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Controversial Turkish congregation leader Fethullah Gulen accused the Turkish government of setting up a “non-existent phantom threat” in his first televized interview in 16 years.
PENNSYLVANIA:TBT News Desk – Turkish religious congregation leader Fethullah Gulen has given his first interview in 16 years, voicing his concerns over allegations made by the Turkish government that he is secretly running a ‘parallel state’ in the country.
Speaking to the BBC, Gulen dismissed the accusations, saying that the Turkish government is trying to “frighten people about this non-existent phantom threat.”
Gulen, who runs Turkey’s most influential lobby, the Hizmet Movement, from his home in Pennsylvania, USA, was previously a key ally of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
However, a series of events over the past few years has destroyed that relationship. The first cracks began to appear when Gulen and Erdogan disagreed with the sending of the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla to break the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza in May 2010. Nine Turkish nationals were killed when Israeli commandos raided the ship in international waters, firing live ammunition.
The Hizmet Movement, which has a number of influential members in the Turkish judiciary and police force, was later suspected of being involved in an attempt to smear the image of Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, when prosecutors revealed covert operations in tracking Kurdish separatist rebels both in and around the country’s south-eastern region.
A further split occurred when the Turkish government revealed that it was planning to transform prep schools into private schools. The Hizmet Movement, which earns a bulk of its income from prep schools in Turkey, protested the motion, saying that they are unable to meet the requirements to make such a change. Weeks later, a series of anti-graft operations that began on December 17 resulted in the arrest of a number of AK Party loyalists.
These raids, which have also targeted a number of institutions and individuals accused of helping Al-Qaeda linked rebels in Syria, were ordered and carried out by a number of prosecutors and senior police officers believed to be linked to the Hizmet Movement.
Denying his role in the raids, Gulen said “It is not possible for these judges and prosecutors to receive orders from me. I have no relation with them. I don’t know even 0.1% of them.”
Gulen also implied that the targeting of his movement’s prep schools may have been somehow connected to the ongoing peace negotiations taking place between the Turkish government and Kurdish PKK rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, claiming that Ocalan was “uneasy” with the opening of Hizmet Movement prep schools in the Kurdish regions.
“They didn’t want our activities to prevent young people joining the militants in the mountains. Their politics is to keep enmity between Kurdish and Turkish people,” he said.
In regards to allegations that his movement was working together with Israeli lobbies in the US to protect Israeli interests in Turkey and the Middle-East, the 74-year-old Gulen said “We are accepting of (Israelis) as a people, as part of the people of the world.”
Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank’s general manager Suleyman Aslan was among those arrested in the December 17 operations after being accused of breaching international sanctions on Iran. Although Halkbank in a statement claimed that all deals with Iran were within the legal regulations, the US-based Israeli lobby group AIPAC had pressured a number of US congressmen to write letters to the US treasury and foreign ministry, calling for action on Halkbank, just before the operation.
Turkish charity Human Relief Foundation (IHH), which organized the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla to Gaza, has also been targeted by a media smear campaign accusing them of supporting and protecting Al-Qaeda fighters in Syria.