The night of the 15th of July has become a historical moment for Turkey. Turkish citizens, threatened by a group of Gulenist soldiers’ attempts to siege power via a coup, answered the call of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and took over the streets. The nation was fearless and did not shy away from using either its cars or bodies to stop the procession of the tanks at the strategic locations. Civilians took over the streets, reclaiming the media and government buildings that the Gulenists had occupied.

Turkey paid a heavy price for its resilience; the Gulenists ran people over with tanks, shoot protestors with machine guns from helicopters and bombed many places, including the parliament and the presidential palace, killing 265 people and injuring more than 1,440.

Members of the army responsible for this carnage are part of the Gulenist movement which started as a religious group under the leadership of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in Pennsylvania, USA, in self-imposed exile. Members of this movement have been working over the past decade to staff themselves in strategic governmental institutions to form a power block to rule the country indirectly. Regardless of the hierarchy or chain of command in the institutions they work for, full member Gulenists are known for having their primary affiliation to lie with their leader, so orders they receive from his authority supersede their legally binding responsibilities.

Western media, including the BBC, at first declared the attempted coup as an effort carried out by the opposition in Turkey. For a group to be called opposition, they need to have legitimate ways to oppose the people and institutions of power. However, the moment the armed forces shot at civilians, they became the people’s enemies. When they bombed the parliament, they became the enemies of democracy.

As the enemies of this nation and its democracy, the armed group within the Gulenist movement and their wider supporters cannot be called to constitute an opposition group vis a vis the democratically elected government. Efforts to present this group as such aim to create cognitive dissonance in people’s minds. This serves to either attribute some legitimacy to the causes and rationalisations of this terrorist group or to criminalise the elected officials with “cracking down on opposition” as they fight against the coup planners and attempters. Both are major blows to democratic notions and efforts that the West supposedly defends in the region.

Therefore, it is highly crucial to use the appropriate terminology while defining the Gulenist movement. It cannot be categorised as opposition, Turkey classes the movement as a terrorist organisation, and the group has proven to be an enemy of both democracy and the nation.

The Gulen movement, lacking a major political base, directed its efforts to becoming a staffing organisation that tries to grab power through institutions rather than trying to win elections. It initiated its efforts in the education sector and later made efforts to grab positions in the police, armed forces, bureaucracy and judiciary.

Members of the group were found to have illegally tapped into the calls of then Prime Minister Erdogan and members of his cabinet in December 2013. However, after Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won over 45 per cent of votes in the election, and he won a 52 per cent majority in the presidential election, Gulenist police and the members of the judiciary lost their overwhelming majority and influence in their respective institution.

The Gulenist movement was determined not to lose its final stronghold and attempted this coup not only to protect their positions in the army, but also to gain control of the country.

It is clear that they were prepared for the task ahead; the helicopters and tanks they were using were fully armed and fueled for war conditions, and they used F-16 planes to bomb places and scare civilians, in a move that shows that the army learned from the coup in Egypt and civil war in Syria.

They designed their coup expecting to clash with civilians and brutally killing the very people that they are supposed to defend. However, the level of courage and resilience shown by ordinary Turkish citizens, and their ownership of democracy and the country’s elected officials, was something the Gulenists had not accounted for.

Today, Turkish democracy has won a great victory, and Turkish nation reversed a coup in hours, an incident that is unique to Turkey. However, in the aftermath of this attempt, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the international community who must cast out this group that threatens the very ideals of democracy. Calling them opposition, denying their sanguinary terrorist side – which they illustrated on Friday night – will only exasperate the democratic problems in the region.

They are the enemies of the democratic system that the people of this region want to adopt and enjoy fully, so it is important to refer to the Gulenists correctly, without sugar coating.

This article was first published by Middle East Monitor


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