1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Goodwill for Gulen sympathizers?

Ulrich von Schwerin
June 16, 2017

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) faces growing allegations it's protecting Gulen supporters within its ranks. The opposition is pressuring Recep Tayyip Erdogan to expose the political arm of the group.

Symbolbild Türkei Einschränkung der Meinungsfreiheit
Image: picture alliance/dpa/S. Suna/epa

Even in Turkey, all citizens are equal before the law; however, many Turks are asking themselves whether the sons-in-law of high-ranking AKP members are more equal than others. When he returned as head of the AKP in May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to crack down on followers of Fetullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the United States, regardless of their status or reputation.

Erdogan said that he would go after whoever was involved in the treason - as he called to the failed coup on July 15 - even those closest to him. He blamed the coup attempt on his former political ally Gulen and his followers.

AKP leaders are now being accused of going easy on their own party members after the sons-in-law of Bulent Arinc and Kadir Topbas were released from prison shortly after their arrest. Arinc, along with Erdogan, is one of AKP's co-founders and served as Turkey's deputy prime minister between 2009 and 2015, and Topbas is the mayor of Istanbul. Their sons-in-law were arrested because they managed organizations that were associated with the Gulen movement. Nonetheless, they were out of prison after a few days.

Bildkombo Bülent  Arinc / Kadir Topbas
Arinc and Topbas have been accused of giving special treatment to their sons-in-lawImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan/S. Feval

Thousands behind bars

Authorities cited health problems as a justification for the release of Topbas' son-in-law. Arinc's son-in-law was let go because he had a fixed address. The Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and other opposition factions had little sympathy for the two men.

"Do our imprisoned members of parliament, unionists and workers whose homes we visit every day not have a fixed address?" asked HDP spokesman Osman Baydemir. The case will go down in legal history as the "son-in-law ruling," he added.

More than 50,000 people have been imprisoned since the July coup attempt. Most of those detained have been accused of belonging to the Gulen movement; others of being associated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Among them are thousands of members of the military, police, judges, journalists and academics. Many have been waiting for months for charges; only a handful have been tried. Quite a few of them suffer from health problems, but none of them has been spared detention.

Türkei Festnahmen von mehr als tausend Gülen Anhängern NEU
Thousands of people in Turkey have been imprisoned for their alleged ties to the Gulen movementImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/O. Duzgun

Equal rights for all

"While 159 journalists have been imprisoned on fabricated allegations, another person is released. We cannot accept this," said the chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, after Topbas' son-in-law was released. Kilicdaroglu also accused the AKP of influencing the judiciary.

Devlet Bahceli from the ultra-right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) demanded that everyone be treated equally before the law and that "there be no pardoning of influential people." He went on to say that it is the duty of the government to uncover the "political connections" to the Gulen movement.

The opposition has long demanded that the political arm of the Gulen movement be exposed and questions why countless journalists, university professors and teachers have been jailed while not a single politician has been accused of being a Gulenist. "They have found all of them, but not one single politician. What a miracle!" scoffed Kemal Kilicdaroglu. While the government accuses the Gulen movement of having established a parallel state, the AKP's opposition accuses the ruling party of having appointed Gulenists as government officials.

The wives of the imprisoned Turkish journalists

Allegations of a 'controlled coup'

AKP leaders do not want to be reminded of the fact that Erdogan and Gulen were close allies for a long time until their falling out in 2013. The opposition suspects that many Gulen followers are in the AKP and that some party members may have been involved in the coup attempt. "Who would have ruled the country if the coup had been successful? Where is the political arm of the coup?" asked Kilicdaroglu, who has accused the AKP itself of being the actual political arm.

For months, Kilicdaroglu has been talking about a "controlled coup." According to his highly explosive allegations, AKP leaders knew about the coup plans but knowingly let the Gulenists walk into a trap. However, Kilicdaroglu has no evidence to back his claims and his accusations are often nothing more than vague insinuations. He also cannot explain the reason why Erdogan would be lenient with the Gulenists - of all people in his party - if he actually protected the coup plotters in order get rid of his internal rivals.

Türkei Protest von Anwälten
Lawyers in Turkey have protested against the imprisonment of their colleaguesImage: DW/A.E. Duran

Questions remain

Nonetheless, Kilicdaroglu's criticism has struck a nerve. To this day, the government has not answered many questions regarding the course of events on the day of the coup attempt. Columnists still write about the many peculiarities, like why General Hulusi Akar, the highest ranking member of Turkey's military, and secret service chief Hakan Fidan did not act more quickly when an officer passed on warnings of coup plans. Why was Erdogan, who was out of town on vacation, only told about the coup attempt hours later?

The parliamentary inquiry commission on the coup attempt has also been harshly criticized, as it has not yet submitted a report. The fact that key witnesses, such as Akar and Fidan, were not heard has also raised suspicion. MHP Member of Parliament Mehmet Erdogan recently criticized the fact that the commission has dismissed the most insightful information. It not clear whether someone had been informed about the coup plans in advance, he said, adding: "The night of the coup remains in the dark."