Even before an attempted coup in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan officially designated the movement of his former political ally, cleric Fethullah Gulen, a terrorist organization. The coup only enflamed Erdogan’s desire to extradite Gulen back to his home country from the US.
Now, a month after the failed coup, Americans of Turkish descent who follow the Gulen movement, known as Hizmet (Turkish for service), say they’re concerned about human rights violations in Turkey and rhetoric coming from the Turkish consulate to Colorado legislators.
On the steps of the state capitol on Monday, several state legislators who received a letter in late July from the Turkish Consul General spoke publicly against what was in the letter.
“The current administration is using that as an excuse to turn this vibrant democracy into a totalitarian system using scapegoat-ism, mass arrests,” Colorado House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst said.
The letter, sent to state capitols across the country days after the failed coup, outlined what the Turkish government was doing to address the issue and identified the Hezmit movement as a terrorist organization behind the coup. The Turkish government would detain thousands of “coup” plotters in the following days and identify many of them as Gulen followers.
The Multicultural Mosaic Foundation in Denver has many members who follow the movement and religious leaders of several faiths came to support hem at the capitol too.
“When people write letters like that, it’s an attempt to divide us from each other and attempt to rise up suspicion and hatred and maybe more violence,” said Rabbi Stephen Booth-Nadav.
Hizmet’s widely known as a peaceful Muslim group that promotes interfaith dialogue and education. They and Fethullah Gulen, have condemned the violent coup from the beginning.
“It is heartbreaking to see officials of a country that I identify with, the Turkish republic, that they send letters to legislators in Colorado, my state of Colorado and calling us terrorists,” said the group president, Ismail Akbulut. “We are being threatened here in Colorado by other Turkish citizens and others. We have been threatened through social media. We receive death threats.”
In a phone interview with 9NEWS, Turkish Consul General R. Gulru Gezer insists there is evidence that supports calling the movement a terrorist organization.
“The group that conducted this coup attempt was a group that had direct links with the Gulen movement. So if we don’t call this terrorism, I don’t know what we can call it,” she said.
Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the US would entertain Gulen’s extradition if Turkey provided actual evidence of his involvement. As far as the public knows, no such evidence has been provided.