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Turkey’s Most Powerful Muslim Preacher Scares Kurds
owerful Muslim Preacher Scares Kurds
EXETER, the United Kingdom -- There is ongoing tension in Turkey between the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the movement of the powerful Turkish Sufi preacher, Fethullah Gülen.
Debates heated up after Gülen told his followers in late October that God should burn the houses of “those among us who deserve nothing but punishment,” and criticized the army and state for not finishing off the PKK, a Kurdish guerrilla group that has fought Turkey for 30 years. Turkey, the United States and the European Union classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in America, is both loved and feared in Turkey. His movement controls a huge number of schools, media organizations and banks in 130 countries, including charter schools in the United States and Işık University in Erbil.
After his speech was broadcast, Kurdish Roj TV suggested in a broadcast that Gülen speech incited a “massacre strategy” against the Kurds. Members of the PKK, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and Kurds on Facebook also reacted angrily to the speech.
According to Kurtuluş Tayiz, writing for Today’s Zaman, the flagship of the Gülen movement, the PKK leaders declared the Gülen community the “biggest enemy of the Kurdish people.”
Although Today’s Zaman published Gülen’s criticism of the Turkish state for not solving long-standing issues over the rights of Kurds in Turkey, they did not include Gülen’s prayer in which he called on God to punish those “who deserve nothing but punishment.”
“PKK, the BDP and Kurds and translate and manipulate Gülen's words by saying Gülen suggested to kill Kurds.”
“Knock their homes upside down, destroy their unity, reduce their homes to ashes, may their homes be filled with weeping and supplications, burn and cut off their roots and bring their affairs to an end,” was part of Gulen’s prayer.
Well-known Turkish journalist and author Mustafa Akyol, author of the book Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, told Rudaw that “Kurdish media can be paranoid. His (Gulen) comment is a bit crude, but he is denouncing what would be called ‘separatist terrorists.’ But he said recently that he supports cultural rights for Kurds.”
Emre Uslu, a Turkish security expert who writes for Zaman newspaper, rejected the claim by Kurdish nationalists that Gülen is against Kurds, saying the “PKK, the BDP and Kurds and translate and manipulate Gülen's words by saying Gülen suggested to kill Kurds.”
Despite the PKK’s brandishing of the Gülen movement as anti-Kurdish, the movement runs several schools and charities in the Kurdish regions of Turkey. It enjoys the support of some Kurdish business elites. The movement was also involved in relief efforts after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the city of Van last month.
According to Uslu, Gülen reacts to the PKK because the group threatens him and his movement in Turkey’s southeast.
“[They] even killed two imams who are believed to be followers of Gülen movement [in the Kurdish southeast], and bombed Gülen's schools,” Uslu claimed.
Analysts suggested there is an ongoing competition in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey between the PKK and Gülen’s networks.
Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based expert on Turkey, suggested that the Gülen movement is supporting the case against the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).
Human rights groups say over 5,000 Kurdish activists, mayors, students and academics were arrested as part of investigations into the KCK’s links with the PKK. The mass arrests upset Kurdish MPs in Turkey, leaders of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq as well as western and human rights officials.
“Both Ergenekon and the KCK investigation are being used to try to eliminate the Gülen Movement's rivals,” Jenkins told Rudaw.
“The subtext to the KCK investigation is the battle for hearts and minds in southeast Turkey. The Gülenist NGOs are now very active in the region and thus compete with NGOs sympathetic to the Kurdish nationalist movement” as well as the Islamist Hizbullah, he added.
Jenkins predicted that tensions will grow between the two rival groups.
“The Gülenists may have bitten off more than they can chew with the KCK,” he said. ‘The investigation is used by the PKK to whip up anti-Gülenist sentiment. There has been a lot recently in the PKK propaganda outlets about the Gülen Movement, particularly since a recent reshuffle in the judiciary/police saw several suspected Gülen sympathizers transferred to the southeast.”
Turkish journalist and Washington reporter for Turkish Daily Vatan and Hürriyet, İlhan Tanır, maintained that Gülen wants “to eradicate the PKK,” and for the first time criticized the government for failing to deal with the PKK.
“He even accused the AKP (Justice and Development Party) administration for its failure to end the PKK problem in the last ten years,” Tanır told Rudaw.
Tanir said in the past, Gulen’s main rival was nationalist Kemalists and it was because of them that Gulen was unable to stand by the Kurds.
“So I do believe that Gülen is smart enough to see that it’s about time for (Turkey to have) Kurdish education, and you simply can't stop people from being educated in their native language,” he said.
“When one reads his prayers against this background, the prayers and the harsh demands entailed in them become even scarier."
Nevertheless, many Kurds in Diaspora remain hostile towards the current Turkish government, and the Gülen movement.
Kamal Soleimani, a Kurdish PhD candidate at Columbia University, told Rudaw that the Gülen community is against “any form of Kurdish politics whatsoever,” and sees the Kurdish issue as an “artificial phenomenon rooted in foreign plot to undermine the integrity of ‘that beautiful country’, Turkey and Kurdish simplemindedness, illiteracy and economic backwardness.”
Soleimani is concerned, as other Kurds are, about the impact of Gülen’s hard-line stance amid ongoing military operations against the PKK and mass arrests of Kurdish activists.
“When one reads his prayers against this background, the prayers and the harsh demands entailed in them become even scarier. We should pray to God to ignore Fethullah Hoca’s prayers. I do not think civilian Kurds will remain unharmed if God listens to this type of prayers,” Soleimani said.
Kani Xulam, director of the American Kurdish Information Network, told Rudaw that although Gülen does not want to give the Kurds their own state, nor autonomy, he is willing to give them some cultural rights.
“He says (Turkey) should not have banned the language of the Kurds for it has caused enmity between the Kurds and the Turks. He is for the removal of enmity for sure, but not, again, on the basis of equality,” Xulam said.