Melih Ulueren is the Turkish Ambassador-designate to Nigeria. In this interview with KINGSLEY OPURUM, he speaks exhaustively on the failed coup attempt that claimed the lives of 250 Turkish citizens in 2016 and the modus operandi of the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO). Excerpts
What is the significance of July 15 in Turkey?
We are commemorating the second anniversary of the thwarted coup attempt of July 15, 2016. We are still struggling to overcome the trauma of this existential threat to our country. July 15 was not a typical military putsch.
Can you briefly explain how the incident transpired?
At the first sightings of fighter jets flying over Ankara and Istanbul we recognized that there was something amiss. In the ensuing hours, this feeling was intensified by the horrifying realization that it was beyond a military coup d’état and that the perpetrators of this hideous undertaking actually consisted of the disciples of Fetullah Gulen; the man who calls himself “Imam of the Universe”.
It is impossible to find the appropriate words to describe the brutality and treachery that the putschists displayed that night. It was the worst act of terror in the history of the Turkish Republic.
They used lethal military hardware against innocent civilians who took to the streets to defend their democratic institutions. They killed unsuspecting military personnel who took them for their comrades in arms and commanders who refused to take part in the attempt.
The putschists used fighter jets to bomb the Turkish Parliament, the Presidential Compound, the National Intelligence Headquarters, Special Forces Headquarters in an effort to subdue the resistance against them.
They attempted to assassinate the President and the Prime Minister. On that night they took the lives of 251 Turkish citizens and wounded more than 2000 people.
July 15 was a trial of strength and perseverance for the Turkish democracy and the State. It makes us proud to have passed this test. All the political parties, both in government and in opposition, the uninfected elements of the Armed Forces, the Police Force and the media stood up against the putschists.
Above all, it was the people of Turkey from all backgrounds and political views who resisted and displayed a historic example of solidarity as they stood selflessly in front of the tanks and reclaimed their democratic rights.
Even on the night of 15 July, it was obvious that Fetullah Gulen and his disciples were behind this bloody attempt. His desire to take control of the Turkish State and to reinstitute the regime according to his perverted religious ethos was no secret in Turkey. For decades, he directed his followers to infiltrate all critical state organs, such as the police, the judiciary and the armed forces.
It was a clear and systematic infiltration of the entire apparatus of government by Gulen’s disciples who, as a state within a state, tried to overturn the state.
But Fetullah Gulen is seen by some people as a peaceful Islamic scholar. What’s your take on that?
It will be a huge mischaracterization to think of Gulen merely as a peaceful Islamic scholar and preacher.
You may think that, Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) is a benign civic education movement, as some circles try hard to portray, and that would be a huge mistake.
These so-called “Gulenists” constitute a typical case of radicalization by a cult of personality. They believe that Gulen is the “Messiah” and that they are the “golden generation”. Their loyalty is to him only, making them violate any legal, religious or ethical codes in order to advance the interests of this group. Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation is a new generation terrorist organisation that is based on hypocrisy, concealment and secrecy.
What is the modus operandi of FETO?
This is an organization that has two tiers. The first layer is the legal and visible side. On appearance Fetullah Gulen leads a civil movement called “Hizmet”. On paper, “Hizmet” is a moderate, tolerant, non-violent and pro-dialogue social movement. The variety of associations in media, education, humanitarian work, banking and business associations etc. were established first in Turkey and later in different parts of the world.
Under the guise of legitimate social service efforts, Gulen and his followers gained access to vast financial resources, human capital, political and social influence.
Such vast wealth and influence have not been accumulated through legal conduct of business. It involved money laundering, bribing and operations through shady firms. It also involved destroying rivals through abusing state authority, which they acquired by infiltrating state structures, including the police, judiciary and finance.
Let me say loud and clear: FETO is a mafia-like cultish organisation, with clandestine political aims.
The Turkish Government rightfully takes necessary and proportionate measures to supress and eventually defeat this imminent threat.
How many countries does FETO operate? Or does it operate only within Turkey?
We are faced with a global enterprise, with global aspirations of power and dominance. FETO is present in more than 160 countries around the World, through schools, NGO’s, lobbyists, media outlets and companies.
Through their educational efforts they provide scholarships. Later, they specifically target these children whom they have provided with scholarships and indoctrinate them. Then, they encourage them to join the public service. The aim here is to infiltrate the public sector so as to influence the politics in line with their agenda.
Are there steps Turkish government is taking towards stamping out the operations of FETO in other countries of the world?
In a bid to halt the activities of the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO), the Turkish Government in 2016, established Turkish Maarif Foundation (TMF).
But there were reports that Turkey, through the Maarif Foundation, is trying to have FETO-owned schools shut down. Is it true? If yes, don’t you think that such move will render some Nigerians who are working in those schools jobless and also destabilise students?
Turkey understands the needs of Nigerian students and their families. To prevent the closure of these schools, Turkish Maarif Foundation, a public foundation was established in 2016. The aim of Maarif Foundation is to assume the ownership of the schools but never to close them. Nigerian teachers will keep their jobs (with a probable reasonable increase in salaries). The Maarif Foundation so far took over the schools in a number of countries with a view to providing better education for students.
Their actions in Turkey should be considered as a wake-up call for other countries. In many regions, FETO schools and other entities have been closely inspected and put under state control. Investigations into FETO structures and FETO operatives are under way in many countries. Global crime apparatus of this organization is shrinking.
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