October 3, 2016
The Washington, DC-based The Turkish Heritage Organization (THO), hosted panel discussions at the Penn Club in New York and at the Carnegie Endowment Center in Washington, DC last week featuring three distinguished guests from Turkey who provided their insider perspectives on the state of the Turkish military, internal political developments in Turkey, and regional security interests.
Nedim Sener (far left), judge Col. Ahmet Zeki Ucok (ret.) and Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakki Pekin (ret.) at the Carnegie Endowment Conference Center in Washington, DC .
The guests included former head of military intelligence Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakki Pekin (ret.), Turkish military judge Col. Ahmet Zeki Ucok (ret.), and award-winning Turkish investigative journalist and author Nedim Sener. All three panelists have been victimized by Fethullah Terror Organization (FETO) in Turkey; Lt. Gen. Pekin and Mr. Sener were both accused of and imprisoned for being part of a clandestine anti-government conspiracy known as Ergenekon, while Colonel Judge Ucok was arrested and imprisoned for alleged involvement in a coup plot known as the Balyoz, or "Sledgehammer," case.
Complex and Dangerous Nature of the Gulen Network
According to all three of the speakers, there is ample evidence to show that the coup attempt was orchestrated by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen – who resides in Pennsylvania – and a shadowy group of his followers that has been labeled as (FETO) by the Turkish government. They presented evidence from investigations into the group to support the claim that Gulen's followers had succeeded in infiltrating state institutions – including the armed forces – over a number of decades. Speakers said that at the time, both the Turkish and U.S. governments turned a blind eye to the organization "when it suited them."
During the panel discussion Nedim Sener said, "The coup attempt on July 15 was not against the government in Ankara; rather, it was a crime against the Turkish people. It might have been designed to topple the AKP government but the coup attempt led by FETO targeted the Turkish public and was a big crime against Turkish people."
Gulen's Questionable Residency in the U.S.
Based on his extensive research of the U.S Embassy and Consulate's cables found in Wikileaks, award-winning investigative journalist Sener called into question the validity of Gulen's residence in the U.S. Sener indicated that Gulen's message of interfaith tolerance was seen highly skeptical by the three prominent religious leaders of the Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian communities in Turkey, who had refused to provide letters of reference for his residency application. Sener also claimed that Gulen was able to obtain residency mainly with the help of the two former CIA officials and a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey (Morton Abramowitz) who had provided letters of reference to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Sener had indicated that Gulen's questionable residency in the U.S. has endangered both the Turkish public and the U.S.-Turkey relationship. He called on media professionals and government officials in the U.S. to investigate the legitimacy of Gulen's application file, specifically the reference letters.
Gulen's Systematic Infiltration into the Turkish Armed Forces
Colonel Judge Ucok said that members of the network infiltrated the armed forces through two methods: by stealing the questions to the examination providing entry to military schools in order to ensure that members were accepted, and by eliminating officers within the armed forces who opposed Gulen members or were not affiliated with them through wrongful charges of criminal activities (as was done during the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials). According to military investigations, Colonel Judge Ucok said that the first known instance of theft of the exam questions was in 1986, with 500 students having been helped to enter military schools in this manner.
Colonel Judge Ucok, who helped conduct military investigations into the Gulen network's infiltration during his tenure at the Air Force Attorney General's office, claimed that investigations had shown evidence that during the period between 1986 and 2006, 30,000 officers could have been connected to the Gulen movement. He estimated that during the following decade, an additional 40,000 could have entered into the armed services, thus making the number of affiliated officers approximately 100,000 by the present day. He said that of the 358 generals in the Turkish Armed Forces, 160 had been connected to this organization.
Gulen's "Empire of Fear" Intimidated Everyone
Despite the fact that everyone in Turkey – including the "party in power and the opposition" – knew about the secretive group and their goals, few acted to stop them during the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials. According to Lt. Gen. Pekin, some politicians spoke of the importance of "military oversight," while Gulen-affiliated members of state institutions created an "empire of fear," intimidating politicians into silence via threats of blackmail. In some cases, officials kept quiet because they were expecting promotions. He stated that anyone who tried to investigate the organization was punished, sometimes with imprisonment based on forged evidence of criminal activity, as happened with all three of the speakers and in more serious cases, some were assassinated for digging too deep.
Gulen Still Poses a Threat for the U.S. and Turkey
Lt. Gen. Pekin, Nedim Sener and Colonel Judge Ucok indicated that unless Gulen is extradited, FETO will continue to pose a real threat for Turkey and its allies.
Colonel Judge Ucok stated that while the view of the group outside of the U.S. is of a charitable, interfaith organization, its activities in Turkey over multiple decades prove a nefarious intent to take control of the Turkish state and have earned it the label of "terror organization."
Former head of military intelligence Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakki Pekin (ret.) called on the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen, stating that "America has an obligation to assist its NATO ally in keeping the country stable. The United States needs to extradite Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey since he was behind the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15th."
Turkish Heritage Organization.