggested that a new civilian constitution should be drafted first through a democratic process involving the input of all segments of society and that is on par with international legal and humanitarian norms, and drawing lessons from the success of long-term democracies in the West.
The second measure Gülen proposed is the development of a school curriculum that emphasizes democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking. “Every student must learn the importance of balancing state powers with individual rights, the separation of powers, judicial independence and press freedom, and the dangers of extreme nationalism, politicization of religion and veneration of the state or any leader,” he said.
Yet, the Islamic scholar said before either of those things can happen, the Turkish government must stop the repression of its people and redress the rights of individuals who have been wronged by Erdoğan without due process.
“I probably will not live to see Turkey become an exemplary democracy, but I pray that the downward authoritarian drift can be stopped before it is too late,” added Gülen.