This chapter recounts in chronological order the socio-political developments of the Republican era. The narrative provides the background material necessary for the analysis that follows in later chapters. Interspersed within it is a parallel narrative, offering a very summary outline of the formative events in the history of the Gülen Movement. I shall point in particular to the ideas, attitudes and events of this period that have shaped and influenced the various kinds of mobilization in Turkey; the distinguishing characteristics of the socio-political context in which the Gülen Movement emerged and has worked; and key events in the period up to 1994 that directly affected Gülen and the Movement as collective actor. (For reasons that will become clear, the events after 1994 are best treated separately.)
Connecting the rise of movements only to their immediate socio-political context does not adequately explain the full range of collective action – very different kinds of movements can and have emerged from the same background conditions. Also, it is unsatisfactory to study a movement in one context in terms derived from the study of other movements in a different context, because variations in structure, laws, policies, and culture lead to differences in strategy, leadership styles and resource mobilization. With respect to the emergence, dynamics and outcomes of any social movement in Turkey (especially in the case of the kind of multi-purpose civic action that characterizes the Gülen Movement), the political system, its institutions and processes, and the larger social and cultural ethos, constitute highly significant material factors. That is why it is necessary to trace the seeds of collective action in Turkey to the early Republican years, when a new state and society formed. To understand contemporary social phenomena in Turkey, we need to understand the changing circumstances in which the attempt was made to establish, and then hold on to, a nationalist, laicist, and Westernized republic after the end of the Ottoman Empire.
Crises and conflicts; demands for modernization
1. The Republican era: One-party rule
In July 1923, the Turks won sovereignty over eastern Thrace and all of Anatolia. In August, the delegates in the national Parliament fell to infighting over the political course and nature of the future regime. After lengthy disquisitions and eventual intimidation by Mustafa Kemal, Parliament abolished the sultanate and deposed the sultan but retained the caliphate with no political authority. However, many in Parliament did try to invest the caliphate with such authority, aiming thereby to retain influence with other Muslim lands and populations. Then Mustafa Kemal proposed an amendment and, on October 29, 1923, transformed the nation into ‘the Republic of Turkey’. In 1924, at his urging, Parliament abolished the caliphate, the Ministry of Religious Endowments and the office of Shaykhulislam (the highest religious authority) and assigned their responsibilities to two newly established directorates under the government. It abolished the Ministry of the General Staff, and shut down sharia courts and madrasas. The Law on the Unification of Education placed religious secondary education under the Ministry of Education, reorganized the madrasa at the Süleymaniye Mosque (Istanbul) as a new Faculty of Divinity and enforced coeducation at all levels.
These changes put the military and religious cadres under governmental control and the potential for an Islamic state (the most likely challenge to the legitimacy of the Republican regime) was thereby quashed. In addition, Parliament accepted that Turkey was no longer a world power – its frontiers were to be bounded by the Turkish-speaking population of the Republic – and it would not entertain any vision of transnational leadership in any respect. The initial, occasional and individual, reactions to these changes were suppressed by the state apparatus. When, later, 32 parliamentarians, not happy about the changes, broke with the party and formed the Progressive Republican Party, Mustafa Kemal’s People’s Party changed its name to the Republican People’s Party (RPP).
The partition of the state at Sevres, the invasion by the Allied Forces, and the British influence on Kurdish nationalist aspirations, nurtured a peculiar Turkish nationalism and aggravated relations with the Kurds, who previously had for the most part supported the Turkish nationalists. A law passed in 1924 forbidding publications in Kurdish widened the chasm between the Turkish nationalists and the Kurds. When a Kurdish nationalist rebellion in religious garb, led by Sheikh Said, erupted in 1925, the Turkish government issued a law on Maintenance of Order, granting itself extraordinary powers to ban any group or publication deemed a threat to national security. That threat has been used repeatedly ever since by defenders of the system and vested interests. A good example was the establishment in 1925 of the Independence Tribunals (ITs). Enabling the execution of 1,054 people, the ITs played a significant role in suppressing rebellions – the Sheikh Said rebellion, for instance, was ended quite quickly with his arrest and execution.
ITs also snared many others, including Said Nursi, the most important Islamic thinker of the Republican era. Nursi was an Islamic modernist whose writings mapped out an accommodation between the ideas of constitutional democracy and individual liberty and religious faith. During the war years, he had fought against the foreign invasion and for independence, and spoken out against both modern Islamic authoritarianism and economic and political backwardness and separatism. His ideas for a modern Islamic consciousness emphasize the need for a significant role for religious belief in public life, while rejecting obscurantism and embracing scientific and technological development. Although he was not involved in any rebellions, ITs sentenced him, along with many hundreds of others, to exile in western Anatolia.
In 1926, the government declared that it had uncovered a conspiracy to assassinate Mustafa Kemal and, in the next two years turned the ITs on all its enemies. All national newspapers were closed and their staff arrested on grounds of compromising ‘national security’. The Progressive Republican Party was shut down, its leaders accused of collaborating in the conspiracy and arrested for treason. Under public pressure several prominent figures were released but others, though they had once worked closely with Mustafa Kemal, were executed.
A strongly Kemalist Parliament – for all practical purposes a one-party state – enacted a series of measures between 1925 and 1928 to secularize public life. Mustafa Kemal believed that Turkey must renounce its past and follow the European model of progress. He accordingly set about eliminating all obstacles to a laicized and Westernized nation-state.
Dervish houses were permanently closed, their ceremonies, liturgy and traditional dress outlawed. Kemal publicly denounced the fez and the hijab (veil) as symbols of politicized Islam, as the headgear of a barbarous and backward religiosity, as a foreign innovation. Asserting that Turkish peasant women had traditionally worn only a scarf around their hair, he depicted the hijab as representing subordination of women by a reactionary political ideology. Parliament passed a law requiring men to wear brimmed hats and outlawed the fez. Women were given the right to vote and stand for election. The day after Christmas 1925, Parliament adopted the Gregorian calendar, in place of the Islamic one, as ‘the standard accepted by the advanced nations of the world’, and it changed the Muslim holy day of Friday into a weekday, and instituted Sunday as a rest day.
The following year (1926), Parliament repealed Islamic Law and adopted a new Civil Code, Penal Code and Business Law, based on the Swiss, Italian, and German codes, respectively. In 1928, it deleted from the constitution the phrase ‘the religion of the Turkish state is Islam’. The constitution did not yet state that Turkey was a secular state – that was to come in 1937 – but the intent was clearly to secularize, and to make Westernized forms of social order more visible in, the public sphere.
In 1928, the new alphabet based on the Latin was accepted instead of the Arabic script. It was argued that the new alphabet would help raise literacy. If conceivably true, the low literacy rate could hardly be blamed on a script that had served written Turkish well for about a thousand years. The low levels of literacy were more particularly the result of the prolonged wars, an ineffective system of public education and the belief that having an effective one was an unnecessary luxury during wartime. Rather, reform of the script had historical, cultural, and political intent: use of the Arabic script had identified the Turks as belonging to Islamic civilization and history; use of the Latin characters would identify them with the direction of European civilization and modernity. At a stroke, the new regime totally renounced its past and embraced the revolutionary concept of history. In not learning the Arabic script, the children of the Turkish revolution would also not learn Islamic tradition and, indeed, would be unable to read its greatest literary monuments, or the documents produced only a few years before in the Ottoman Empire.
In the 1920s, the State looked to develop an indigenous, elite entrepreneurial class that would be loyal to and defend the new status quo – a nationalist bourgeoisie. In 1927, it provided to these privileged private citizens transfer of state land, tax exemptions, state subsidies, discounts on transport, and control of state monopolies. During the 1930s these citizens formed the core of the statist-elitist-laicists, whose actions will come up in the arguments in this and later chapters [chapters 3 and 4]. They were also the first of the protectionist vested interests to exploit State-owned Economic Enterprises (SEEs) and other state resources.
The shift to protectionism and statism hardened as the 1930s wore on and deepened the effect of the ensuing economic woes: agricultural prices collapsed causing peasants to fall into severe debt; industrial wages stagnated. The Republican revolution had reached a deadly plateau. Government economic policy drew fierce criticism and occasionally led to violent public reaction. The state centralized economic planning and organized several investment banks as joint stock companies to provide credit to agriculture, develop the mining and power industries, and finance industrial expansion. It also monopolized communications, railroads, and airlines.
3. Cultural revolution
The Republican regime was both deliberate and selective in what it remembered and appropriated of the past. It linked the emerging national identity to Anatolian antiquity. The history and language reforms were part of a sus tained campaign to erase the pre-existing culture and education. Mustafa Kemal personally directed the scientific and literary activity of the later 1920s and 1930s. In 1932, he founded the Turkish History Research Society and charged it with discovering the full antiquity of Turkish history. He theorized that Anatolia had been first settled by Sumerians and Hittites, whom he claimed as Turkic peoples that had migrated from the central Eurasian steppes carrying with them the underlying building blocks of ‘Western civilization’. Also at his command, a Turkish Language Society was established in the same year. The ‘ Sun Language Theory’ was developed, asserting that Turkish was the primordial human tongue from which all others derived. These theories made a deep, enduring impression on the generations that grew up on the textbooks teaching them. Education was designed to make pupils and citizens proud of their Turkish identity and suspicious of the Ottoman past, while also countering Western prejudices about Turks and Turkey. The explicit aim of the Turkish Language Society was ‘to cleanse the Turkish language of the accumulated encrustations from the Arabic and Persian languages’ and from the conceptual categories of the Islamic intellectual tradition. In the following decades the Society’s officials made a concerted effort to introduce substitute or newly coined words. They were largely successful. The current generation of Turkish speakers find works from the early Republican era – including, ironically, the speeches of Mustafa Kemal himself – unintelligible unless translated into contemporary Turkish. Publication in languages other than Turkish was forbidden. In the 1920s, eighty percent of the words in the written language derived from words of Arabic and Persian origin; by the early 1980s the figure was just ten percent. By providing historical roots outside Ottoman history, the Republic’s ideology combined the goals of Westernization and Turkish nationalism, claiming that Western civilization really originated in a Turkic Eurasian past, which the Ottoman Empire had obscured. As political scientist Binnaz Toprak sharply observed, these policies produced ‘a nation of forgetters’.
In 1933, a law reorganized the Darulfunun (literally, ‘home of the arts’, an Ottoman university founded in the fifteenth century) into Istanbul University and purged its faculty in favor of those supportive of Mustafa Kemal’s program for national education. In 1934, the State required all citizens to adopt and register family names. Many potentially useful administrative advantages might well be imagined from a system of alphabetized family names, but the change expressly required that the names be authentically Turkish: names derived from Arabic or Persian roots, or from other ethnic origins (Jewish and Armenian, for example), were not permitted. The measure thus reinforced the national, ethnic identity of the citizens, as distinct from (in particular) their religious identity. The state effectively bound the personal destiny and identity of its citizens to that of the nationstate. In 1936, the government monopolized the authority to broadcast. At the same time, nationalists were advocating the use of Turkish in Islamic liturgy. Parliament established a fund to produce the Turkish version of the Qur’an; Atatürk encouraged the use of Turkish for mosque prayers, Friday sermons and for the call to prayer. After some public resistance (and violent reactions from the state to this resistance), the prayer liturgy remained in Arabic, but the call to prayer began to be done in Turkish, and this was made compulsory in 1941.
The Republican People’s Party (RPP) established ‘ People’s Houses’ and ‘ Village Institutes’. By 1940, more than four thousand People’s Houses had been founded to facilitate the development of popular loyalties and to communicate to citizens their mission and values as formulated by the regime. In 1935, Mustafa Kemal demanded a new strategy for education, which went nation-wide in 1940 through the Village Institutes. The graduates were expected to teach and emphasize techniques of agriculture and home industry, and to inculcate the fundamental ideology of the Republic. These Institutes were widely resented. The people accused the mastermind behind the Institutes of being a communist and the Institutes of being agents of one-party rule and atheistic. They mistrusted the system also on account of its control rather than transformation of their affairs, as it consistently failed to realize land redistribution or relieve them of the power of landlords.
In 1931, Mustafa Kemal had outlined his party (RRP) ideology in six ‘fundamental and unchanging principles’, declaring it to be ‘republican, nationalist, populist, statist, laicist, and revolutionary,’ concepts incorporated into the constitution in 1937 as definitive of the basic principles of the state. While the political system and ‘ideology’ of Turkey remains Kemalism or Atatürkism, the last three of the six principles became contentious over time. ‘ Etatism’ or ‘ statism’, meaning the policy of state-directed economic investment adopted by the RPP in the 1930s, was not universally accepted as a basic element of Turkish nationhood and eventually abandoned. ‘ Laicism’ or ‘ secularism’ has been variously interpreted by those at different points on the Turkish political spectrum. It refers in fact to the administrative control of religious affairs and institutions by the state – rather than to separation of ‘state’ and ‘religion’ – and to the removal of official religious expressions from public life, but it also implied in principle freedom, ‘within these bounds’, of religious practice and conscience. ‘ Revolutionism’ – in much later years replaced by the term ‘reformism’ – as one of the least articulated principles, suggests an ongoing openness and commitment to change in the interests of the nation. In reality, as Turkish history since the early days of the Republic has repeatedly shown, some things can hardly be discussed, let alone changed.
Sociologist Emre Kongar considers the Turkish social and cultural transformation as unique – in the totality of its ambition and in its success in replacing, with a synthesis of Western and pre-Islamic Turkish cultures, the previously dominant Islamic culture of an Islamic society. However, the drastic reforms – from grand political structures to the everyday matters of eating, dressing and celebrations – pushed through in such a short period of time, would need a longer period for assimilation. They were not all welcomed but, to the contrary, provoked hostile reactions, which has had the effect of enduringly politicizing certain issues in Turkey.
4. İnönü, ‘the National Chief’ and ‘Eternal Leader’
After the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1938, his reforms were consolidated by his successor, İsmet İnönü. Parliament granted İnönü the titles of ‘the National Chief’ and ‘the Eternal Leader’, with enhanced powers in anticipation of possible challenges to the regime, powers much greater than those of the last two Ottoman sultans. The Second World War began a year later. İnönü’s forceful use of the crisis ensured, through imposition of martial law in much of the country, the maintenance of the Kemalist structure, and it kept Turkey out of the war.
During the war years there were shortages of basic goods and cash, as well as inflation. The government imposed an extraordinary ‘ capital-wealth tax’ on property owners, farmers, and businessmen in 1942. The tax schedules were not prepared with formal income data but left to the personal estimates of local bureaucrats, who divided taxpayers according to profits, capacity, and religion – Muslim, non-Muslim, Foreigner, and Sabbataist (Jewish converts). Many were financially ruined by this tax, against which no appeals were admitted. Resisters were, after arrest, deported or sentenced to hard labor. The Turkish financial world was severely shaken. In 1944, İnönü suppressed student protest movements against his policies. Prominent figures were arrested and charged with ‘plotting to overthrow the government’ and to bring Turkey into the war on Germany’s side.
Turkey was still underdeveloped: there were shortages of tractors and paved roads; a mere handful of villages had electricity; barely a fraction of the country’s agricultural potential had been realized. Villagers resented the increased state control, the increased taxation, and the symbols of state-imposed secularization. Wartime price controls destroyed their profits. In addition, while already poor and over-taxed, villagers were forced to build schools, roads, and facilities for masters who often turned out to be aloof mouthpieces of the hated regime. The military police violently suppressed dissent. In the towns, the appalling economic conditions, censorship of the press, and restrictions on personal freedom, fed a growing exasperation. Even after signing the UN Charter, Turkey prolonged martial law for more than a year, press censorship remained heavy, and no labor union activity was tolerated. Anti-government sentiment grew accordingly: state civil servants who had suffered heavily from inflation, and businessmen, both Muslim and Christian, who had carried the burden of the capital tax, united in opposition to the single-party authoritarianism.
Four parliamentarians, Celal Bayar, Refik Koraltan, Fuad Köprülü, and Adnan Menderes, formally requested that the constitutional guarantees of democracy be implemented. Köprülü and Menderes published articles in the press critical of the RPP. They and Koraltan were expelled from the party; Bayar resigned his membership. Following domestic and external pressures, İnönü in 1946 allowed the four dissidents to form the Democrat Party (DP). The DP served as an umbrella under which all who mistrusted or opposed the RPP government sought refuge and voiced the resentments that had been building up over previous years. Then, before the DP was able to organize fully, the RPP called early elections in May 1946, which it won.
However, the victorious RPP all but split in a tussle between its single- party statist and its reform-minded members. The RPP leader was forced to resign, and the party adopted a new development plan. Turkey joined the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and then implemented some economic and political corrective measures. The hated founder and head of the Village Institutes was relieved of his duties. The Education Department decided that religion could be taught in schools, and a Faculty of Divinity opened in Ankara in 1949. Under international pressure since signing the UN Charter, the RPP also relaxed its attitude toward popular Islam. Even so, in the 1950 elections, it won only 69 seats as against the DP’s absolute majority of 408.
It is during this period, in 1941, that Fethullah Gülen was born, in a village in Erzurum, eastern Anatolia. His parents took charge of his early education and religious instruction. There were few opportunities for a general secular education for ordinary Turkish people at this time. Fethullah Gülen’s parents sent him to the nearest state primary school for three years. However, because his father was assigned by the state to a post as preacher and imam in another town, one that had no secondary school, Fethullah Gülen was unable to progress to secondary education. Although at this time mosques and congregational prayer were allowed, all other forms of religious instruction and practice were not. Even so, Fethullah Gülen’s parents, like many other ordinary Turkish people, kept up the Turkish Islamic tradition and made sure that their children learned the Qur’an and basic religious practices, including prayer. They avoided confrontation with the authorities and the regime, concealing the fact that they were providing elementary Islamic instruction to their own and their neighbors’ children.
5. Democrats, 1950–1960
In 1950 power passed from a single-party dictatorship to an elected democratic government. But then something happened that would recur in different guises to haunt Turkey right up to the present: top army officers offered to stage a coup d’état to suppress the elected government and restore İnönü to power. For fear of an international intervention, İnönü declined. The Democrat victory was received with jubilation; Bayar became the President, Menderes the Prime Minister.
From 1948 to 1953, production, especially in the agricultural sector, GDP and economic growth, all boomed. More than 30,000 tractors were imported, which farmers could finance through credits; dams were built; cultivated land increased by more than fifty percent and total yields swelled; major cities were linked to a national highway system for the first time; the miles of paved highways quadrupled and improved feeder roads made it easier for thousands of newly imported trucks to get farm produce and goods to market. In these years the DP presided over a period of lower cost of living, increasing production and employment, tax reform, customs reforms, and support of private capital and foreign investment.
Then, from 1954, overall economic growth slowed. The expansion had been financed with borrowed money and fuelled by splendid harvests. With low levels of hard currency, the country was left with large trade and balance of payments deficits. In 1955, import restrictions returned and foreign investors refused requests for new loans. The privatization program never got off the ground. The largest firms were still the SEEs. The government’s building of cement plants, dams, and highways all at the same time was simply trying to do too much. In September, the attempt of Greek Cypriots to unite with Greece caused riots in Istanbul and Izmir. When thugs attacked Greek merchants, martial law was declared. Some of the media began to act the role of an opposition party. The government threatened to prosecute the publication of news that could ‘curtail the supply of consumer goods or raise prices or cause loss of respect and confidence in the authorities’. Two daily newspapers were closed for doing just that.
The largest industrial conglomerates in today’s Turkey had their origins in this period. Mechanization of agriculture forced surplus laborers to migrate to the cities in search of work. Urban traders and businessmen accumulated enormous wealth and clamored for political leverage proportionate to their economic standing. The Confederated Trade Unions of Turkey also expressed the desire for greater political participation. As the DP identified with free enterprise and free expression of religious sentiment, it attracted many of the successful entrepreneurs and the conservative peasants. However, the rapid economic growth had had social consequences, in particular rousing political envy among those who felt threatened, that, in its enthusiasm for the boom, the government had failed to foresee. The later years of the period were characterized by thugs, students and security forces fighting on the streets, with media galvanizing discontent on certain issues in favour of vested interests – recurrent motifs in the country’s modern history.
Particularly ominous was the growing resentment of the established ‘Republican’ bureaucratic, military, and intellectual elites, whose laicist and statist assumptions about national life were being challenged by democratically oriented policies. The ostensible reason for the military officers’ resentment was that their salaries did not keep up with inflation. In 1950 the DP government, wanting to purge the revolutionary core in the army general staff, discharged the top brass with ties to İnönü. Then in 1953, uncertain of the goodwill and potential neutrality of the university faculties, it prohibited university faculties from political activity by law. A 1954 law introduced an age limit which forced faculty members and some judiciary to retire – these were the Republican cadre, then over sixty, who had been in post for twenty-five years.
Democrats looked to thread a way between the pressures from constitutional secularism and their electoral base. In 1950, they ended the twenty- seven-year ban on religious broadcasting with twenty minutes per week of Qur’anic recitations on radio, and introduced religious teaching into the public school curriculum. More Imam-Hatip schools were opened and the call to prayer (adhan) was once again made in Arabic. The unloved People’s Houses and Village Institutes were closed. Defaming Atatürk was made a criminal offence after a few busts of him were smashed. The courts found the recently organized Nation Party guilty of using religion for political purposes and dissolved it.
In spite of the DP’s concessions to the secularists and statists, conditions became strained. The defenders of the status quo in Turkey (who will come up again in the later parts of this narrative) counter-mobilized against the elected government and civil society. Citing the economic downturn, displeased businessmen and academics withdrew their support for the DP. A dean at Ankara University delivered a ‘political lecture’ and was dismissed; students were mobilized for protests; some academics resigned. From 1955 onwards, officers in the armed forces began noticeably to conspire against the government.
Discontent in the military stemmed from complicated social roots. Since the end of World War II, the prestige of a military career in Turkey had slowly declined. Democratization had marginalized those accustomed to playing a central role in the country’s affairs. A small number of officers within the army formed a kind of oppositional, reactionary movement against the elected government, incorporating revolutionary ideology into the training of cadets and junior officers. Menderes, wary of the influence of the officers and İnönü, made a military reformer his minister of defense, but opponents among the military top ranks managed to have him dismissed. After that, Menderes ingratiated himself with the generals, but he was ill-informed about the junior officers frustrated by the hierarchy of the officer corps and hungry for economic and political power. After Turkey joined NATO in 1952, those officers started to receive advanced training in Europe and the US, and to interact with the American and NATO officials based in Turkey after 1955. They complained about ‘purchasing power’ and ‘standards of living’ in Turkey. In the 1957 elections, the DP, despite taking almost 48 percent of the vote, lost its majority. The RPP meanwhile found new support among intellectuals and businessmen defecting from the DP. Two months later, nine junior army officers were arrested for plotting a coup.
Through 1958–59, the DP government implemented some economic measures, rescheduled its debt, and received further loans from the US, OEEC (Organization for European Economic Co-operation), and IMF. In 1959, it applied for membership in the European Economic Community (EEC). A partial recovery began. However, discontent among state servants and the elite persisted. The RPP went on the offensive. İnönü’s tour of Anatolia became the occasion for outbreaks of violence along his route. Menderes ordered troops to interrupt the tour by İnönü in 1960, but İnönü called their bluff and embarrassed the troops into backing down. Student protests and riots started in April. On one occasion, police opened fire, killed five and injured some more. Under their top officers’ direction, cadets from the military academy staged a protest march against the government but in solidarity with the oppositional student movement. Some elements of the armed forces openly displayed their opposition to the elected civilian authorities. Martial law was declared. On May 14, crowds demonstrated in the streets. On May 25, Parliamentarians fought within Parliament leaving fifteen injured. On May 27, the armed forces took over the state.
During this decade (1950–60) Fethullah Gülen completed his religious education and training under various prominent scholars and Sufi masters leading to the traditional Islamic ijaza (license to teach). This education was provided almost entirely within an informal system, tacitly ignored and unsupported by the state and running parallel to its education system. At the same time, Fethullah Gülen pursued and completed his secondary level secular education through external exams. In the late fifties, he came across compilations of the scholarly work Risale-i Nur (Epistles of Light) by Said Nursi but never met its famous author. In 1958–9, he sat for and passed the state exam to become an imam and preacher. On the basis of the exam result he was assigned by the state to the very prestigious posting in Edirne.
Throughout this service he maintained his personal life style of devout asceticism while mixing with people and remaining on good terms with the civic and military authorities he encountered in the course of that service. He witnessed how the youth were being attracted into extremist, radical ideologies, and strove through his preaching to draw them away from that. Using his own money he would buy and distribute published materials to counter an aggressively militant atheism and communism. He saw the erosion of traditional moral values among the youth and the educated sector of Turkish society feeding into criminality and political and societal conflict. These experiences were formative influences on his intellectual and community leadership and reinforced his faith in the meaning and value of human beings and life.
6. Military coup d’état
Some circles in Ankara and Istanbul welcomed the military coup; much of the general public accepted it with sullen resignation. Declarations of nonpartisan objectives notwithstanding, the military’s actions confirmed the general perception that the coup was an intervention against the DP government on behalf of the RPP. The DP was denounced as an instrument of ‘class interests’ aligned with ‘forces opposed to the secularist principles of Atatürk’s revolution’. DP Parliamentarians were arrested and the party closed down.
Calling itself the National Unity Committee (NUC), a junta of 38 junior officers exercised sovereignty and declared a commitment to the writing of a new constitution under which Parliament would resume its role. General Cemal Gürsel, nominal leader and chairman of the NUC, became President, Prime Minister, and Commander-in-Chief. The NUC grouped into three factions, which from the outset disagreed about aims and principles. One faction comprised old school generals (pashas) who wanted to restore civil order and civilian rule. The second faction, more interested in social and economic development, wanted a planned economy led by SEEs and to hand power to İnönü and the RPP. The third faction, made up of younger officers and communitarian radicals, advocated indefinite military rule in order to effect fundamental political and social change from above, a sort of non-party nationalist populism on the pattern of Nasser’s Egypt.
The power struggle among these factions continued until the pashas dissolved the NUC and formed a new NUC, exiling fourteen radical junior officers to Turkish embassies abroad. The pashas only later realized how far the radicals had disseminated revolutionary views among the junior officer corps. They purged some of those, but sub-groups reformed, conspiring to seize control and overhaul the whole political and social system. Aware of the continued danger and wanting to prevent their ‘economic marginalization’, senior officers formed OYAK and the AFU. OYAK was a pension fund for retired officers financed by obligatory salary contributions; it developed very quickly into a powerful conglomerate with vast holdings. AFU (Armed Forces Union) was set up to provide a forum for discussing issues of concern under the supervision of the top ranks: the pashas intended to gain control over the junior officers and to ensure there would never be another military rebellion that they themselves did not lead and direct.
Meanwhile, those who favored a return to a single-party system deadlocked the Constitutional Commission. After a purge, the Commission eventually produced a document. However, a rival group of professors submitted another draft and convinced the NUC to appoint an assembly made up of the NUC and ‘some’ politicians. The compromise constitution, written by two professors, passed in a deeply divided referendum in 1961.
The constitution brought significant structural changes to society and government. It established a bicameral legislature. The upper chamber Senate was directly elected for six-year terms, but members of the NUC and former presidents of Turkey became lifetime senators and fifteen others were appointed by the president. The lower chamber was popularly elected by proportional representation. Legislation had to pass both chambers. The national budget was reviewed by a joint commission of the two chambers. A Constitutional Court (CC) was established, fifteen members of which were drawn from the judiciary, parliament, law faculties, and presidential appointments. The CC reviewed laws and orders of Parliament at the request of individuals or political parties. The president of Turkey would be elected by Parliament, from among its own members, for a single term of seven years. His office maintained a certain independence from the legislature. The constitution guaranteed freedom of thought, expression, and association, which the 1924 constitution had not included. Freedom of the press was limited only by the need to ‘safeguard national security’. The state had the power to plan economic and cultural development advised by the State Planning Organization. The National Security Council (NSC) was institutionalized by law, chaired by the President and made up of the chief of the general staff, heads of the service branches, the prime minister, and ministers of relevant cabinet ministries. The NSC would advise government on matters of domestic and foreign security. Through its general secretariat and various departments, the NSC was gradually to develop into a decisive political force, as ever greater portions of political, social, and economic life came under the rubric of ‘matters of national security’.
The coup was a grave error, set a bad example to the rest of the military cadre about ignoring the military hierarchy, and also aroused their ambitions for the successive military interventions in Turkish domestic politics, especially in 1971 and in 1980, which halted the democratization process so that Turkey lost valuable time in its economic as well as democratic modernization.
7. After the executions: 1961–1970
Hundreds of DP deputies were tried on charges of corruption and high treason. The trials and executions of DP leaders during the national elections of 1961 made obvious the junta’s true political ambitions. Partly in response to public appeals for clemency, the sentences of eleven of the fifteen condemned to death were commuted to life imprisonment. The former president was spared on account of his advanced age and ill health. Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and the Foreign Minister Fatin Rüstü Zorlu, and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan were hanged in September.
In the general elections held a month later, İnönü’s RPP won 73 seats. The core of the DP reformed as the Justice Party (JP) was only three seats short of a majority in the lower chamber. Cemal Gürsel, the coup leader, became President. The election results50 could well be interpreted as a repudiation of the new regime and its constitution. Political instability marked the next several years, as a series of short-lived coalition governments headed by İnönü, with the support of the army, tried to implement the constitution. In late 1961, workers began demonstrating in the streets demanding their right to strike. Junior officers, determined to prevent a new Democrat take-over, plotted a coup in February 1962 under Colonel Talat Aydemir. Aydemir, a key conspirator in the 1950s, had been unable to participate in the coup due to his posting in Korea. This time he took part and was arrested. Circumstances forced the JP and RPP into a brief coalition until May. When it collapsed, İnönü formed another coalition that, thanks to concessions, managed to last more than a year. Meanwhile, a second coup attempt by Colonel Aydemir was thwarted, and he was executed in May 1963. Local elections in 1963 made it clear that the governed no longer gave consent to the RPP. İnönü resigned. The winning JP, however, failed to form a new government. Once again, İnönü managed a coalition with the independents, which survived for fourteen months, thanks largely to the Cyprus crisis preoccupying everyone throughout 1964. In February 1965, the budget vote brought down the government, and the country limped to elections in October.
Social and economic goals of public policy were never achieved because vocal opponents to development planning were in the cabinet after the first coalition. For instance, the cabinet rejected proposed reforms for land, agriculture, tax, and SEEs. The State Planning Organization advisors were forced to resign. The government’s lack of political commitment to its work, the increasing politicization of appointments and its partisan protection of vested interests, instead of those of the whole nation, weakened state institutions.
In 1965, Süleyman Demirel’s JP won the elections with an outright majority. Demirel assured the generals that he would follow a program independent of the old Democrats. He reconciled with the military, granting them complete autonomy in military affairs and the defense budget. However, the irregular economic growth of the 1960s gradually alienated his lower middle class constituency. The JP began to fragment, some following Colonel Alparslan Türkeş into nationalism, others following Necmettin Erbakan into religious pietism. Türkeş, a key figure of the 1960 junta, had returned from exile abroad in 1963, retired and later took over the chairmanship of the Republican Peasants’ National Party (RPNP). Under his direction the RPNP adopted a radically nationalist tone. Erbakan formed the National Order Party (NOP) in 1970, the first of a series of political Islamist parties in Turkey. He gained a reputation as a maverick for freely airing intemperate remarks and advocating a role for Islam in public and political life.
In the 1960s, the RPP argued with the same old rhetoric that Demirel’s policies had forsaken the principles of Atatürk and would ruin the peasant and worker. Bülent Ecevit, who had been the Minister of Labor in the three RPP-led coalitions till 1965, asked the RPP to shed its elitist image and trust the common people to know what was best for them. Some deputies did not like his suggestions and left the party. However, Ecevit had understood that the voters had supported Menderes and later Demirel because they felt alienated by the RPP’s arrogance and because the other parties’ programs were better.
By 1970, Turkey faced a mounting crisis whose origins lay generally in deteriorating economic conditions, the massive social changes since the 1950s, a loss of confidence in the State, and the circumstances of the Cold War. On the other hand, there were some successes in Turkish-foreign joint ventures: an oil-pipeline, a dam, two irrigation projects, and associate membership of the EEC. By the end of the decade, the state monopolies, the publicly owned banks, and the recently founded OYAK had become fairly successful and sizeable enterprises. Mechanization pushed labor to western Europe: the migrants’ cash remittances from Europe were Turkey’s most important source of foreign exchange.
In 1967 leftists formed the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DISK). Its president was Kemal Türkler, a founding member of the (communist) Turkish Workers’ Party (TWP). DISK was anti-capitalist and politically radical activist, encouraging street demonstrations and strikes to achieve its objectives. Proportional representation brought such small parties into Parliament, with the result that public life became increasingly influenced by the activities of small extremist groups of the left and right. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, they exerted an influence on politics beyond their numbers. The milieu in universities enabled leftists to form on-campus ‘idea clubs’ with agendas anticipating the imminent radical transformation of society. Spreading outward from the universities, politicization and polarization increasingly infected public life. National dailies, language, music, art, and festivals came to be known as leftist or rightist; people could be identified on the political spectrum by the vocabulary they used in everyday speech.
One of the most notorious extremist groups that emerged in this period was Revolutionary Youth (Dev-Genç). It grew out of an effort to link the ‘idea clubs’ at universities nationally under Marxist leadership. It advocated the violent overthrow of the state. The left in general stressed opposition to imperialism, to the West, and to American bases. Americans and their interests represented, to the leftists, subservience to international capitalism and militarism in Turkey. The correspondence in 1964 between American President Johnson and then Prime Minister İnönü, published in 1966, in which Johnson threatened not to back Turkey in the event of a Soviet attack, turned public opinion dramatically against the US. For leftists, the letter confirmed that the US had no real interest in Turkey beyond a cold calculation of its place in the international power balance. They accused Demirel and the JP of being ‘American stooges’. Demirel announced a government and police crackdown on ‘communists.’
The leftists were also targeted by the right, which, in general, coalesced around a common anti-communism, in many (but not all) cases, advocating conservative Islamic piety and values as normative for Turkish society. A large portion of the Turkish populace was indeed socially and religiously conservative – a fact not lost on Demirel, who was not above occasionally manipulating traditional Islamic social values or fears of the Soviets for political purposes. More virulent forms of nationalism and anti-communism became evident in the late 1960s. There was sporadic anti-American violence: in 1966, rioters attacked the US consulate, the office of the US Information Agency and the Red Cross; increasingly violent demonstrations accompanied the visit of the US Sixth Fleet; the US Information Agency in Ankara was bombed. Leftist and rightist groups both took part in demonstrations that turned increasingly violent in late 1967.
In 1968, leftist students seized the buildings at Ankara University demanding abolition of the examination system and fee structure. In May 1969, a rector and eleven deans protested against the government and resigned. In August, demonstrators belonging to the leftist unions occupied the Eregli Iron-Steel plant. Riot police were unable to evict them. Airport employees went on strike in September. Fighting took place all over the country during the elections in October. The JP maintained a shaky Parliamentary majority. The RPP was still in its identity crisis. Six other parties entered Parliament, though none won even seven percent of the popular vote. Then, in 1970, because of economic problems, unpopular corrective measures and a threemonth- late budget, JP dissidents forced Demirel to resign.
In 1961, Fethullah Gülen began his compulsory military service in Ankara. By chance he was in the military unit commanded by Talat Aydemir. However, not being a professional soldier, Fethullah Gülen had no contact with Aydemir himself or with the military cadets and high-ranking officers who took part in the conspiracy. On the day of the coup, he and his fellow troopers were confined to barracks and thus only witnessed the coup and its aftermath through radio announcements and briefings from officers. After the coup, Fethullah Gülen was sent to Iskenderun, where he would do the second posting that completes compulsory military service. Here, his commanding officer assigned to him the duty of lecturing soldiers on faith and morality, and, recognizing Fethullah Gülen’s intellectual ability, gave him many Western classics to read. Throughout his military service Fethullah Gülen maintained his ascetic lifestyle as before.
In 1963, following military service, Fethullah Gülen gave a series of lectures in Erzurum on Rumi. He also co-founded an anti-communist association there, in which he gave evening talks on moral issues.
In 1964, he was assigned a new post in Edirne, where he became very influential among the educated youth and ordinary people. The militantly laicist authorities were displeased by his having such influence and wanted him dismissed. Before they could do so, Fethullah Gülen obliged them by having himself assigned to another city, Kırklareli, in 1965. There, after working hours, he organized evening lectures and talks. In this phase of his career, just as before, he took no active part in party politics and taught only about moral values in personal and collective affairs.
In 1966, Yaşar Tunagür, who had known Fethullah Gülen from earlier in his career, became deputy head of the country’s Presidency of Religious Affairs and, on assuming his position in Ankara, he assigned Fethullah Gülen to the post that he himself had just vacated in Izmir. On March 11, Fethullah Gülen was transferred to the Izmir region, where he held managerial responsibility for a mosque, a student study and boarding-hall, and for preaching in the Aegean region. He continued to live ascetically. For almost five years he lived in a small hut near the Kestanepazarı Hall and took no wages for his services. It was during these years that Fethullah Gülen’s ideas on education and service to the community began to take definite form and mature. From 1969 he set up meetings in coffee-houses, lecturing all around the provinces and in the villages of the region. He also organized summer camps for middle and high school students.
In 1970, as a result of the March 12 coup, a number of prominent Muslims in the region, who had supported Kestanepazarı Hall and associated activities for the region’s youth, were arrested. On May 1, Fethullah Gülen too was arrested and held for six months without charge until his release on November 9. Later, all the others arrested were also released, also without charge. When asked to explain these arrests, the authorities said that they had arrested so many leftists that they felt they needed to arrest some prominent Muslims in order to avoid being accused of unfairness. Interestingly, they released Gülen on the condition that he gave no more public lectures.
In 1971, Fethullah Gülen left his post and Kestanepazarı Hall but retained his status as a state-authorized preacher. He began setting up more student study and boarding-halls in the Aegean region: the funding for these came from local people. It is at this point that a particular group of about one hundred people began to be visible as a service group, that is, a group gathered around Fethullah Gülen’s understanding of service to the community and positive action.
8. Military coup II
Civil unrest and radicalization continued to grow in the 1970s. DISK organized a general strike in the spring. In August, ominous news of a shake-up leaked from the General Staff. In December, students clashed at Ankara University. The Labor Party headquarters and Demirel’s car were bombed. In February 1971, more than 200 extreme-leftist students were arrested after a five-hour gun battle with the military police at Hacettepe University in Ankara. On March 4, leftist students kidnapped four American soldiers and held them for ransom. A battle ensued when police searched for the soldiers at a dormitory in Ankara University; two students died before the Americans were released. On 12 March 1971, the military seized control of the state, citing the crisis in Parliament, the incompetence of the government, and street and campus clashes between communists and ultra-nationalists, and between leftist trade unionists and the security forces. This was a sad repetition of their previous seizure of power (in 1961) and the same themes recurred in their discourse to justify their action.
The generals said they had acted to prevent another coup by junior officers rather than because they had a specific program to lead the country out of its difficulties. Publicly blaming the political parties for the crisis, they selected a government that would implement the 1961 constitutional reforms. Under martial law, the military arrested thousands – party and union leaders, academics and writers; also they closed down Erbakan’s party, as well as several mainstream newspapers and journals. The National Intelligence Organization used severe repression, including torture, to extract confessions from suspects. The cabinet made no progress and was forced to resign. Constitutional amendments scaled back civil liberties, freedom of the press, and the autonomy of the Constitutional Court. Universities and the broadcast media lost their autonomy to supervisory committees. The National Security Council ‘advice’ to Parliament became binding. A system of State Security Courts (SSCs) was introduced that, in the following years, would try hundreds of cases under the rubric of national security.
B ülent E cevit succeeded İ smet İnönü as the RPP chair. E rbakan put together a new party with much the same leadership and called it the National Salvation Party (NSP). Elections were held in 1973. Though they had very little in common, the RPP and NSP formed a coalition, the first of several that would govern Turkey with diminishing levels of success till 1980.
In Cyprus in July 1974, Greek Cypriot guerrillas, fighting for union with Greece, overthrew the Cypriot President in a coup and replaced him with a guerrilla leader. Killings began. Turkish troops landed in northern Cyprus to protect the Turkish-Cypriots and secured one-third of the island. There the Turkish-Cypriots organized what later, in 1983, became the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Turkey paid a high price for this move: the substantial cost of assistance to TRNC; a 50 percent increase in its defense budget; diplomatic isolation and damage to its standing in the EC. Further, the US cut off assistance and imposed an embargo, which contributed to Turkey’s grave economic position in the late 1970s. In 1976, Turkey signed a new four-year defense agreement with the US, but the US Congress did not approve it due to Greek and Armenian lobbying.
Between 1972 and 1975, Fethullah Gülen held posts as a preacher in several cities in the Aegean and Marmara regions, where he continued to preach and to teach the ideas about education and the service ethic he had developed. He continued setting up hostels for high school and university students. At this time educational opportunities were still scarce for ordinary Anatolian people, and most student accommodation in the major cities, controlled or infiltrated by extreme leftists and rightists, seethed in a hyper-politicized atmosphere. Parents in provincial towns whose children had passed entrance examinations for universities or city high schools were caught in a dilemma – to surrender their children’s care to the ideologues or to deny them further education and keep them at home.
The hostels set up by Fethullah Gülen and his companions offered parents the chance to send their children to the big cities to continue their secular education, while protecting them from the hyper-politicized environment. To support these educational efforts, people who shared Fethullah Gülen’s service-ethic now set up a system of bursaries for students. The funding for the hostels and bursaries came entirely from local communities among whom Gülen’s service-ethic idea (hizmet) was spreading steadily.
With Fethullah Gülen’s encouragement, around his discourse of positive action and responsibility, ordinary people were starting to mobilize to counteract the effects of violent ideologies and of the ensuing social and political disorder on their own children and on youth in general. Students in the hostels also began to play a part in spreading the discourse of service and positive action. Periodically, they returned to their home towns and visited surrounding towns and villages, and, talking of their experiences and the ideas they had encountered, consciously diffused the hizmet idea in the region. Also, from 1966 onward, Fethullah Gülen’s talks and lectures had been recorded on audio cassettes and distributed throughout Turkey by third parties. Thus, through already existing networks of primary relations, this new type of community action, the students’ activities, and the new technology of communication, the hizmet discourse was becoming known nation-wide.
In 1974, the first university preparatory courses were established in Manisa, where Fethullah Gülen was posted at the time. Until then, it was largely the children of very wealthy and privileged families who had access to university education. The new courses in Manisa offered the hope that in future there might be better opportunities for children from ordinary Anatolian families. The idea took hold that, if properly supported, the children of ordinary families could take up and succeed in higher education.
As word spread of these achievements, Fethullah Gülen was invited, the following year, to speak at a series of lectures all over Turkey. The service idea became widely recognized and firmly rooted in various cities and regions of the country. From this time on, the country-wide mobilization of people drawn to support education and non-political altruistic services can be called a movement – the Gülen Movement.
9. Collapse of public order
Ecevit resigned in 1974 in order to call elections that he thought, after the Cyprus action, his RPP could win. However, leaders of the other parties did not allow an election to be called. Ecevit’s move brought governmental impasse until late 1980. A series of unstable coalitions followed, none of which possessed the strength to manage the economic problems, or control the political violence.
Some enterprises that had taken advantage of foreign capital during the 1950s had grown tremendously in the 1960s. To maintain their position and leading role, and to lobby the government for support, in 1971, owners of the 114 largest firms formed the Association of Turkish Industrialists (TUSIAD). However, the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973 raised the cost of the imports Turkey depended on and consumed about two-thirds of Turkey’s foreign currency income. Inflation and unemployment climbed steadily after 1977. By 1978–79, there were even shortages of basic commodities.
After the 1971 coup, the crackdown on radical leftists by the security forces started a spiral of attacks and retaliations to which there seemed to be no resolution. With Alparslan Türkeş’s appointment as a minister of state from 1974 to 1977, the violent campaign of radical groups against all who disagreed with them escalated and contributed substantially to the collapse of public order by 1980. A 1977 May Day celebration by the leftist unions turned into a battle among themselves and with the police, leaving 39 dead and more than 200 wounded. Leftists retaliated with a wave of bombings, killing several people at the airport and railway stations. A state of virtual war prevailed between DISK, the Turkish Workers’ Party and other leftist groups on the one hand, and the Istanbul police force on the other. Clashes between rightist groups and leftists killed 112 and wounded thousands in Sivas and Kahramanmaras. Ecevit declared martial law.
Violence was at a peak on university campuses. In 1974–75, students disrupted classes, rioted and killed one another, forced the temporary closure of universities, waged battles, and carried out killings and bombings at offcampus venues frequented by students. Academics were beaten and murdered. At Ankara University in 1978, a leftist student, Abdullah Öcalan, formed the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and began a separatist war in the south-eastern provinces. Americans and NATO personnel were targeted and murdered by the leftists. Although banned, May Day demonstrations organized by leftist labor continued. Clashes between rightists and leftists increased. Members of the security forces, journalists, party officials, labor union leaders, and ministers were murdered; strikes went on for weeks and months.
The divided government, meanwhile, did not take up an austerity plan suggested by Demirel’s economic advisor Turgut Özal. In February, Fahri Korutürk’s presidential term expired: for six months Parliament was unable to elect a successor. The economy was in tatters, with inflation running at 130 percent and unemployment 20 percent. Murderous confrontations between the radicals had taken 5,241 lives in two years. Erbakan’s fundamentalist meetings in Konya stirred up the military. And again, for the third time in twenty years, on September 12, 1980, the military seized direct control of the state. Their discourse framed their action in exactly the same way as in the two previous coups.
The constitution after the 1961 coup had restructured Turkish government and institutions in such a way that it caused the political system to fail. Personal and political liberties were not implemented, nor reforms to land, tax and the SEEs. The system crashed in insurmountable difficulties. Due to inability, or unwillingness, to revise the prevailing political culture for the needs of an open society, together with the consequences of economic crisis, deep fissures opened in society between those who had benefited from the rapid and haphazard social and economic development since 1945 and those who found themselves victims of the inflation, unemployment, and urban migration it engendered. There were those who had benefited from multiparty democracy through their links of patronage with powerful officials, and those who still lived with the residue of the one-party era with its authoritarian model of leadership, the equation of dissent with disloyalty, and party control of state offices. Turkey’s standing in the Cold War contributed to the polarization of society and was also exploited to mask the sources of its problems, and made it impossible to achieve the political consensus necessary to adopt reforms. A major source of the political and social degeneration of the 1960s and the chaos and anarchy of the 1970s was the radical tendencies of students, militants, academics, unions, and officers of the state security apparatuses. Finally, the armed forces, which Parliament had failed to subordinate to civilian rule, put an end to that rule, which the armed forces had themselves established a mere ten years earlier.
In 1976, the Religious Directorate posted Fethullah Gülen to Bornova, Izmir, the site of one of Turkey’s major universities with a correspondingly large student population and a great deal of the militant activism typical of universities in the 1970s.
It came to his attention that leftist groups were running protection rackets to extort money from small businessmen and shopkeepers in the city and deliberately disrupting the business and social life of the community. The racketeers had already murdered a number of their victims. In his sermons, Fethullah Gülen spoke out and urged those being threatened by the rackets neither to yield to threats and violence, nor to react with violence and exacerbate the situation. He urged them, instead, to report the crimes to the police and have the racketeers dealt with through the proper channels. This message led to threats being made against his life.
At the same time, he challenged the students of left and right to come to the mosque and discuss their ideas with him and offered to answer any questions, whether secular or religious, which they put to him. A great many students took up this offer. So, in addition to his daily duties giving traditional religious instruction and preaching, Fethullah Gülen devoted every Sunday evening to these discussion sessions.
In 1977, he traveled in northern Europe, visiting and preaching among Turkish communities to raise their consciousness about values and education and to encourage them in the same hizmet ethic of positive action and altruistic service. He encouraged them both to preserve their cultural and religious values and to integrate into their host societies.
Now thirty-six, Fethullah Gülen had become one of the three most widely recognized and influential preachers in Turkey. For example, on one occasion in 1977 when the prime minister, other ministers and state dignitaries came to a Friday prayer in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, a politically sensitive occasion in Turkey, Fethullah Gülen was invited to preach to them and the rest of the congregation.
Fethullah Gülen encouraged participants in the Movement to go into publishing. Some of his articles and lectures were published as anthologies and a group of teachers inspired by his ideas established the Teachers’ Foundation to support education and students.
In 1979, this Foundation started to publish its own monthly journal, Sızıntı, which became the highest selling monthly in Turkey. In terms of genre, it was a pioneering venture, being a magazine of sciences, humanities, faith, and literature. Its publishing mission was to show that science and religion were not incompatible and that knowledge of both was necessary to be successful in this life. Each month since the journal was founded, Fethullah Gülen has written for it an editorial and a section about the spiritual or inner aspects of Islam, that is, Sufism, and the meaning of faith in modern life.
In February 1980, a series of Fethullah Gülen’s lectures, attended by thousands of people, in which he preached against violence, anarchy and terror, were made available on audio cassette.
10. Military coup III
In September 1980, the military arrested and placed the prime minister, party leaders and 100 parliamentarians in custody. It dissolved Parliament, suspended the constitution, banned all political activity, dissolved and permanently outlawed all political parties, forbade their leaders to speak about politics – past, present or future – and seized, and subsequently caused to disappear, the archives of the parties of the past thirty years. Martial law was extended to all Turkey. Several thousand were arrested in the first week. The junta wanted in this way to signal its determination to institute a new political order.
The coup leaders, the five commanders of the armed forces, formed the National Security Council (NSC) and gave themselves indefinite and unlimited power. General Kenan Evren became head of state and appointed a cabinet composed mostly of retired officers and state bureaucrats. Martial law commanders in all the provinces were given broad administrative authority over public affairs, including education, the press and economic activities. Return to civilian rule would follow fundamental revision of the political order. In the meantime, the 1961 constitution, where it did not contradict the provisions of martial law, would remain in effect until replaced.
Evren said the country had passed through a national crisis, and separatist forces and enemies, within and without, threatened its integrity; that Kemalism had been forgotten and the country left leaderless; and that the junta would correct this and enforce a new commitment to Kemalism, with Evren providing the necessary national leadership. Much of the country viewed the coup with relief, expecting that near civil war conditions would soon end. Indeed the rightist–leftist street clashes ended immediately. However, within months, the army opened a new front against Kurdish separatists, which gradually escalated by 1983, and it also suppressed Islamic political activism.
Turgut Özal was retained in the post-coup cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economic Affairs. They decided to continue the economic policy he had planned under the former government. Özal negotiated with the IMF, World Bank, and EU. They released new credits and rescheduled former and more new debts. In this way, the state began a transition from an economy directed from above to an economy open to integration with world capitalism.
11. New ‘order’
The military regime forbade all strikes and union activities and disbanded the labor federations, imposed a strict curfew, and arrested more than 100,000 within eight months. Martial law authorities attempted to be evenhanded, arresting the rightist and religious as well as leftist members. Several newspapers were closed for publishing articles critical of the regime. By 1983, about 2000 prisoners had faced the death penalty. The trial of extreme rightist Mehmet Ali Ağca, who had tried to assassinate the Pope in 1981, revealed the extent of interactions between extremist groups and organized crime within Turkey and abroad.
Universities were placed under the supervision of a newly created Council of Higher Education (YÖK). The junta held the power directly to appoint university rectors and deans, and purged hundreds of university faculty. Over the 1980s, the number of universities rose from 19 to 29. The right of university admission was broadened, effectively diluting the power of the old university faculties and the traditional elite classes, whose children made up the student bodies. In 1981, the centenary of Atatürk’s birth, the state arranged conferences, volumes of publications and the naming of numerous facilities and institutions – even a university – to commemorate ‘The Centenary’. Evren’s face next to Atatürk’s on banners and in public ceremonies linked him and his military regime to Atatürk and Atatürk’s regime.
In the autumn of 1981, the generals nominated the members of a consultative assembly, directly appointed by the NSC and martial law governors, to draft a new constitution. Its mandate was to purge the country of the effects of the 1960 coup, including the 1961 constitution, which was partly blamed for the fragmentation and polarization of Parliament, the judiciary, bureaucracy, and universities, for needlessly politicizing all public life, and for breeding the violence of the late 1970s. An annual holiday commemorating the 1960 coup was abolished.
The new constitution was approved by referendum in 1982. While recognizing most civil and political rights, it laid heavy emphasis on the protection of the indivisible integrity of the state and national security, extended a measure of impunity for the extensive use of force during riots, martial law or a state of emergency, strengthened the presidency, and formalized the role of the military leadership. The president was charged with ensuring ‘the implementation of the constitution’ and ‘func tioning of the state organs’ and would become the guardian of the state, serving a single seven-year term with potentially wide powers. He would appoint the cabinet, the Constitutional Court, the military Court of Cassation, the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors, and the High Court of Appeals. He would chair the National Security Council (NSC), now made a permanent body with the right to submit its views on state security to the Council of Ministers, who were required to give priority to the NSC’s views. Parliament again became a unicameral legislature. Any party short of ten percent of the national vote would not receive parliamentary representation. A new discretionary fund was created and put at the personal disposal of the prime minister, outside of the parliamentary budgetary process. Restrictions were placed on the press and labor unions. The State Security Court would rule on strikes, lockouts, and collective bargaining disputes. The government lost its mandate to restrict private enterprise. By a ‘temporary article’ appended by the NSC, General Evren became President, without being elected.
The NSC forbade more than 700 former parliamentarians and party leaders from participating in politics for the next ten years. It shut down several newspapers for some time for failing to observe severe restrictions on political articles. Due to the brokerage firm and bank crisis in 1982, Özal left the cabinet. In 1983, the NSC permitted the formation of new political parties. Some new parties that looked like reincarnations of the old parties or were directed from behind the scenes by former leaders were barred from the elections and closed down. The NSC approved three parties: the Nationalist Democracy Party (NDP), led by a retired general, the Populist Party, headed by a former private secretary of İsmet İnönü, and the Motherland Party (MP), formed by Turgut Özal.
President Evren did not hide his dislike of Özal but this only made his party an early favorite with a public very tired of the military. Evren’s stated preference for the NDP probably condemned it to a third-place finish. The MP won 45 percent of the vote and an absolute majority in Parliament.
In 1980, on September 5, Fethullah Gülen spoke from the pulpit before taking leave of absence for the next twenty days because of illness. On September 12, the day of the military coup, his home was raided. He was not detained as he was not at home. He requested another leave of absence for 45 days. Then the house where he was staying as a guest was raided and he was detained. After a six-hour interrogation, he was released. On November 25, he was transferred to Çanakkale but, due to illness again, he was not able to serve there. From March 20, 1981, he took indefinite leave of absence.
By the third coup, the Turkish public appeared to have learnt a lesson. There was no visible public reaction. The faith communities, including the Gülen Movement, continued with their lawful and peaceful activities without drawing any extra attention to themselves. Gülen and the Movement avoided large public gatherings but continued to promote the service-ethic through publishing and small meetings. At this point, the Movement turned again to the use of technology and for the first time in Turkey a preacher’s talks were recorded and distributed on videotape.
In the years immediately following the coup, the Movement continued to grow and act successfully. In 1982, Movement participants set up a private high school in Izmir, Yamanlar Koleji.
12. The Özal years
For the decade before his death in 1993, Özal dominated Turkish politics. He set his sights on a fundamental shift in the direction of economic policy, to encourage exports and force Turkish products into a competitive position in the world market. His policy instruments were: high interest rates to combat inflation, gradual privatization of inefficient SEEs, wage controls, and an end to state industrial subsidies. Through the mid-1980s, the economy grew steadily: whereas in 1979, 60 percent of exports were agricultural products, by 1988 80 percent were manufactures; the annual inflation rate was lower than it had been; and the government completed large-scale infrastructural development projects. Privatization proceeded very slowly, although the government was successful in breaking up state monopolies. The size of the bureaucracy was still considerable. Major cities grew as industry drew agricultural labor off the land. Economic liberalization rapidly benefited the largest industrial holding companies and some SEEs.
Having a clear-cut economic policy, and executing it with relative consistency, Özal skillfully managed the bureaucrats and the economy.
By mid-1985 Özal was determinedly pursuing political liberalization as well. Martial law had been lifted in fifty of sixty-seven provinces. Eight provinces in the southeast remained under a state of emergency, and anti-terrorism measures stayed in place throughout the country. Turkey’s application for the full EEC membership that Özal championed was rejected in 1987. Economic liberalization did not automatically bring political liberalization with it. Özal succeeded in introducing new faces to political life in Turkey, but he was not allowed to normalize it completely or to exert civilian control over the military. By referendum, he let the former leaders of the former parties return to politics and called early elections for 1987. His Motherland Party won an absolute majority, 292 of the 450 seats; İnönü’s Social Democrat Party came in with 99 seats. Demirel’s True Path Party took 59 seats. No other party, including Ecevit’s or Erbakan’s, reached the threshold.
An aspect of Özal’s liberalization was his encouragement of a role for Islam in public life. Özal understood that Islam was the source of the belief system and values of most Turkish citizens, and that it was excluded from the public sphere only with increasing awkwardness and artificiality. He said in 1986: ‘restrictions on freedom of conscience breed fanaticism, not the other way around.’
In 1984, seeking to recruit religious sentiment against the influence of communism, the military regime required compulsory instruction in Islam in all schools. Picking up an initiative of the Menderes government, the regime sanctioned construction of 34 public Imam-Hatip training schools in one year. Özal’s government permitted the graduates of these schools to go on to the universities. Also, members of parliament and the cabinet were visible in attendance at mosques on holy days and other religious observances. Parliament permitted university students to cover their heads in the classroom. Advocates of the headscarf presented it as an issue of civil liberty: in a democracy, they argued, the individual ought to be free to wear any clothing within the limits of public decency; since the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, laws forbidding the wearing of headscarves violated the citizens’ civil rights. For its opponents, the headscarf was a reference to the veil that Atatürk had famously made a symbol of the ‘reactionary’ Islamic order. They claimed that wearing it was a political gesture directed against the secular state guaranteed by the constitution. In 1989, President Evren himself petitioned the Constitutional Court for a repeal of the new law permitting headscarves. Thousands of university students demonstrated throughout 1989 as the issue went into litigation, first being banned, and then re-permitted by an act of Parliament. The Council of Higher Education (YÖK), in defiance of Parliament, banned it on university campuses.
Polarization became especially evident in the 1980s, as a new generation of educated but religiously motivated local leaders emerged as a potential challenge to the dominance of the secularized political elite. Assertively proud of Turkey’s Islamic heritage, they were generally skillful in adapting the prevalent idiom to articulate their dissatisfaction with various government policies. Certainly, through the example of piety, prayer, and political activism, they helped to restore respect for religious observance in Turkey. In reality, the controversy about the headscarf on campuses is the larger question of the role of Islam in Turkish public life. The visibility of a new consciousness in the public sphere was disturbing for some laicist- Marxists, like Cumhuriyet columnist Akbal (1987):
If these young girls must cover their heads then they can quietly stay home and wait for a bigot husband like themselves! In that case no one would have anything to say against them. In her home she can cover her head, or any other part of her as tightly as she wants. What do we care, what does the society care! But those girls who say ‘I want to have education, I want to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a chemist, a state official or a teacher’, there is only one path we can show them and that is the path of modern civilization. [Emphasis in the original.]
Many of the new technocrats, diverse professionals, businessmen, and wealthy entrepreneurs started to emerge from outside the traditional classes of Republican elites. Personally religious or conservative, they were more willing than their predecessors to give open expression to that.
For the unyielding laicists, Islam must be confined to the private domain. Since for them ‘modern civilization’ is at stake, any form of public visibility for Islam is perceived as a direct threat to, and loss of, the constitutive public sphere and system, and as a rebellious attack on Atatürk’s reforms and the secular regime he established. More objective commentators have argued, however, that it would be rash and senseless to assert that all women who adopt the headscarf or the new, urban Islamic dress in the city are supporters of the Islamist party or to associate it with politicized Islam in Turkey.
13. President Özal
Following allegations of corruption, then inflation after 1987, electoral losses in several large cities and coming third in the local elections of 1989, and the defection of several MP deputies to other parties, Özal left party politics and ran for the presidency. He was elected the eighth President of Turkey in 1989.
Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Affirming Turkey’s loyalty to the Atlantic alliance, Özal used his position to redefine Turkey’s role in regional and world politics. He believed that the solutions to Turkey’s economic problems lay in close co-operation with the US and full membership of the EU. He saw in this also the potential for a political solution to the Kurdish problem. Initially, his efforts paid off. The Gulf War, however, left Turkey in a complicated relationship with Iraq and the Kurds. The Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq, seen from the Turkish military’s perspective, constituted a potential incitement to the Kurds of Turkey. Since 1989, Özal had been seeking a non-military resolution of the conflict and advocating greater cultural liberty for Kurds. The end of the Gulf War in 1991 seemed a propitious time to carry that project forward. Özal directed the cabinet to repeal the 1983 law forbidding the use of languages other than Turkish. Two prominent Iraqi Kurdish leaders met with Turkish Foreign Ministry officials, twice with the Turkish military, and later with Özal. In October, Demirel came to power in a coalition government with İnönü of the SDP, which the Kurdish groups supported.
After the 1980 military coup, Turkey’s civilian politicians had never succeeded in gaining control of the military’s actions in the southeast. Through the mechanism of the NSC, the generals had repeatedly intimidated politicians, including Özal and Mesut Yılmaz. When, during demonstrations in 1992, more than 90 Kurds were killed by security forces, the Kurdish deputies in the SDP resigned in protest: the chance of a negotiated solution receded. Meanwhile, the number of ‘unsolved’ murders in the southeast climbed. These killings were carried out by clandestine paramilitary groups, some of whom probably operated independently, but evidence began to mount of their being funded by the state.
The conflict escalated in 1992 and 1993. Nearly 250,000 troops deployed to the region destroyed some 2,000 villages, displacing an estimated 2 million people, and themselves suffering more than 23,000 casualties. Local people fled to major cities all over Turkey. The Turkish army conducted a number of military operations across the border in northern Iraq to wipe out terrorist bases used against Turkey. In 1993, PKK leader Öcalan announced a unilateral ceasefire. Some were surprised but Özal had been directly involved. The military, however, interpreted this as a sign of the terrorists’ weakness and, assuming final victory was close, intensified operations. Negotiating with Özal through Jalal Talabani, Öcalan renewed the ceasefire. At this critical juncture, Özal died suddenly in April 1993, while still serving as president.
After Özal, Turkey struggled to reconcile the changes of the 1980s and 1990s – the legacy of the late president – with the traditions of the Republic and the requirements of modern democracy. A strong, stable government seemed elusive as Turkey was beset by economic difficulties, political scandals, corruption, the ongoing battle against terrorism, and Kurdish separatism. In fact, each of these issues was as old as the Republic.
Within a month, Süleyman Demirel became President and Tansu Çiller Prime Minister. In 1993, the Kurdish ceasefire broke down and military operations against the PKK resumed as before. The PKK ambushed a bus and murdered 33 off-duty military personnel. Heavy new fighting erupted, and hope of a political solution to the conflict seemed lost. Neither Demirel nor Çiller was capable of opposing the wishes of the generals or prepared to risk a civilian–military confrontation by challenging the military’s assumption of a free hand in dealing with southeastern Turkey. The ongoing struggle brought serious economic problems and estrangement from the EU. It also compromised the integrity of the state through the influence of organized crime.
The government was unable to control spending, and consequently there was high public debt and an accelerated ‘dollarization’ of the economy in 1994. International agencies therefore downgraded Turkey’s credit status. That prompted a devaluation of the Turkish Lira that cost Turkey an estimated $1.2 billion. An austerity package caused the Lira to lose half its value.
In 1989, Fethullah Gülen was approached by the Presidency of Religious Affairs and requested to resume his duties. His license was reinstated to enable him to serve as an Emeritus Preacher with the right to preach in any mosque in Turkey. Between 1989 and 1991, he preached in Istanbul on Fridays and on alternate Sundays in Istanbul and Izmir in the largest mosques in the cities. His sermons drew crowds in the tens of thousands, numbers unprecedented in Turkish history. These sermons were videotaped and also broadcast. At the beginning of the 1990s, the police uncovered a number of conspiracies by marginal militant Islamists and other small ideological groups to assassinate Fethullah Gülen. These groups also placed agents provocateurs in the areas around the mosques where he preached with the aim of fomenting disorder when the crowds were dispersing after Fethullah Gülen’s sermons. Due to Fethullah Gülen’s warnings and the already established peaceful practices of the Movement, these attempts failed and the agents provocateurs were dealt with by the police.
In 1991, Fethullah Gülen once again ceased preaching to large mosque congregations. He felt that some people were trying to manipulate or exploit his presence and the presence of Movement participants at these large public gatherings. However, he continued to be active in community life, in teaching small groups and taking part in the collective action of the Movement. In 1992, he traveled to the United States, where he met Turkish academics and community leaders, as well as the leaders of other American faith communities.
By this stage, the number of schools in Turkey established by the participants in the Gülen Movement had reached more than a hundred, not counting institutions such as study centers and university preparatory courses. (Other SMOs set up by Movement participants, such as the different media organs – radio and TV stations, newspapers, journals, etc. – will be dealt with in later chapters, where this form of mobilization is discussed.) From January 1990, Movement participants began to set up schools and universities in Central Asia too, often working under quite harsh conditions. From 1994 onwards, following the establishment of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, of which Fethullah Gülen was made the Honorary Chair, Fethullah Gülen made himself increasingly available for comment and interview in the press and media and began to communicate more with state dignitaries.
Later developments in Fethullah Gülen’s own discourse and the collective action of the Gülen Movement will be raised in the following chapters as they become relevant to the discussion.
14. Political Islam?
After Tansu Çiller’s government lost a vote of confidence, the country went to the polls in 1995. Erbakan’s Welfare Party (WP) won the largest vote, 21.4 percent, followed by Çiller’s True Path Party (TPP) and Yılmaz’s Motherland Party (MP). Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DLP) and Baykal’s RPP also won seats. Among the parties failing to reach the threshold were the Nationalist Movement Party (NMP) of Türkeş and the (leftist-Kurdish) People’s Democracy Party, which showed strongly in the Kurdish regions but less among Kurdish populations in the major cities. Erbakan was unable to attract coalition partners to form the government. In 1996, Çiller and Yılmaz formed a coalition government that lasted only eleven weeks. Later, Çiller’s coalition with Erbakan brought the WP to power and made Erbakan the prime minister in 1996. Erbakan once again put political Islam on the Turkish agenda.
An extended public debate about the role of religion and the meaning of political Islam ensued. Erbakan’s former campaign speeches were dug out in order to heat up controversy – for instance, his ‘either with or without blood’ outburst during the 1994 municipal elections; his praise of Iran for resisting the West; his pledges to take Turkey out of NATO; to set up an Islamic NATO, an Islamic UN, an Islamic version of the EU, and an Islamic currency. These speeches carried more force as political gestures than policies and were incapable of attracting broad-based support in the country. Nevertheless, similar or even more inflammatory posturing by other WP deputies and mayors dominated national headlines. Perceptions of the WP government were ambivalent: was it a thing to be feared, a threat to secularism and the regime; or was it a sign of a healthy Turkish democracy, that they had a right to hold, express and persuade others to share their position? The reason the WP had done as well as it did in the elections was that it articulated a vision of the just society in Turkey through the use of a commonly understood religious idiom, the traditional values – widely interpreted as meaning Islamic morals and behavior. It also benefited from an ‘anti- Ankara’ sentiment, as voters reacted against a government and state apparatus riddled with corruption scandals and out of touch with common people. Nevertheless, a sizeable portion of the voting public did not like the WP’s rhetoric and mistrusted their motives. Laicists opposed the WP’s recruits in a variety of lower-level government positions.
Erbakan made a series of visits to Muslim countries, which drew criticism from the laicists. In 1997 his government was brought down – not by its failure to lower the budget deficit or curb inflation, nor by various scandals, but by a rally in Sincan, a suburb of Ankara. Electoral success gave the Welfare Party (WP) access to the privileges (and responsibilities) of power as never before but they failed to use them in the service of the nation.
15. ‘Post-modern’ military coup
At a rally in honor of ‘Jerusalem Day’ hosted by the (WP) mayor of Sincan, the speech of the Iranian ambassador, anti-Zionist slogans chanted by the crowds and the posters displayed by Palestinian visitors, were enough for the army tanks to rumble into Sincan.
A top-level military commission calling itself the ‘ Western Working Group’ launched an investigation into the WP. On February 28, 1997, the National Security Council (NSC), projecting themselves as guardians of the Kemalist reforms, and in particular of secularism, released a public statement that: ‘destructive and separatist groups are seeking to weaken our democracy and legal system by blurring the distinction between the secular and the anti-secular. [...] In Turkey, secularism is not only a form of government but a way of life and the guarantee of democracy and social peace [...] the structural core of the state.’ The military’s ‘supervision’ of Erbakan’s government eventually forced its resignation in June 1997. Following this, the pressure on the Muslim communities increased, with some secularist leaders openly expecting a ‘settling of accounts’ with political Islam.
In what the commander of the navy admitted was ‘a post-modern coup’, the politicians were forced by the military commanders either to implement the measures they proposed or put together an alternative government that would do so. Erbakan agreed to an eighteen-point plan to reduce the influence of Islam in Turkey, that is, to curb Islamic-minded political, social, cultural, and economic groups. The ban on certain faith communities, their SMOs and other religious institutions would be enforced, the ‘reactionary’ personnel in governmental positions and state posts would be purged, the spread of state Imam-Hatip schools would be stopped, and tighter restrictions would be maintained on ‘politically symbolic garments like women’s headscarves’. Many companies were denounced as ‘backward’, and state institutions and people were warned not to buy anything from those companies. In addition, TUSIAD, the business federation, issued a report in line with the military’s agenda, urging that the power of political party leaders be curbed. Erbakan was asked and agreed to sign an order purging 160 military officers for so-called ‘Islamic’ activities and sympathies.
Since the military coup of 1980, nothing has been as divisive in Turkish political life as the NSC decisions of February 28, because those decisions affirmed the army’s supremacy over political life.
The reason the military did not take over the state administration was that they proved to themselves and to others that they could engineer farreaching change in the political system and govern everything from their barracks. Through the NSC, the military possessed a constitutionally defined executive authority that it had used since the 1980s to exert its power on a range of issues. This ‘ post-modern’ coup caused the Turkish political scene to become even more confused and unpredictable. Erbakan resigned in 1997.
The generals behind the coup ‘asked’ Mesut Yılmaz, the leader of the Motherland Party, to form a new gov ernment, and he did so. In 1998, the Constitutional Court closed the WP ‘because of actions against the principles of the secular republic.’ Six WP leaders, including Erbakan, were banned from political leadership for five years, and indi vidual members also faced criminal charges of subverting the constitu tion. The mayors of Sincan, Kayseri and Istanbul received prison sentences for ‘inciting religious hatred’. Within a few weeks, most WP deputies had joined a successor party, the Virtue Party, which subsequently be came the largest in Parliament. In the end, for all its accomplishments at the municipal level, the WP had fared no better than the other parties at finding solutions to the basic economic and political problems of Turkey. It had instead aggravated them.
Prime Minister Yılmaz pressed ahead with what came to be known as the ‘ February 28 Process’ – the efforts to limit Islamic influence in public life. Parliament required pupils to complete eight years of primary education – a measure designed to eliminate students’ admission to state Imam- Hatip schools and other faith-inspired communities’ secular and state-inspected schools. During the military rule in the 1980s, the graduates of the state Imam-Hatip schools had been allowed to continue higher education in social sciences and other post-secondary institutions. The schools enrolled one-tenth of the eligible ‘secondary edu cation students’.
The February 28 Process also enforced regulations banning headscarves from schools, universities and the entire public sphere. Asked about civil servants beginning to turn up for work wearing headscarves, one of the highest ranking military officers had called it ‘the end of the world’. Public protests and hunger strikes broke out all over Turkey, but to no avail. The secularist circles and media, especially the radical secularist and leftist Cumhuriyet, tried hard to frame the public debate and spared no effort to reinforce the authority and power of laicism to define the terms of public discourse, including the meaning, style and judgment on head-covering, sometimes with pejorative top headlines or stories. The administration also moved against Islamic influence in other areas. The police detained twenty leading Muslim businessmen on charges that they had provided funding for Islamic activities, and in 1998 the chief prosecutor in Ankara’s State Security Court asked for the closure of MUSIAD, the Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association, and filed charges against its president for inciting hostility based on religion. All the people charged were eventually acquitted.
When Yılmaz attacked Çiller on the grounds of corruption, Çiller’s coalition partners, the WP, shielded her from prosecution. But before long, Yılmaz himself was implicated in revelations of corruption on such a massive scale that the foundations of Turkish democracy were threatened. It all came out as a result of a car accident.
16. Crash and corruption
In a traffic accident that occurred in Susurluk in 1996, three occupants of a car lost their lives and one was injured. Since the identity of the victims and the story of how they happened to be riding together in the car came out, the case has gone on unfolding and remains an open file.
The three dead included Abdullah Çatlı, a criminal right-wing hit-man wanted in connection with the attacks and murders of leftist students in Ankara in 1978–79. He was also involved in the jailbreak of Ağca, the Pope’s assailant. At the time of his death, Çatlı held a gun permit and, among his thirteen passports in various names, one Turkish diplomatic passport. The second passenger was Çatlı’s girlfriend, a former beauty queen. The third was a senior security officer and deputy police chief of Istanbul, who had commanded police units in missions against Kurdish rebels. The survivor in the car, Sedat Bucak, was a True Path Party Member of Parliament with close connections to Çiller, and led a Kurdish clan receiving government funding to fight Kurdish separatists. Also found in the car were guns and silencers.
At first, President Demirel denied government involvement in criminal activity. The Minister of the Interior resigned when it became clear that his initial statements about the crash were not only false, but that in fact he had had a long relationship with Çatlı. Newspapers published reports, based on police and intelligence documents, showing that state organizations had been hiring death squads to murder Kurdish rebels and ‘other enemies of the state’ since the mid-1980s, and that these death squads had evidently received a strengthened mandate in 1991. Türkeş, the former junta colonel and the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, publicly acknowledged that Çatlı had been employed by the government to carry out clandestine missions on behalf of the police and the army. Another former Interior Minister Sağlam admitted that the National Security Council had approved the use of ‘illegal’ means to dispose of ‘enemies’. The weapons used were in some cases traced back to the security forces. Funding for the death squads was raised through bank presidents, who in return received kickbacks from the drug trade that the squads were allowed to run, the profits being laundered through casinos licensed by the Ministry of Tourism.
The published versions of official reports directed by Prime Minister Yılmaz were incomplete and misleading with respect to the period of Çiller’s premiership. In fact, missing persons and mysterious murders dated back earlier than that, to 1991, Yılmaz’s first term as premier. Yılmaz’s statements, that outside the military police, the armed forces were unaware of, and uninvolved in, the activities of the death squads, remained unbelievable. New information became available almost daily, revealing the depth and complexity of interrelationships between the police, military officers, banks, the government privatization process, cabinet ministries and parliamentarians, business tycoons, organized crime and far-right gangs. It pointed to two ultimate sources of the problem. The first was the fanatical pursuit of the war against Kurdish armed insurgents in southeastern Turkey and other enemies of the state, and the second was the corruption of the ongoing strategy to privatize SEEs. Both the True Path Party and Motherland Party were implicated in the escalating spiral of scandals. But the issue went even deeper. Bülent Ecevit and the chief of general staff had known all about it since 1973. Far-right nationalist and marginal fundamentalist groups had apparently been secretly armed and used as paramilitary death squads with the knowledge of the highest officials of the state. Investigations of Çiller’s abuse of the prime minister’s fund suggested that the account had been used to pay such hit men and squads.
Three TPP associates were convicted while Çiller’s associates defended themselves throughout 1998 against charges involving their personal finances. Yılmaz’s government collapsed in 1998 as Parliament investigated his connections to organized crime.
The scandals of the 1990s were not evidence of anything wholly new in Turkish politics. This was how the Turkish political system had worked for decades, as an elaboration of systems of patronage. This is the result of political patrons’ access to dramatic sources of wealth in the form of control of the formerly state-owned industrial ventures and businesses (the SEEs). Beginning in the early 1980s, a very large portion of Turkey’s industrial capacity was put up for sale. The stakes were enormous, and it is hardly surprising that, in the struggle for control of this huge financial potential, some of the darkest forces in Turkish society came out in ways similar to what has been seen all over East Central Europe since the break-up of the USSR and the fall of the old Stalinist regimes. The ugliest aspect of it all is that retired generals or military personnel took the highest administrative or consultative positions in such ventures, and that murderous gangs were able to operate with the acquiescence of the Turkish military and bureaucrats, who found them useful against the separatists and other political dissidents. These gangs included not only neo-fascist groups but also marginal fundamentalists. A police shoot-out with an illegal Kurdish fundamentalist group called Hizbullah (unrelated to the group of the same name in Lebanon) in eastern Anatolia in early 2000 led to the discovery of huge caches of weapons and the remains of dozens of persons murdered by this group, which had received state support for its opposition to the PKK, the separatist (leftist) Kurdish armed group.
17. The return of Ecevit
After Yılmaz’s resignation, Ecevit, head of the Democratic Left Party (DLP), became prime minister. He was virtually the only prominent political leader untouched by scandal, and he took the nation to early elections in April 1999. His victory in those elections was helped by the capture of Öcalan, the PKK leader. Ecevit formed a coalition with Devlet Bahçeli’s NMP and Yılmaz’s MP. As prime minister, Ecevit confronted issues, some as old as the Republic, and others unexpected by earlier generations.
In 1999, Öcalan was captured, tried, and sentenced to death for treason for his role in leading the Kurdish separatist struggle against the Turkish state. Öcalan made some statements of reconciliation, calling for an end to the separatist war and pleading that the Turkish and Kurdish people were in the end indivisible. The Turkish military interpreted these remarks as evidence of PKK weakness.
In 1997, EU member states did not offer Turkey a pre-accession partnership. This stunned Turkey, which had held associate member status since 1964. Some EU member states feared that Turkey’s large population, cheap labor, and agricultural and industrial products might outbid the comparatively high-priced European labor and products. They also raised political objections to Turkey’s membership, such as the relationship with Greece, abuses of the civil rights of political dissidents and minorities, the use of torture, the military’s influence over elected government, and its very rigid attitude towards religion. Dutch parliamentarian Arie Oostlander reported (on Turkey’s accession to the EU):
The underlying philosophy of the Turkish state implies an exaggerated fear of the undermining of its integrity and an emphasis on the homogeneity of Turkish culture (nationalism), an important role for the army, and a very rigid attitude towards religion, which means that this underlying philosophy is incompatible with the founding principles of the European Union.
In 1999, an earthquake struck the most heavily industrialized Istanbul– Izmit corridor. The aftermath of the quake showed both the weaknesses and the strengths of Turkey. The state was completely inadequate and ineffective and came to people’s assistance too late and too slowly after the disaster. One dimension of corruption emerged with the death of more than 17,000 people: contracting procedures had allowed construction companies to put up shoddy structures that ignored building codes.
By 2000, the generation of men who had led the country since 1961 was passing from the scene. The coalition government failed to amend the constitution to enable Demirel to serve a second term as President; rebellious deputies urged Demirel to retire in spite of the potential for political and economic destabilization; the Supreme Electoral Board barred Erbakan from participation in politics; Türkeş died; after Demirel, Supreme Court Judge Necdet Sezer became President. A younger generation was calling for a more democratic, open, liberal, and humane public regime, for their leaders to translate the nation’s enduring values, potentialities, and aspirations into a form that could be meaningfully articulated in present conditions and carried forward to the future.
President Sezer did not merely disappoint the younger generations; he proved to be the staunchest protector of the status quo and, through his continual vetoes and unilateral actions against the government and parliament, a most vigorous opponent of the efforts for modernization and accession to the European Union.
Implications of the historical background
Like all the Ottoman intellectuals in his generation, Mustafa Kemal was brought up on the revolutionary, democratic, and nationalist ideas of the Young Turks, the Committee of Union and Progress and, through them, the French Revolution. The War of Independence primed Mustafa Kemal to come to power, to eliminate the sultanate-caliphate, and enable his socio-cultural and political ambitions to radically Westernize Turkish society. He was convinced that the only way to save his country was a radical change in the political system along the lines of the western European nation-states. He worked his strategy through the representative bodies authorized by local communities, the Republican People’s Party, the government, parliament, the institutions which these bodies set up and, later, through the statist-elitists. He controlled and guided the political power and cadre of a new laicist nation-state that would necessarily establish the conditions for the revolutions he had planned.
However, with and after Atatürk, the emergence of a protectionist bureaucracy, then of an intelligentsia, and the subsequent transformation of both through a broadening of the bases of their recruitment, education, and politicization, have deeply scarred Turkish history and society ever since. Domestic and international developments have not influenced the role and leadership of the protectionist elitists, namely the military, civilian bureaucracy, and academics. There is little recognition, on their part, that there might be a variety of models of social organization that could serve as a platform for Turkish society and interests in particular, and for global society and humanity in general. They do not see or appreciate that internal motivations and desires lead people, not political and external pressures. Inevitably, the road that the protectionist elitists paved in collaboration with vested interest groups only polarized society, increasing societal tension and unrest.
In any case, the radical reforms of the one-party era touched only some segments of society. Some segments did not take part in those top–down directly induced changes; also, some lived far away from the urban centers, or had little exposure to the reforms, or rejected and remained outside them. In short, the reforms were not as complete or extensive as some celebrated statist- elitist-secularists claim or wish to believe. Of course, some writers (notably, Daniel Lerner and Bernard Lewis) have lauded the resounding success of modernization in Turkey. On the other hand, its critics argue that ‘Turkish modernization, when examined from alternative vantage points, contained little that was worth celebrating’. So influential was their demur that by the end of the seventies ‘modernization’ had become a dirty word, and authors such as Lerner and Lewis were cited only as examples of the ‘wrong’ way of studying the late Ottoman Empire and republican Turkey.’ Divisions between those who unreservedly admire (even revere) the radical modernization and those who question it are mirrored in divisions between the urban and the rural, and between the east and the west of the country, which influence political views and trends in today’s Turkey:
Before anything else, the new republic would use all the power and energy at its disposal towards the substitution of Western culture for the Islamic. The insistence on changing Islamic institutions and structures prevented the modernizing elite of the Kemalist era from turning their attention to broader definitions of systemic change.
The governing ideology in the one-party period also necessitated its favoring an authoritarian, tutelary attitude towards the public, and its interventionist economic policy. There was little accumulation of wealth except in the hands of the state, no wealth-owning class that would protect and support the revolution and lead progress. That is why, in the 1930s, state-owned conglomerates were formed to carry out the state-planned industrialization and economic development.
The State-owned Economic Enterprises (SEEs) came, over time, to dominate business, economy, and politics. Through political patronage, government officials and former military officers staffed the bureaucracy of the new republic, saw the opportunities to create and build state-sponsored personal fiefdoms, and seized control of the SEEs. Further, taking advantage of tax exemptions, state subsidies, low-interest capital, priority access to scarce resources, foreign exchange and trained personnel, state officials and officers increasingly turned the SEEs against private sector competition. They became a real elite, a protectionist, republican class, with a strong grip on economic and political power.
When some politicians and parties sought to make reforms in the system, they could not do so without disturbing a protectionist elite unwilling to accelerate the democratization and economic liberalization that would harm their interests. Authoritarian rule and its suppressive measures, and scarcity of basic necessities, alienated people from the elitists’ ideas and attitudes. The role played by faith (Islam) in the identity and lives of the majority of Turks was undeniable. When the elitists tried to revolutionize and Westernize (as well as the material aspects of the state’s relations with its citizens) the inner dimensions of individual, family, societal, and religious identities, aversion and resistance were inevitable – as was the oppressive authoritarianism of the RPP in response to resistance, and its kindling, in turn, an even stronger desire for a free society and a liberal economy.
The invested sinecures – in theory for the people but in reality against them – facilitated and engineered the conditions for the protectionist elite’s interventions and military coups. Through the coups they sought both to re-establish state authority according to their own understanding and to restructure the political and economic system. Everything in society came to be institutionalized around a set of static norms imposed from above. Military power, constitutionalized and thus embedded in the state structure, defined the boundaries of civilian power. The arrangements of key political actors, prior to or during transformations, established new rules, roles, and behavioral patterns, which became the institutions upon which the new regimes consolidated. Accords between the political elite and the armed forces drew the parameters of civilian and military spheres that would later become persistent barriers to change and, thus, democratization. Before the transition to civilian rule the rules of the game were set by the military. New constitutions were drawn up by consultative assemblies largely appointed by the military. Thus began the period of ‘guided democracy’ with its ‘licensed’ or ‘accredited’ political bodies and parties, under the direct supervision of the National Security Council.
Political liberalism, which would gradually expand civil society, promote democratization, protect human rights and prevent destabilizing political responses, has never been fully achieved. In practice, elitist or military interventionist counter-mobilizations have allowed very little movement towards full democracy in Turkey – a fact acknowledged by European countries and authorities and, unfortunately, condoned by them ‘at all costs’ – even the cost of disenfranchising those elements of the Turkish population, ‘however moderate’, who support other political approaches.
The primary justification for the three coups in 1960, 1971, and 1980 was that rampant corruption and civil discord paralyzed the operation of parliamentary democracy. No coincidence then that the February 28 Process occurred at a time when bribery and corruption were endemic features of the economy. International records clearly put Turkey high in the list of most corrupt countries (57th out of 91 countries, according to The Corruption Perceptions Index 2001). The loss to the nation, as publicly declared by the Corruption Investigative Committee of the Turkish parliament, was 150 billion US$ through bank graft and plunder by their owners. It is noteworthy that some CEOs and top advisors of the banks concerned, and of the holdings that owned those banks, are retired senior generals.
The office of the president, the inter-parliamentary committees and other institutions clearly had, and through the Constitutional Court exercised, the power they needed to prevent the incumbent government or parliament from carrying out the reforms the nation needed. Since the leadership could not overcome opposition from other institutions and had to abide by the rule of the Constitutional Court, it could not carry out policies like economic and political liberalization, and so progress to democratic and political efficacy was stifled.
After the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern bloc, and the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s statesmen and civil societies worked to establish close commercial and political relations with the Balkan, Caucasian, and Central Asian states. A thin sort of culturally Islamic revivalism came into view. However, there was little prospect of any movement for an Islamic state gaining wide popularity in Turkey in the 1980s. Islamist fundamentalists occasionally staged dramatic acts of violence, but numerous polls of the general population have found that no more than between two and seven percent of Turks favored the establishment of a political order based on Islamic law. Throughout the 1980s, electoral returns gave Erbakan’s Welfare Party no more than ten percent of the popular vote nationally. Sometimes the specter of an Iranian- style Islamic revolution was raised, but Turkey was not Iran. No one in any way resembled Khomeini. The majority of Muslims in Turkey are consciously resistant to any sort of radical or fundamentalist Islamist movement. Even those who may be considered or consider themselves to be conservatively religious have grown up as citizens in a secular order and accepted its basic premises. Accordingly, Turkey’s Islamic or faith-inspired movements accept the fundamental premises of democracy.
Since the 1950s, there has been strong public demand for transformations in different sectors of the state apparatus. Societal changes and the demands for organizational autonomy have brought to light widespread issues and crises in the functioning of the country’s bureaucratic institutions. The normal functioning of those institutions has been instrumentally subordinated to the dominant interests. Political scientists Dorronsoro and Massicard observed: ‘Organizations controlling – directly or indirectly – the Parliament have increased in the last decades.’ Another political scientist, William Hale (1999), summed up the political system in Turkey as ‘amoral partyism’ or a ‘system of neo-patrimonialism’ in which a party’s ‘clients’ ignore any fiscal irregularities and political inconsistencies as long as they are benefiting – party leaders can therefore change alignments without any justification in terms of the party’s supposed ideology. So, democracy in Turkey is ‘characterized by state dominance over civil society, political patronage and corruption, and political parties that operate as spheres of intraelite competition’. The traditional protectionist leadership in Turkey has been based on a strict nationalist, secularist and bureaucratic-authoritarian understanding.
Several social and political scientists have detailed the particular features of the control and management flowing from this bureaucratic-authoritarian understanding over the last thirty years as: special interventions under pressure of particularist demands; clientelistic management of power; compromise with the traditional (protectionist) elites and with speculative and exploitative interests; unabashed spending of public funds for political purposes; the apportioning, by political entities, of publicly owned industry, SEEs, state agencies, and the banking system; and partisan control of information and the media.
As this chapter has also shown, given the logic of the dominant elitiststatist- secularist attitudes, questions have rarely been asked about certain issues, such as the heterogeneous block of interests mobilized around certain parties, the rationale of Turkey’s model of development, the imbalances between the east and west of the country, and between ethno-religious communities, the separation and exclusion between the protectionist and modernizing groups, the people’s need for faith and for a role for it, the place and significance of civic initiatives, the place, weight and status of Turkey in Europe and the world, and so on. Sociologist Ali Bulaç comments on the resulting waste of energy and resources:
The governing elite in Turkey, as a hard core, is resistant to any development, reform, or legitimate democratic demands [...] Democratic developments and increases in civil initiatives carry the accumulated energy from the periphery towards the centre, but resistance at the core continues to cause a waste of social energy.
In terms of the capacity to govern, the response by the Turkish political elite has consisted of the introduction of restricted reforms along with a resort to repression and counter-mobilization against its own people. In terms of capacity to represent, the reaction has taken the form of hyper-politicization and under-representation. This system of relationships has resulted in distorted modernization and the breakdown and transformation of collective actions, the hyper-politicization of all issues, short-term interest, patronage, and nepotism, societal conflicts and tensions, sectarianism and terrorism, and embezzlement, massive graft and corruption. Political analyst Heinz Kramer sums it up well:
Turkish society, therefore, needs to be directed to and transformed by institutionalization; the selection and renewal of modernizing personnel in organizations; democratization; globalization; the disengagement of old antagonistic elites and demands; and the acknowledgement of Islam as a guide to the spiritual well being of people.
We have seen in the foregoing that the protectionist group within the Turkish establishment collaborates with other ideological, media and interest groups to their reciprocal advantage and (nearly always) to the disadvantage of ordinary citizens. The templates of organization and repertoires of contention in Turkey and the Turkish societal context are very different from those that obtain in western Europe and North America. Although the Gülen Movement and other contemporaneous movements are similarly situated collective actors, it draws only on the available templates of organization, while other collective actors draw on repertoires of contention. Cultural stock and repertoires of contention are not static; they grow and change – something that has been demonstrated also in the accounts of state-sponsored organized crime, that is, the unfolding entail of the Susurluk incident and the February 28 Process.
The Gülen Movement introduced into the cultural space a new understanding that contentious or adversarial, conflictual or violent action, is not the best course, that it is no longer a valid or viable option and its effects tend to be both negative and, at best, short-lived. Then, on the basis of that understanding it offered an alternative, an option that was new and familiar: hizmet. Through faith-inspired but not faith-delimited service-projects, participants in the Movement committed their time and effort for the well-being of their fellow- citizens and the larger society; in so doing they have demonstrated practically that, rather than conflictual and violent action, the peaceful service approach, educational projects and co-operation, make a substantial and enduring difference in the life of individuals and communities.
In relation to contemporary discourse on collective action and social movement theories, I conclude that, while political opportunity structures are a factor and a link, and helpful in understanding how and why movements develop in Turkey, they cannot be said to be the only or sufficient determining factors for the emergence of either disruptive and violent collective action or of peaceful, altruistic community services. Findings from other socio-political contexts cannot be safely generalized or applied to the conditions, actors and counter-actors in Turkey. We may not assume that similar movements, operating in what appear to be similar political opportunity structures, will necessarily develop along similar lines. (The previous chapter reviewed examples showing that, despite similarities between the American and European political systems, movements developed quite differently in terms of tactics and impact, and after some time lag.) Nor may we assume that the availability of political opportunities necessarily and directly translates into increased collective action, whether contentious or peaceful.
Reliable description of the nature and identity of a collective actor must follow from careful, attentive focus on specific features, outcomes and framings of mobilization and counter-mobilization in the local societal context. Also, we need to give due weight to the ideas and sentiments, the discursive and interpretive processes, that have led to growing discontent, to violent or peaceful responses. Sound analysis needs to take into account a broader system of relationships, within which the actors’ goals, values, frames, and discourses are produced, facilitated, and constrained.
Societies differ in the amount of social movement activity they have, in how such activity is structured, sponsored, and controlled. In Turkey, it is largely either the state apparatus or the civil society that sponsor both movements or counter-movements. By contrast, in western Europe or North America, states often act or arbitrate neutrally, even though some state apparatus and democratic processes might look quite similar on other grounds. Accordingly, imputed or constructed meanings, especially in our case within the sociology of social movements, are not fixed or static but subject to change and variation with the social context. Meanings, concepts, societal conditions and resulting action are indeed different, albeit overlapping. The complex, symbolic, ideational, and inter-subjective factors associated with movement mobilization and dynamics are intermittently constructed, modified, and changed in the process of contestation, and they are also manifested, accepted and interpreted differently in different cultures.
Mobilizing and counter-mobilizing actors do not have equal access to the same cultural stock. Even if they do or claim that they do, the reality constituted by the skills, orientations, styles, interests and supporters or collaborators of the groups is sure to be somewhat different from what it appears or they claim it to be. How the socio-political elite, media, and interest groups conceptualize the nature, identity and outcome of mobilizations and countermobilizations is highly dependent on local conditions and context.
In the next chapter, we turn to the themes of the mobilization of the Gülen Movement in Turkey and the counter-mobilization by its opponents. We will focus on the period after which the Movement came to be perceived as a new, distinctive collective actor in social, cultural and symbolic contexts. We will give particular attention to the Movement’s means and ends – how it mobilizes and what for, how it frames both its own mobilization efforts and those directed against it; how it is mobilized against and to what ends; and how both mobilization and counter-mobilization are situated in relation to particular conjunctions of events and circumstances.
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