ISTANBUL/ANKARA: The US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen blamed by Turkey for orchestrating a failed coup this month is a pawn backed by a “mastermind”, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday, hinting that greater powers were behind the attempted putsch.
Erdogan often refers to a “mastermind” in his speeches, a reference widely seen as an allusion to the West in general and the United States more specifically.
The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in the self-imposed exile in the United States for years, has denied any involvement in the failed coup of July 15-16.
Conspiracy theories have flourished in Turkey since the attempted coup, with one pro-government newspaper saying the putsch was financed by the Central Intelligence Agency and directed by a retired US army general using a cell phone in Afghanistan.
The United States has denied any involvement and any prior knowledge of the failed attempt to overthrow the government.
Erdogan also issued a new presidential decree Sunday that introduced sweeping reforms to Turkey’s military in the wake of the failed coup, bringing the Turkish armed forces further under civilian authority.
The decree, the third to have been issued after a three-month state of emergency was declared following the attempted coup, gives the president and prime minister the authority to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, air force and navy.
It also announces the discharge of 1,389 military personnel, including Erdogan’s chief military adviser who had been arrested days after the attempted putsch, the Chief of General Staff’s charge d’affaires and the defense minister’s chief secretary.
It puts the force commands directly under the defense ministry, puts all military hospitals under the authority of the health ministry instead of the military, and also expands the Supreme Military Council, the body which makes decisions on military affairs and appointments, to include the deputy prime ministers and the justice, foreign and interior ministers.
The document, published in the official gazette Sunday, also shuts down all military schools, academies and non-commissioned officer training institutes and establishes a new national defense university to train officers.
In an interview with private A Haber television Saturday, Erdogan said he also wanted to put the country’s intelligence agency MIT and the chief of general staff’s headquarters under the presidency.
“If we can pass this small constitution package with (the opposition parties), then the chief of general staff and MIT will be tied to the president,” Erdogan told A Haber. The package would need to be brought to parliament for a vote.
US must extradite Gulen to erase suspicion of involvement: Ankara mayor
The US must extradite Gulen to Turkey to remove any suspicion that Washington was involved in the failed coup, the mayor of Ankara Melih Gokcek said in an interview with AFP.
Gokcek, mayor for over 22 years and one of the most senior figures in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also told AFP he feared Turkey was entering a period where top officials could be at risk of assassination.
Turkey has squarely blamed Gulen for masterminding the rebellion, saying he assiduously built up a “parallel state” with followers in all institutions.
With some officials now even alleging that Washington could have had a hand in the putsch, Ankara wants the United States to send back Gulen to face trial in the country he left in 1999.
“For America to prove it is not behind the coup, there is only one thing to do, deliver (him) to Turkey,” Gokcek told AFP in the capital.
He claimed that the US had already given “signals” it was involved in the coup after a top American general expressed concern that many of Washington’s former Turkish military interlocutors were now in jail.
“How will it be known whether America is or is not involved in this business? If they deliver (Gulen) there is no problem. But if they don’t the United States will not escape from the dock.”
Gokcek, who had previously suggested Gulen was hypnotising people, expressed bewilderment that Washington had tolerated the cleric’s presence and allowed his foundations to open up schools in the US.
“For America to tolerate this, it seems there are connections to Feto,” he said, referring to what Turkey calls the Fethullah Terror Organisation (Feto).
‘Risk of assassinations’
Gokcek said Gulen’s role in Turkey went back to the premierships of Bulent Ecevit in the 1970s and admitted the AKP had mistakenly formed an alliance with his supporters when it first came to power in 2002.
“But their biggest aim was to use us and to get their own people inside the army,” he said.
Gokcek, one of the most outspoken senior figures in the AKP who regularly updates 3.4 million followers on Twitter with his views, said there would no longer be a risk of coups in Turkey but rather of assassinations.
“Politicians will be at risk of assassinations… of course I have increased my security,” he said.
The mayor was quick to take to Twitter on the night of the turbulence, describing it as a Gulen-backed coup minutes after the first reports emerged and then calling all supporters out into the streets.
He claims to have been number six on a hit list — topped by Erdogan— to be killed by Gulen followers after the power grab.
Gokcek said he was “absolutely in favour” of the death penalty for the coup plotters and brushed off warnings from the European Union that reinstating capital punishment could end Turkey’s decades-long bid to join the bloc.
If Turkey is told it can’t enter the EU, “well I swear to God, we don’t care. Let us not enter,” said Gokcek, adding that he had been a champion of EU integration in the past.
“When we were close, you were far away. Europe is not the only place in the world… We will find others.”
He said if parliament passed a law reversing the 2004 death penalty abolition, it should then be put to a referendum.
“The world can then see if the people want it or not.”