(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
If there is one country besides Pakistan which draws hiss and roar from India, it is Turkey and a series of unprecedented measures by New Delhi in recent times lends credence to such a startling impression.
Not only India has put off a scheduled visit of its prime minister Narendra Modi, it has also shelved a mouth-watering Indian navy contract with a Turkish company. It has issued an advisory to Indian tourists to exercise “utmost caution” while touring Turkey and it mouthed fire when Istanbul put boots in northern Syria last month.
What’s wrong between the two countries which historically stood by each other in the past? It was Turkey which gave refuge to Indian clerics when colonialists Britain cracked down on India’s war of independence in 1857. A half century on, Mahatma Gandhi took up the Khilafat movement on behalf of the Ottoman Empire as it was being cut to pieces by the British in 1919. Turkey was one of the first nations to recognize India on its independence in 1947. Indeed, there are over 9,000 words which are common in the language of the two countries.
Fast forward to present times: Turkey was one of those rare nations who used the United Nations platform to internationalize the Kashmir issue this year. India hit back by snuggling up to leaders of Armenia, Cyprus and Greece which have long-standing border disputes with Turkey. The bilateral trade, which grew by one-third between 2016-2018, is reeling as the two bare teeth at each other. The chill befuddles the innocent for Turkey is a geographical marvel, straddling East and West and India is an economic candy which has the world lining up on its door. Both have ample reasons to find each other attractive.
The timeline of discord
The timeline of discord would show that it all began at the beginning of the Cold War when Turkey and Pakistan joined the Baghdad Pact, or CENTO (Central Treaty Organization), initiated by the United States and India assumed the leadership of newly-freed Colonial outposts, the Non-Aligned group, under the benign protection of Soviet Union. The wheels came off in due course with Turkey standing firmly behind Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir and thwarting India’s bid for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for a long time.
It would appear Turkey has given India a clutch of reasons to worry about, as a wounded deer would about encircling wolves. It all stems from president Recep Tayyip Erdogan endlessly gazing in the mirror and watching the heir of Ottomon Empire, the saviour of Muslim civilization, peer back at him. It makes him take up the causes from Palestine to Kashmir to Xinjiang, build mosques from Asia to Africa to Latin America and spend a fortune in restoring Ottoman heritage around the world.
India, hosting 200 million Muslims in its bosom – the third largest such concentration in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan – and is a natural target. Turkey thus takes up the Kashmir cause with gusto, openly siding with Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistan-based Islamic fundamentalist party, which has notorious Hizbul Mujahideen as its militant wing that causes unending cycle of violence and terror in Kashmir Valley. No wonder Turkey is a cause célèbre among Kashmiri separatists such as Hurriyat and Erdogan’s victory in presidential elections last year led to huge celebrations in Kashmir.
Turkey plays host to extremist Indian Muslim preachers such as Zakir Naik who delivered a speech to an Islamist group, run by Erdogan’s son Bilal, in 2017. Naik had fled to Malaysia after his name cropped up after a ghastly terrorist attack in a Dhaka cafe in 2016 which left 29 dead. Modi has made a personal request to Malaysia for Naik’s extradition to India.
Turkey further runs the South Asia Strategic Research Centre (GASAM) with an aim to export Erdogan’s Islamist ideology to his audience of millions of Muslims in Pakistan and India. Erdogan thinks he has a headstart over arch-enemy Saudi Arabia on Indian Muslims: One, both Indian and Turkish Muslims are not Arabs; Two, both follow the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam which is different from Wahhabism, the forte of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and Muslim leadership
Turkey doesn’t need much to woo Pakistan. It already has Pakistan eating out of its hand as it saves the latter from international sanctions such as FATF (Financial Action Task Force), gives a global platform for its Kashmir pitch and firms up its economy. That Pakistan is also the only Islamist country which is a nuclear power helps. Pakistan further pays its dues by siding with Turkey as the latter looks to take over leadership mantle from Saudi Arabia in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Turkey and Saudi Arabia of course are sworn rivals. It’s a rivalry steeped in history. It were the Ottoman Turks who engineered the fall of first Wahhabi empire in the 19th century. Ottomon Empire itself was dismantled, 100 years later. The Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, on his part, referred to Turkey as a triangle of evil, along with Iran and Islamic extremists. That Saudi Arabia is now a trusted and productive ally of India hasn’t served to dilute Turkey’s antagonism.
Thus India and Turkey have a long bridge to mend but both are kept apart by the rapids of toxicity which runs between them. Both have reasons to erect fences but not one motive to share the couch over a hot cup of coffee.
The world has woken up to Fethullah Gulen after Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed him for failed coup of Friday. My book, “HOW UNITED STATES SHOT HUMANITY: Muslims Ruined; Europe Next” has given a detailed background of this feud. Excerpts:
Fethullah Gulen is a 74-year- old bachelor of rather sad countenance, despite his white moustaches and strong, wide nose. For 27 years now, he has lived in a self-imposed exile in a tiny Pennsylvania town called Saylorsburg in the US. Here is his “The Camp” consisting of series of houses, a community center, a pond and acres of space. It’s the headquarters of a worldwide religious, social and political movement, “the Cemaat” or “the Community”.
Gulen leads six million followers who, in the spirit of his name, operate schools,universities, corporations, nonprofit and media organizations around the globe.In a 2008 online poll, devised by the British magazine Prospect and the American magazine Foreign Policy, Gulen was voted as the most significant intellectual of the world. Graham Fuller, a former CIA agent and author of several books on political Islam, termed Gulen as leading “one of the most important movements in the Muslim world today.”
Somehow everything in Turkey is linked to Gulen. Whatever you do, buying bakery or filing up gas, it could all be going back to Gulen’s network. Fethullah Gulen was born in 1941 in a village outside the eastern city of Erzurum. He began praying when he was only four years old, and learned Arabic from his father. At school, he joined Kurdish intellectual Said Nursi’s movement, which was similar to Sufi brotherhood. He became a state imam in 1958 and after his military service, moved to Izmir. In 1969, he began preaching his own version of Nursi’s ideas. Soon his following grew.
In due course, Gulen built schools. He formed “lighthouses” where rural kids who had come to cities to study, could stay. He founded publishing companies. By the 1980s, the statist economy in Turkey had opened up. Restrictions on religious groups had eased. In 1983, Gulen’s followers founded a conglomerate Kaynak Holding which today has several companies in retail, IT, construction and food industries. Its’ main division, Kaynak Publishing, maintains 28 publishing labels. It controls several TV stations. In 1996, loyal men encouraged by Gulen, established Bank Asya, now Turkey’s largest Islamic bank. A charity called “Is Anybody There” gives 5 to 10 per cent of its income to projects.
Schools though remain central to Gulen’s orbit. He has them in Central Asia; he runs them in far-flung places like Indonesia, Sudan and Pakistan. Even non-Muslim countries like Mexico and Japan have them. Gulenists’ school and universities are spread over 100 countries. They even had schools in Afghanistan in the 1990s.Gulen found a way to ease Islam back into Turkey’s mainstream. He played on Turkey’s past. “Turkey was once very successful and then it became so badly considered in the world,” he said. “You can not expect to sit in one place and hope things will change. You have to go out…represent your culture and values in a good way.”
Gulen had discovered that the secular Turkish Republic suffered from a cultural void. Gulen’s movement is the story of modern Turkey’s evolution towards Islam.
In 2000, Gulen was charged with treason by the Turkish state, in pre-Erdogan era.The year before, a video had surfaced in which Gulen said: “You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centres…until that time, any step taken would be too early, like breaking an egg without waiting the full 40 days for it to hatch.” Gulen denied the charge, claimed the video had been tampered with. In 2006, he was acquitted of all charges of conspiracy.
By then Turkey had gone through a tectonic shift under Erdogan. The dominance of secularists and their allies in the military was over. The rise of AK Party shrunk the space for secularists. Erdogan himself wasn’t a Gulenist. But both he and the Gulen movement had a common enemy in the old elites. It was a natural alliance. Erdogan’s biggest gain was to get the army out of politics. The support of Gulenists and their cultural affiliation of Islam were immense.
Gulenists are accused of running a parallel society in Turkey. When AK Party-backed constitutional referendum was passed in 2010, Erdogan hailed the strong support of Gulen and his media. However, rift soon began to surface. Erdogan became more powerful and more authoritative. Gulen spoke against the Turkish Marmara Flotilla issue that aimed to break the Gaza blockade and was attacked by Israeli forces in 2010. This was the moment when Erdogan began suspecting “Gulen-Israel axis” with US as puppet-master. He believed Gulen had joined forces with Zionists and West who wanted to weaken Turkey.
An international geo-strategic analyst William Engdahl has no doubt Gulen is a CIA prop. His arguments are compelling. “There is more to Gulen and his Cemaat” than it’s pious mask.
US feared Soviet Union during the Cold War in 1970s. It also kept an eye on Turkey. Soviet Union and Turkey were both God-less nations. Gulen and his moderate Islam fitted the US agenda. He could cause “unrest” among Muslims of Turkey or ones in Soviet Union and its Central Asian vessel states. Central Asia is also a vital region between China and Russia.
The Chechnya terror of the 1990s alarmed Russia. It understood the Muslim orientation of Gulen’s methods. Russia moved swiftly to ban Gulen’s schools. Gulen was further alarmed when Kurdish movement leader Abdullah Ocalan was kidnapped from Nairobi and brought to Turkey in 1999. Sensing he would be next, Gulen fled to the United States.
Erdogan, Ocalan and Gulen are three power centres of Turkey. Erdogan runs the country; ulen runs a “parallel state” with his “cells” in police, security, intelligence, army, education etc in thousands while Ocalan, as head of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) holds sway over 10 million Kurds or 18% of Turkish population. Before his arrest in 1999, clashes between PKK and the state had cost Turkey 40,000 lives. For a decade, between 1999-2009, Ocalan was the sole prisoner on the Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara.
Gulen didn’t want such a fate. He fled Turkey to avoid prosecution for treason. He didn’t choose Central Asia, Middle East or Russia. He saw security only in the United States.
His quest for preference visa, green card and permanent US residence was smoothened by three CIA operatives—George Fidas, US ambassador to Turkey and an ex-CIA deputy director; Morton Abranowitz of state department and an “informal” CIA link; and Graham E. Fuller who spent 27 years with the CIA. One of Gulen’s official references to the court for his residency, was Graham Fuller.
Fuller’s daughter Samantha was married to Ruslan Tsarni, a Chechen whose two nephews were behind the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013 which killed 3 people and injured 264 others. Ruslan worked for companies associated with Halliburton, the multinational juggernaut run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president of the United States. He was “consultant” for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kazakhstan. Russia barred USAID from its soil in late 2012 alleging USAID and CIA were exacerbating the Chechen terrorism.
Fuller served 15 years as an intelligence officer in various countries of the Middle East and Asia. He was deeply involved in Afghanistan in the 1980s; helped arm Iran against Iraq and suggested to the Clinton administration to use Muslims to further US interests in Central Asia. He wrote a book about Turkey, “The New Turkish Republic” in 2008 where he advocated “moderate Islam,” with heaps of praise on Gulen.
Gulen, however, was seen by insiders as anything but moderate. WikiLeaks reveal Istanbul chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva had warned US of Gulen, saying he is a “radical Islamist” hiding behind the cloak of moderation. In 2010, a retired Turkish intelligence chief, Osman Nuri Gundes claimed in his memoirs that Gulen’s movement had been providing cover for the CIA since mid-90s. It “sheltered 130 CIA agents” at its schools in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan alone. Hundreds of these agents functioned under cover as “native-speaking English teachers.”
Abramowitz, another of Gulen’s facilitator in the US, officially worked under the state department. He served on board of the US Congress-financed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and was a co-founder with George Soros of the International Crisis Group (ISG). Both the groups have been implicated in various US government-backed “colour revolutions” since the 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union: from Otpor in Serbia to the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine; the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran to 2011 Lotus Revolution in Tahrir Square in Egypt to 2013-14 coup in Ukraine.
Gulen had hired Karen Hughes to brush up his “moderate Islam” image. Hughes was a long-time Bush confidant and loyalist. In 1984, she was Texas press coordinator for the Reagan-Bush campaign. Since 1994, she worked with George Bush first as director of his campaign for the office of governor of Texas, and then as a counselor from 2001 to 2002 while he was president of the United States. Bush appointed Karen Hughes as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy on March 14, 2005.
The “Deep State” within the US had used Gulen to demonize Erdogan when the latter began to drift away by 2010. Erdogan allegedly violated US oil sanctions against Iran. He also was at odds with US over’s Israel’s offensives in the Gaza strip. Erdogan accused Israel of “genocide” of Palestinians. A volley of words flew between Washington and Ankara. Erdogan made public that he had stopped any phone contact with President Barack Obama.
A corruption scandal against Erdogan blazed the headlines before the presidential elections in 2013. Wiretap recordings of senior officials were leaked and posted on the internet. One such leak that emerged in February 2014 allegedly had Erdogan instructing his son Bilal to dispose off 30 million euros. Erdogan supporters saw the hands of Gulen, and US, behind it.
By mid-2014 Erdogan government had cracked down. Several were held for setting up bugs on Erdogan. Dozens of police officials were detained. Before the year was out, Erdogan had won the first presidential elections. A Turkish court now issued a warrant for Gulen’s arrest. Erdogan accused him of running a parallel government. He urged US authorities to extradite Gulen.
(NewsBred adds: The renewed demand of Erdogan for US to extradite or arrest Gulen is sure to cause bad blood between two allies. It could have huge ramifications for allies’ fight against Islamic State (IS), the refugees issue and Turkey’s tilt towards Russia of late. Turkey, it seems, has all but given up hope of joining European Union.
The book, “HOW UNITED STATES SHOT HUMANITY: Muslims Ruined; Europe Next” is available on all platforms.)