The Turkish ambassador in South Africa has informed Pretoria about Turkish nationals who it says are fund-raising in this country for the Gülenist movement which Ankara blames for a coup attempt a year ago today. By PETER FABRICIUS.
Turkey has persuaded some African governments to throw out Gulenists and close their institutions, mainly schools. There are also Gülenist schools in South Africa and the organisation also built and runs a huge mosque in Midrand. But it is believed that the South African government has refused requests from Turkey to act against the organisation.
On Friday Turkish ambassador Elif Ulgen briefed journalists about her country’s commemoration today of the failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s government on 15 July last year.
About 250 people died when coup plotters conducted air strikes against Parliament, the presidential compound and national intelligence and special forces headquarters and tanks rolled onto the streets of Ankara, Istanbul and other major cities. Erdo?an survived an attack on his residence and went on TV to urge Turks to resist the coup, which they did.
Ulgen screened a documentary of the coup attempt including dramatic footage of unarmed civilians standing up to tanks and being run over by them.
Erdo?an’s government blamed the coup attempt on the ageing Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen who lives in exile in the US. Thousands of Gülenists have since been arrested and/or purged from the government.
Ulgen said the Gülenists had been infiltrating the Turkish government for some 40 years and were also organised in about 150 countries around the world. “ South Africa is not alien to this group (though) they may show their more friendly moderate Muslim face,” she said.
Ulgen said that thousands of Turks at home and abroad had declared to Turkish authorities that they were not part of the Gülenist moment after the coup attempt. But others had not “surrendered” and these still continued to pose a threat to the Turkish government and to its embassies abroad.
Asked if her government had requested the South African government to shut down the Gülenists here, Ulgen said the embassy had informed South Africa and other countries of the dangers the Gülenists abroad posed to Turkey. The embassy had identified Gülenist fundraisers in South Africa and was talking to Pretoria about them.
She added that South Africa had its own laws and regulations for dealing with the problem.
“We don’t have any problems with South Africa,” she said.
Ulgen also commented on the ruling ANC’s expression of support, at its recent national policy conference, for the minority Kurdish people who straddle Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran and many of whom are seeking a united homeland.
She said if South Africa did get involved in discussions regarding the Kurds, the Turkish government should be part of it.
Ulgen said she was aware of the past association between the ANC and the Turkish Kurdish group PKK but that there was no resemblance between them any more as the PKK was a terrorist group.
She said there were more than 100 cases going on in more than 35 Turkish provinces against people complicit in the coup attempt which had been conducted through the thousands of Gülenists who had infiltrated the state structures, including the military, the police, the judiciary and the ministry of foreign affairs. They had now been kicked out of those state structures.
Ulgen dismissed criticism that Erdo?an had been exploiting the coup attempt to round up all his political opponents. She insisted that Turkey was a state governed by the rule of law and so the judiciary was investigating claims by more than 35,000 fired government officials who insisted they were not affiliated to the Gülen organisation.
She added that people had only been arrested or fired on good evidence, including the “very strong evidence” that they had a Gülenist WhatsApp-like social media application called Bilock on their cellphones which could only be accessed via passwords.
She said that the state of emergency which the government had imposed after the coup attempt was still in place because the threat still remained. The emergency would be lifted as soon as the threat was gone. DM
Photo: People shout slogans holding Turkish flags during a rally for the first anniversary of the failed coup attempt on Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey, 15 July 2017. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed US-based Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen and his movement for masterminding the failed coup and Turkey remains under a state of emergency as a result. Photo: EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU