Don’t Make Claims of US Involvement in Coup Plot, Kerry Warns Turks

By Patrick Goodenough | July 17, 2016 | 9:57pm EDT
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sheds tears during a funeral in Istanbul on Sunday, July 17, 2016 of his campaign manager Erol Olcak and two others killed during the failed coup attempt, (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

(CNSNews.com) – Amid a crackdown on soldiers and judges following an abortive weekend coup, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged his supporters Sunday to take to the city’s public squares in the coming days in an ongoing show of solidarity and in opposition to a group led by an influential U.S.-based cleric he accuses of responsibility for the plot to unseat him.

Speaking during a funeral ceremony in Istanbul for some of those killed during the crisis, the Islamist president said Turkey would demand that the U.S. and other countries hand over representatives of the Gulen Movement, whose leader, Fethullah Gulen, lives in Pennsylvania’s Pocono mountains.

Erdogan said his previous warnings to foreign leaders had not been taken seriously. He vowed to purge Turkey’s state institutions of what he described as a “cancer virus.”

Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999 and was a close ally of Erdogan until the two had a serious fallout in 2013, has denied any involvement in the coup bid.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who during the episode had voiced U.S. support for the elected Turkish government, called for restraint during its investigation.

During a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Kerry also cautioned Ankara against making accusations about U.S. involvement.

While Kerry said the U.S. was willing to help in the investigation, State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a readout of the call, he also made clear “that public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations.”

During a visit to Luxembourg, Kerry was asked whether the U.S. had received a request from Turkey to extradite Gulen, but said it had not.

“We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen, and obviously, we invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that stands – withstands scrutiny, and the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately,” he said.

Kerry also said the U.S. had had no advance knowledge of the planned coup, which he characterized as not having been “very brilliantly planned or executed.”

Critics say Erdogan has employed increasingly autocratic measures in strengthening his own position, targeting opponents and silencing dissent.

Erdogan last May declared the Gulen Movement (known in Turkey as Hizmet) a terrorist organization and vowed to crack down on its supporters whom he accused of trying to overthrow his government.

Some of the most direct accusations of U.S. involvement in the weekend events came not from Erdogan himself but from a cabinet minister and close ally, Suleyman Soylu, who was quoted as telling the Haberturk broadcaster bluntly, “America is behind the coup.”

Fethullah Gulen. (Photo: Alliance for Shared Values/Facebook)

Erdogan-Gulen rift

In a statement issued through his New York-based non-profit Alliance for Shared Values (AFSV), Gulen –whose movement runs a worldwide network of schools, including charter schools in the U.S. – denied Turkey’s allegations.

“As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt,” he said. “I categorically deny such accusations.”

Gulen also condemned the coup attempt, saying that [g]overnment should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force.”

“I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens, and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly.”

Turkey suffered military takeovers in 1960 and 1980, as well as interventions to bring about a change of government through the issuing of memorandums in 1971 and 1997.

Two years after that last intervention, Gulen traveled to the U.S., ostensibly for medical treatment. At the time religious groups like his were facing pressure from the secular military establishment and he decided to stay in the U.S., where he was subsequently granted permanent residency status.

He was later tried in absentia on charges of trying to overthrow the secular government. In 2002 Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power and later acquitted Gulen.

The Erdogan-Gulen split has been dated back to a 2013 corruption scandal that roiled Turkish politics and whose fallout continues to this day.

In Dec. 2013, law enforcement officers raided homes of prominent figures linked to the AKP and the chief executive of a state-run bank, and found stashes of millions of dollars in cash.

Some of those arrested during the investigation were accused of links to a money laundering, gold smuggling and bribery network designed to bypass international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear activities by shipping billions of dollars’ worth of gold to Iran in return for oil and natural gas. (Erdogan had in the previous few years fostered close ties to Iran, to the concern of some of Turkey’s NATO allies.)

Erdogan, who was then prime minister, characterized the scandal as a “coup attempt” and accused Gulen sympathizers in the police and judicial system of being behind the allegations. Gulen denied the charges.

Erdogan removed investigating prosecutors from their posts and police investigators were reassigned. After Erdogan became president in August 2014 the corruption charges were dropped.

Turks chant slogans during a pro-government rally in central Istanbul’s Taksim square. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

Mass arrests

Turkey’s Hurriyet daily on Sunday quoted Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying some 6,000 people have been detained since the failed coup attempt, including almost 3,000 soldiers and thousands of members of the judiciary, among them judges and prosecutors.

It said suspects were being charged with attempts to overthrow the government and “membership of an armed terrorist organization” – a reference to Gulen’s organization.

Among the military suspects detained are senior military officers, including generals, and the commander of the Incirlik airforce base, used by U.S. aircraft engaged in anti-ISIS airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

Bozdag expressed the view the U.S. would be more amenable to Turkey’s demands regarded Gulen after the weekend’s events.

“I am not of the opinion that the U.S. will continue to harbor a person who acts against Turkey any longer after this point,” he said. “That would cause huge harm to its credibility.”

In an unusual show of unity, Turkey’s four main political parties – Erdogan’s ruling AKP, the main secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the conservative Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Kurdish-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – came out quickly in a joint statement of opposition to the coup attempt.

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