Lobbyists in the US hired by the Turkish government have responded to “Stop Erdoğan” billboards in New York City’s Times Square with “Stop Gülen” billboards, targeting US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, against whose movement Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been waging a war for about eight years.
Paid for by Turkish rights group Advocates of Silenced Turkey, a US-based nonprofit focused on addressing human rights violations in Turkey, a billboard in Times Square that read “STOP ERDOGAN” drew the anger last week of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which branded it as the work of the Gülen movement. Following the AKP reaction, a Turkish prosecutor launched an investigation into the people responsible for putting up the billboard in Times Square.
Lobbyists working for Erdoğan in the US have taken swift action for a counter attack and sponsored a billboard reading “Stop Gülen” in Times Square. Erdoğan accuses Gülen of orchestrating a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016 that killed 251 people, a claim strongly denied by Gülen.
The same lobbyists also earlier rented a truck that drove around Times Square for three days with Erdoğan images on its digital screen reading, “Love Erdoğan.” AKP-run municipalities in Turkey also began to erect “Love Erdoğan” billboards last week in response to the billboard in Times Square.
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.