Over the past year, Turkey has successfully fought against the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the terrorist group led by U.S.-based criminal Fetullah Gülen. Removing the group’s undercover operatives from strategically important public institutions has been a top priority in efforts to defend and preserve Turkish democracy.
But we’re only halfway there. First and foremost, it is crucial for the authorities to accept that the fight against FETÖ will take decades and to adopt a long-term approach toward this issue. As such, Turkish officials need to have a certain level of decisiveness, consciousness, strategic vision and coordination that state policy requires.
Although the organization has been crippled already, it is not possible to rule out the short- and long-term threats associated with FETÖ. Therefore, the fight against the group must be carried out with a sense of public interest that is above and beyond party politics.
Here’s why this is a good time to issue such warnings:
1) FETÖ is a terrorist group but one unlike the PKK or Daesh. The group has a much more complex and multilayered structure. Its heretic religious discourse and strong civilian organization makes FETÖ more resilient than others. At the same time, it remains (and will presumably remain) a useful instrument against Turkey, so it’s unlikely to be abandoned by foreign intelligence agencies. Senior Gülenists who relocated to Europe and the United States, coupled with young recruits who attended prestigious schools in the West, alone will be enough for their purposes. To make matters worse, the fact that the founders of FETÖ, including its leader, haven’t been captured yet is a serious issue itself. Finally, the possibility of the children of FETÖ suspects becoming radicalized remains a major risk.
2) The public debate about July 15 and the FETÖ trials in Turkey, along with certain problems with the judicial process and grievances, could alter the course of the war on FETÖ if they cannot be managed properly. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strong leadership and decisiveness may be an important advantage, but competition between political parties could render the FETÖ issue obsolete and over-used. Moving forward, it is important to distinguish between FETÖ members and people who supported the group in various ways in the indictments. Domestic support for the war on FETÖ must be kept high, as the authorities take the necessary measures to raise long-term awareness about the group among public institutions and nongovernmental organizations. At the same time, the State of Emergency Commission, which has started reviewing the applications of those who believe themselves to have been falsely accused of FETÖ membership, must be provided the necessary resources to function effectively. By taking such steps, the authorities must ensure that the war on FETÖ will remain important in the post-Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and post-Erdoğan period.
3) Although FETÖ has been designated by the National Security Council as a terrorist organization and the authorities have been successfully cracking down on the group, Turkey has yet to create a mechanism that will coordinate anti-FETÖ actions in the long run. By forming a high-level commission or body, the Turkish government could ensure that the fight against FETÖ will continue long after the acute period ends.
4) The war on FETÖ has thus far been considered the responsibility of law enforcement and the judiciary, but the social, religious and psychological aspects of the problem remain largely ignored. With FETÖ’s senior leadership, including Fetullah Gülen, still at large, the Gülenists won’t be discouraged anytime soon. Ahead of the 2019 elections, Gülen’s foot soldiers are open to being exploited by certain groups that are prepared to go to great lengths to ensure that Erdoğan won’t lead the country under the presidential system. At the same time, the authorities need to implement social policies designed to rehabilitate the family members, especially children, of FETÖ members who are likely to serve long prison sentences.
5) Turkey still has a long way to go in the struggle against FETÖ’s lobbying efforts and smear campaign in Western capitals. This issue must be considered a question of long-term public diplomacy and addressed with due coordination.
The above warning may seem exaggerated to the untrained eye. If you would like to learn more about this group, which is an anomaly of the Kemalists’ radical secularism, I would recommend taking a look at the relevant publications by the SETA Foundation, the Islamic Studies Center (ISAM) and the Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB).
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on August 2, 2017.