THO Hosted Book Launch for Comprehensive Academic Work on Gulen Movement’s Role in July 15th Coup

Contributing scholars discussed the Gulen Movement and its role in the July 15th coup attempt in Turkey
THO Hosted Book Launch for Comprehensive Academic Work on Gulen Movement’s Role in July 15th Coup
On March 22, THO hosted a book launch and discussion for Turkey’s July 15th Coup: What Happened and Why, the first comprehensive academic work in English that critically examines the events leading up to the dramatic and tragic coup attempt of July 15, 2016, and that addresses why the coup attempt was destined to fail.

The event was moderated by THO Executive Director Yenal Kucuker and featured the following speakers:

  • Dr. M. Hakan Yavuz – Editor of the volume and Professor of Political Science at the University of Utah
  • Dr. Sabine Dreher – Contributing scholar and Professor of International Studies at Glendon College, York University
  • Mujeeb Khan – Contributing scholar and Doctoral Candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley
The speakers discussed their chapters in the volume during a moderated conversation, which was followed by an audience Q&A. 

The evolution of the Gulen Movement and its role in the July 15th coup attempt

Drawing from his extensive research as part of this edited volume and his previous scholarship, Dr. M. Hakan Yavuz elucidated how the Gulen Movement’s goals and strategies have changed throughout its evolution from pietistic community to religious-civic association, with the movement eventually experiencing a period of symbiotic relationship with the ruling AKP in Turkey.

Dr. Yavuz said that, based on his own research involving court documents from the coup trials in Turkey and his knowledge of the civilians who engaged in the July 15th coup activities, he had concluded that the coup attempt was carried out by Gulenists in the military. He noted that as of yet there is no hard evidence directly tying Fethullah Gulen to the coup attempt; however, he emphasized that his scholarly research into the movement, which has included meetings with Gulen himself, has led him to come to an understanding that the movement is organized in such a secretive, hierarchical way that the coup attempt could not have been carried out without Gulen’s knowledge.

The Gulen Movement as a national elite segment that went global

Dr. Sabine Dreher explained that her understanding of the Gulen Movement’s goals and structures has evolved over time as she has conducted her research on the organization. She underlined that after extensive research, she came to understand that the movement is an instance of a “national elite segment” that has used business, education, and interfaith/intercultural dialogue activities on the global stage in order to strengthen its power and influence in Turkey.

Dr. Dreher noted that the Gulen Movement is active in more than 130 countries around the world, and in some cases – like the Balkans – the movement’s activities are carried out by independent, local (i.e. non-Turkish) actors. However, Dr. Dreher underlined that these global activities served to also bolster the movement’s power in Turkey, where it partnered with the AKP government to unsettle an “elite block” – i.e. the Kemalist secular segment of Turkish society. Thus, she indicated that rather than being an apolitical global nonprofit, the movement has in fact been an instrumental actor in affecting change on the Turkish state. 

How did the coup attempt happen?

Mujeeb Khan noted that Turkey has been a multiparty democracy since the beginning of the Cold War, but this in and of itself has not been enough to allow for the consolidation of Turkish democracy. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, military coups occurred frequently almost as a “corrective mechanism,” with the last successful coup being the 1997 putsch. Khan noted that certain developments between 2002 and 2010, such as Turkey’s robust GDP growth, had led some to believe that Turkey’s democracy had finally been consolidated, but the July 15th coup attempt changed that perception.

According to Khan, the coup attempt followed from a series of divergences between the AKP and the Gulen Movement that led the former to see the latter as a threat, resulting in a purge of members of the movement from institutions that they had come to dominate, such as the state bureaucracy, judiciary, and police. Eventually, the movement saw that its members in the military were going to be removed in an August 2016 meeting, and in a flurry of “now or never” thinking, the movement carried out the July 15th attempted coup.