TURKEY'S GULEN CONGREGATION SUBJECT OF LATEST WIKILEAKS
The perspective of the United States on religious leader Fethullah Gülen and his international community has evolved over the years amid lobbying efforts by the group to change its image, the latest leaked diplomatic cables suggest.
Though U.S. officials perceived the community as adhering to a "moderate Islam" model, they expressed concern when the first documents were released by WikiLeaks' new Turkish partner. The concerns regarded the perceived infiltration by Gulen followers into the Turkish police and accusations of "student brainwashing" at the religious community's schools around the world.
The confidential cables released by the Daily Taraf focus on U.S. diplomats investigating and analyzing the religious community and its actions, Gülen's meeting with the pope in 1998, and his stay in the United States, according to reports in the Turkish media Thursday.
The newspaper was set to release the original cables on its website late Thursday as the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review went to press.
Gülen went to the United States on a tourist visa and applied in 1999 for a permanent resident card, or "green card," which he was denied. His lawyers took the matter to court and won the case, granting Gülen his green card in 2008. A 2009 cable by former U.S. Ambassador [to Turkey] James Jeffrey mentions that, although Gülen's status in the United States was governed by a court decision, some diplomats incorrectly believe it to be the result of the [changes in] U.S. policy toward Turkey.
A secret cable by Stuart Smith, U.S. deputy chief consul for Istanbul, mentions he was told by Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva that a recommendation letter was demanded from the rabbi for Gülen. Haleva told him the letter was to change the image "among some units of the U.S. government" that Gülen is "a radical Islamist who hides secret and sinister agendas with his moderate message." These people were mentioned by the Daily Taraf as members of the Turkish Journalists and Writers Association.
Rabbi Haleva was hesitant to write such a letter to describe Gülen's relations with the Jewish community.
The Armenian patriarch received a similar demand and was likewise hesitant.
However, the Vatican representative in Istanbul fully supported Gülen, according to the same cable.
The FBI was also asked for a document of "clear status" by Gülen but [the FBI] did not give it because it might be used for a public-relations campaign, according to a cable featured by the Taraf. One 2005 cable said the Gülen community seems to be a "moderate Islam" model that keeps its distance from violence and terrorism and is not anti-Semitic. However, it is also mentioned that since the Gülen community is running a global mission of Islamism, it remains to be seen whether it will remain positive or not. The "brainwashing of students" was mentioned during an evaluation of the community's schools around the world.
The perception of Gülen changed, however, after U.S. diplomats looked further into the community and spoke to more people about its organization in Turkey, according to the Taraf's coverage. Later reports said Gülen is not a Khomeini supporter who wants to transform Turkey into another Iran. The problem of the Gülen community is not with secularism itself but Turkey's version of it, which wants to "control everything," the cables say. "The Gülen community members do not want to bring down the secular order in Turkey dramatically, they are after a change from within," one said.
The 2009 cable by Jeffery describes Gülen as a "political phenomena" in Turkey even he is "in exile" in Pennsylvania. It was also said the Gülen community is strong within the police force and is in conflict with the military, which sees the group as an enemy.
"It is not possible to confirm the Turkish police are under the control of the Gülen community members, but we have not met anybody who denies it," one cable said. The Gülen-controlled media is supporting the investigation into the alleged Ergenekon coup plot and has resulted in many opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ending up behind bars, the cable stated.
Gülen met John Paul II in the Vatican in February 1998 upon an invitation from the pope. Taraf's story said the two people who helped arrange the meeting were Üzeyir Garih, a Turkish businessman of Jewish origin, and Georges Marovitch, spokesman for the Clerics Board of Turkey Catholic Communities, both known as close friends of Gülen. Garih was stabbed to death in Istanbul's Eyüp Cemetery in 2001 while Marovitch survived a murder attempt in Rome in 2007, when an unidentified assailant pushed him onto a train track. Both incidents left many questions unanswered, the Taraf story said.
Cable says Turkish PM perceived as 'liability' by Gülen movement
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a "liability," members of the Fethullah Gülen community have said, according to a U.S. embassy cable recently released by WikiLeaks' Turkish partner, the Daily Taraf.
According to the cable, President Abdullah Gül is perceived to be a member of the religious community "by almost everybody," but Erdoğan is not. Many told U.S. diplomatic officials that Erdoğan had placed himself outside of the "Gülen front" in such a way that he is perceived as a "liability."
The cable also said the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), and other parties that oppose the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), were quick to accuse the United States of secretly supporting the Gülen movement so as to "weaken the secular foundations of Turkey in order to create a moderate Islamic State 'model.'"
People are hesitant to reveal their actual opinions because they are afraid what they say could hurt them later, according to the cable.
HEADSCARF TIES AKP STRATEGY IN KNOTS
Candidate applications filed by twenty headscarf-wearing women have split Turkey's ruling party, with one faction supporting their bid for parliamentary seats and the other saying the time is not right for such a move.
Applicant Fatma Bostan Ünal, one of the founding members of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), said she is seeking to be a candidate for Ankara because 65 percent of women in Turkey wear headscarves and they need to be represented in Parliament.
"As a founding member of the AKP, I found it right to take the first step to remedy this injustice of democracy," the headscarf-wearing Ünal told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
The issue first came on the agenda in 1999, when Merve Kavakçı was elected as the Virtue Party (FP) member of parliament for Istanbul, but was prevented from taking the parliamentary oath due to her headscarf. It is unclear whether any of the 20 women, if they win a seat in the June 12 general elections, would be allowed to enter parliament. Women are not allowed to wear headscarves while working or studying at state-run institutions, including public schools.
Some observers have speculated that the ruling party plans to nominate headscarf-wearing candidates from places where they have less of a chance to be elected, so as to avoid this dilemma altogether.
Asked in November if his party would have candidates wearing headscarves, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told the Daily Taraf, "Anything can happen in politics."
AKP deputy leader Hüseyin Çelik told journalists Thursday, however, that such a thing was "not possible in today's agenda."
"There should be candidates wearing headscarves, but not now," AKP deputy leader Bülent Arınç told Kanal Türk in early March.
Nearly 6,000 people have applied to run as candidates for the AKP in the general elections. Some 20 to 25 of them, mostly in Istanbul, Ankara, Şanlıurfa, Trabzon and Balıkesir, wear headscarves.
One claim making the rounds in Ankara is that the AKP approached Gülafer Yazıcıoğlu, the widow of Great Union Party (BBP) leader Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, who died in a helicopter accident, to run for his seat as a way to bring a "covered" woman to parliament. Her rejection of the proposal reportedly prompted the party brass to abandon the idea and send a message discouraging women's branch leaders who wear headscarves from applying.
Supporters within the AKP of running candidates who wear headscarves point out that other parties are doing it, while opponents say other important issues on Turkey's agenda would prevent such an initiative.
'All parts of society must be represented'
"Not having a candidate who wears a headscarf would be unfair," Daily Taraf writer Hilal Kaplan, who wrote a column this week entitled "We want a deputy who wears a headscarf," told the Daily News.
"If we live in a representative democracy, then all parts of society must be represented," Kaplan said. "Parties must have candidates who wear headscarves. There are no legal obstacles to this."
According to a recent public opinion survey on the controversial headscarf issue, 78 percent of people agreed with the statement that it is a woman's choice to cover or not, while 15 percent said a woman must wear a headscarf and 6 percent said no one should wear a headscarf. Of those polled, 78 percent said a female deputy wearing a headscarf would be "normal."
"These polls prove that the people have solved the issue; it is now the politicians' turn to do so," said Metropoll Research Center owner Professor Özer Sencer, whose firm conducted the survey on behalf of the Turkish Businesswomen's Association (TİKAD). "The people are saying that it is pointless to continue the ban on headscarves," Sencer told the Daily News. "Only 20 percent say no, and most of them support the opposition parties."
Noting that the issue has been on the agenda since Kavakçı's election in 1999, Sencer said it had to be resolved eventually.
The political movement that nominated Kavakçı included AKP deputy leader Arınç, who now says headscarf-wearing women should not be candidates now, said Ünsal. "Was it the right time then and today is not the right time? Is it so?" she asked. "This attitude is not justified in terms of human rights and the right to stand for election."
Turkey's first 'covered' deputy
Though Kavakçı was prevented from taking the parliamentary oath due to her headscarf, she identifies herself on her website as Turkey's first "covered" deputy.
She was eventually stripped of her Turkish citizenship, and her membership in parliament, after it was revealed that she had obtained U.S. citizenship March 5, 1999, without informing Turkish officials.
In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Kavakçı's expulsion from the Turkish Parliament was a violation of human rights. The court sentenced Turkey to pay 4,000 euros to Kavakçı.
Kavakçı eventually regained her Turkish citizenship, and now lives in Washington, D.C., where she works as an international relations professor at George Washington University.
ERDOĞAN'S MINI-DAVOS FIZZLES WITH NO-SHOWS
The first annual Istanbul World Political Forum has ended with a no-show by Turkish President Abdullah Gül, the scheduled closing speaker, concluding a summit characterized by low attendance as many regional leaders sought to quell political discontent at home.
Billed by organizers as the "alternative Davos" in reference to the high-profile yearly meeting of world business and political leaders in the Swiss village, the Turkish version largely failed to meet expectations as uprisings across the Middle East and an earthquake in Japan kept key speakers away and attention elsewhere.
The two-day event called the "Leaders of Change Summit" opened March 14 at the Istanbul Conference Center with a speech by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who after an argument with Israeli President Shimon Peres in January 2009, stormed off the stage and vowed never to attend the Davos World Economic Forum again. He's missed the last two meetings.
The clash with Peres boosted Erdoğan's popularity in Turkey by 10 percent and spurred organizers to search for an alternative forum in which leaders, largely from the developing world, meet to exchange views on issues of global importance including international finance and development, poverty, the environment and conflicts.
As uprisings spread across the Middle East though, top guests on the schedule, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, stayed home and panel speakers were frequently switched without notice as the summit ended on Tuesday.
'Something went wrong'
"We expected to have all of the halls and meeting rooms filled but at some point, something went wrong," Nisan Necimoğlu, a spokeswoman at Tour Orange, which managed the event, said in a phone interview. "We're going to work on it for next year."
Scheduled guest Gamal Mubarak, son of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, didn't show after Egypt's government was overthrown by a popular revolution. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose face was used in promotional materials, also didn't show. Zapatero has worked with Erdoğan on a campaign to help bridge the ideological gap between the Christian and Islamic worlds, labeled the "Alliance of Civilizations."
In a press conference in February, Ahmet Eyüp Özgüç, head of organizers the Turkish Future Research Foundation, said the aim was to create a yearly meeting at the 5,000-seat venue that made Istanbul the center of world political debate, a goal in line with Turkey's more assertive foreign policy under Erdoğan.
"Our goal is to make Istanbul into the political Davos," Özgüç said. "If you're looking for a center for political debate in the world, Istanbul is the most suitable location."
Almost all speeches and introductions at the conference were in Turkish, as well as the public announcements, causing some confusion among foreign guests in the audience. Panels often ran an hour or more late, when compared with a written schedule handed to attendees.
On the second day, the main conference hall was nearly empty most of the day, and organizers drew curtains across the back of the auditorium to hide more than 2,500 empty seats.
Panelists in attendance included former U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan, former U.S Vice President Al Gore, who gave a version of his "Inconvenient Truth" slideshow on global warming, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, and current and former heads of state of Kosovo, Ukraine, Malaysia and the Netherlands.
The event was notable for the accessibility of Turkish officials, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, almost all Turkish ministers and economic officials such as Central Bank Gov. Durmuş Yılmaz, which ultimately gave the event an unintended local feel.
TURKISH STATE MINISTER HOLDS TALKS IN THE UNITED STATES
Turkish State Minister & Chief Negotiator for the EU talks, Egemen Bagis, who is visiting the United States, and had a meeting with U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions.
Replying to a question after the meeting, Bagis said that he did not observe any activity regarding a new resolution on Armenian allegations about the incidents of 1915. "The Turkish ambassador, Turkish associations and our citizens clearly put forth their view when the resolution was brought up. It would not be pleasant to bring up this unreasonable resolution again. Our U.S. friends clearly understood our sensitivity on the matter," he said.
Bagis said that developments in Libya were also discussed in his meetings. "I told them that we are monitoring developments there. Most of Turkish citizens returned to Turkey from Libya, but there also others who preferred to stay there. There are Turkish companies in Libya and Turkey exerted great efforts to prevent loss of life," he said.
Replying to a question, Bagis said that Americans supported Turkey's EU accession process. "We attach great importance to the United States' support on the matter," he said.
ENERGY OFFICIALS MEET IN DAMASCUS FOR TURKEY-SYRIA ENERGY ARENA
Turkish and Syrian energy officials met Thursday in Syrian capital Damascus for the conference of the Turkey-Syria Energy Arena.
The event discussed energy markets and investment opportunities in the two countries.
The head of Turkey's energy market regulatory authority (EPDK), briefed participants on the booming energy market in Turkey.
Hasan Koktas said Turkey's GDP rose to $730 billion and exports reached $114 billion last year. He said the economic growth created new opportunities and energy reforms made Turkey an attractive country for energy investments.
Business models, such as build-operate-transfer, build-and-operate and public-private partnership, paved the way for a significant growth in energy generation and investments in Turkey, Koktas said, adding that Turkey had great experiences to share with Syria on implementation of such financial models as well as construction of public and private energy stations. Syria has made new laws that allow private investments in energy industry. The new laws will take effect in May.
Koktas said Turkey's experience could be a guide for Syria, which has plans to build new natural gas, coal and wind power plants in the next five years with a planned capacity of 4,000 mw.
SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER ARRIVES IN TURKEY FOR TALKS ON BAHRAIN CRISIS
The Saudi foreign minister arrived in Turkey on Thursday for talks with Turkish leaders, hours after dozens of Turks demonstrated against his country for its military intervention in Bahrain.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was scheduled to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, as well as President Adullah Gul, to discuss regional and international topics, NTV television reported. No news conference was scheduled.
Turkey is trying to ease tension after Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations have sent troops to help the island's ruling Sunni minority. Davutoglu was scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia for further talks on Friday, his office said.
Earlier Thursday, about 50 Turks held a protest outside the Saudi Embassy, shouting: "Get out of Bahrain."
Both the European Union and NATO urged authorities in Bahrain to refrain from violence and settle the escalating crisis through political dialogue.
BAYKAL: "I WILL NOT TESTIFY"
The main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) former chairman Deniz Baykal who was summoned by Zekeriya Oz, the chief prosecutor in Ergenekon case, to testify upon allegations by Oda TV reporter Iklim Bayraktar said that he would not testify. Baykal released a statement and said that due to a slander against him, a legal summons was on its way. "We are assessing recordings, statements and allegations," he said. Baykal said he would not testify.
HE RESCUED CORRESPONDENT OF THE GUARDIAN
The British Guardian newspaper asked Turkish President Abdullah Gul [for help] when its correspondent Ghait Abdulahad was arrested in Libya. At the direction of Gul, Turkish Foreign Ministry took action and Iraqi correspondent Abdulahad was released and sent to London yesterday.
TURKEY'S EU MINISTER URGES TURKS IN U.S. TO GET ORGANIZED
Turkey's top official for relations with the European Union has called on Turks living in the United States to get organized to watch out for Turkey's interests there.
"We could get to speak as one voice whenever necessary if you stay in touch with each other as well as with our ambassador and consul generals here," Egemen Bagis told in Washington's Turkish American National Leadership Conference, co-hosted by the Assembly of Turkish-American Associations (ATAA) and the Federation of Turkish American Associations (TADF).
Bagis said expatriate Turks all had a responsibility to their motherland, adding that Turks living in the U.S. had even a great responsibility. "You are living in the country that can create the biggest of butterfly effect. That is why Turks living here do not have the luxury to make up excuses in the face of developments, whatsoever. Issues that involved Turkey in the U.S. have their effects else where in the world, which doubles the burden on your shoulders," Bagis said.
"We are expecting much from you. Do not forget that each and every one of you is a Turkish ambassador here representing Turkey," he said.
Bagis said Turkey's relations with the U.S. have grown to be much more powerful than they were a decade ago, adding that American have come to understand Turkey better over the years.
TURKISH PM RETURNS FROM MOSCOW, SAYS TURKEY AND RUSSIA WILLING TO MOVE FORWARD
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that relations between Turkey and Russia improved in recent years and both countries were willing to move forward together.
Erdogan paid a two-day visit to Russian Federation and co-presided over the Turkey-Russia High-Level Cooperation Council meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
He also met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and held talks in Tatarstan. "During my talks in Moscow and Tatarstan with Russian officials, we were pleased to see that relations improved significantly in almost every field. We also saw that both parties have the strongest will to move forward relations," Erdogan told a press conference at his arrival in Ankara.
Erdogan recalled that officials of Turkey and Russia exchanged notes that pave the way for visa-free travel for Turkish and Russian national between the two countries. "Visa-free regime will begin in April," Erdogan said. "So, Russian and Turkish citizens will be free to travel between the two countries without obtaining visa," he said.
RUSSIA AND TURKEY BATTLE OVER PIPELINE: REPORTS
Russia and Turkey have locked horns over Moscow's South Stream gas pipeline project as Ankara is putting off its approval of the route to bargain for lower gas prices, reports said Thursday.
The pipeline project to pump gas through the Balkans and onto other European countries was announced in 2007 and is seen as a rival to the European Nabucco project that will bypass Russia.
But Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made minimal public remarks on the South Stream pipeline during his visit to Russia this week, saying merely that "joint work is continuing."
However the issue was hotly debated behind closed doors and is becoming a point of contention between the two countries, according to Russian media.
Ankara is looking to use the pipeline issue, championed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, to pressure Moscow to lower its price of gas, Gazeta.ru online newspaper said Thursday.
The pipeline would go through Turkey's territorial waters but Ankara has yet to give its approval for construction though it initially promised to give the green light last December.
Recent statements have raised questions about Russia's faith in the project, with Putin ordering energy minister Sergei Shmatko last week to consider building a liquefied natural gas plant on the Black Sea.
"Right now Gazprom and the government are looking at various ways to minimize expenses in realizing the South Stream project," Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who oversees the energy sector, told Kommersant Thursday.
"The possibility of building a gas liquifying plant on the Black Sea can be an addition or one of the alternatives to the pipeline," he said. "Though the LNG plant could also be built in the Russian north for Yamal gas."
Announcements of a possible LNG plant is merely a bluff on Russia's part as Turkey is delaying its approval of South Stream in order to apply pressure on Moscow, analysts said.
"It's a bluff meant for Turkey's ears," said Mikhail Krutikhin of RusEnergy. "Russia cannot cancel South Stream since it would be a major blow to the prime minister's image and all the agreements signed with Eastern Europe," he told Kommersant.