Fourth Anniversary of the July 15 Coup Attempt in Turkey

Fourth Anniversary of the July 15 Coup Attempt in Turkey

15 Jul 20

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, THO hosted a webinar on the “Fourth anniversary of the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey”. Featuring Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Turkey, Yavuz Selim Kıran, Film Director and Producer of Documentary “Killing Ed”, Mark Hall, and Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University, Michael Reynolds.

THO was honored to receive three top-level specialists, from Turkey and the United States for the Fourth Anniversary of the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. Mr. Yavuz Selim Kıran stepped in for a Keynote address as an introduction of the 2016 coup attempt. He reminded us all of the ongoing efforts to commemorate and bring justice for those who stood for democracy. On the panel, moderated by Savannah Lane, both Mr. Hall and Mr. Reynolds highlighted fundamental keys of understanding concerning the Gülen movement, its alleged implications in the coup attempt, and the transnationalization of its activity.

Context of the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey

On the night of July 15, 2016, a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces attempted to seize control of multiple governmental places in Ankara, Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey. Both the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace were bombed from the air. The Peace at Home Council, through which they organized themselves condemned the erosion of secularism, elimination of the democratic rule, and disregard for human rights as a justification for their actions.

The Turkish government stated that the Gülen movement (known as FETO in Turkey), a transnational organization, was behind the coup. Living in Pennsylvania since the early 2000s, Fethullah Gülen is the alleged leader of the coup attempt and himself a Turkish businessman and cleric.

During the coup, over 300 people were killed and more than 2000 were injured. Following the coup, mass arrests were conducted within the army, justice, and educational systems. Since then, more than 77,000 people have been arrested on reports of connections to Gülen.

The structuration of the Gülen movement in the U.S

In his keynote address, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Kıran, called for “solidarity, unity and brotherhood” for those who supported Turkey’s democratic principles following the coup attempt. Despite the progress made by Turkish-led civil society, the Deputy Minister criticized the obstacles faced on the path for justice and the extradition of Mr. Gülen and partisans from the United States.

While working on his documentary “Killing Ed” and conducting extensive research on the Gülen movement at the head of almost two hundred charter schools in the U.S, Mr. Hall unveiled how the movement structured itself since the 1990s, from a social movement in Turkey to a thriving transnational movement. Fethullah Gülen who immigrated to the U.S in the early 2000s was followed by many supporters who have then established charter schools throughout the country.

For Mr. Hall, there is no doubt that the Gülen movement was at the origin of the 2016 coup attempt. Indeed, numerous documents showed that a few weeks before the coup attempt, several members of the movement had been found sending money abroad and moving back and forth to Turkey. Mr. Reynolds underlined that Fethullah Gülen should have been already on the radar of the U.S Department of Homeland Security for a while after being accused of visa fraud, tax fraud, and other violations. Nowadays, the movement is still fueling the U.S economy, with about 300 million dollars going to Texas every year, through 64 schools.

Implications of the post-coup attempt from an American standpoint

For M. Reynolds this coup attempt should not be underestimated, nor a “rain in Seattle” or orchestrated by the Turkish government, he stated. Even though at the time a lot of frustration was emanating from Washington D.C against President Erdoğan and Turkey’s policy, no one was supportive of a coup d’état that would have destabilized such an important country, an entire region, and strategic relationships.

Both speakers pointed out that the issue might be difficult to grasp for people unfamiliar with Turkey. However, this subject has more to do with Americans than anyone could have through in 2016. Indeed, as Mr. Reynolds said, the multiple violations perpetrated by Gülen members in the United States, have done “a great deal of harm” both to the country and its citizens. Mr. Hall added that the issues raised by his documentary and this peculiar movement were highly sensitive as they’ve regarded both the relationship between the United States and Islam as well as the relationship between those who come to the U.S and seek benefits for themselves.

Towards a renewed U.S-Turkey relationship

Following the coup attempt, concerns were raised from both sides of the Atlantic. Criticisms about the lack of transparency from the Turkish state concerning the night of July 15, or the overruled decisions made by the U.S Department of Homeland Security concerning the extradition of Fethullah Gülen.

Mr. Reynolds pointed at a decision that Turkey could have made in 2016, such as hiring independent researchers to investigate the coup attempt. In the United States, such a decision could have enabled more trust from Washington, and then influenced the actions led by the Trump administration and the Justice Department. Mr. Hall added that the Gülen movement should be looked at by really high-up U.S officials for its infiltration of the U.S education.

As Mr. Hall concluded, “This is not a Turkish problem, this is also an American problem, and it is continuing to grow, and we need to keep an eye on it.”, before adding “We need to remember the people who have died in Turkey as a result of this coup, and those who have been injured. As people here in the United States who support democracy, as one of our key elements of who we are, we need to be supportive of those who try to quash anti-democratic events like we saw that evening of July 15.”

We thank our supporters Turkcell and Turkish Airlines for their contribution.