« Following the post-coup purge of supporters of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen from Turkey’s key public services, rumours abound that the vacuum was filled by other religious orders and sects. The Menzil, Kurdoğlu, İskenderpaşa and İsmailağa orders are particularly believed to have taken positions in the judiciary, police and armed forces, journalist Alican Uludağ wrote in an article for Deutsche Welle » reports Ahval News.
Followers of Gülen, who refer to themselves as the Hizmet (“Service”) movement while Turkey calls them the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ), experienced a huge crackdown after the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
A total of 125,678 public servants were dismissed over alleged connections to Gülen, while close to a million people were investigated between July 2016 and June 2022. Over the years 332,884 people were detained, and more than 100,000 people were arrested. Currently there are 19,252 people in Turkey’s prisons facing charges related to Gülen and the coup, while another 24,000 people are wanted as fugitives.
In 289 lawsuits related to the coup attempt, 1,634 people were convicted to life in prison without parole, while another 1,366 were convicted to life in prison, out of a total of 8,725 defendants.
Some 4,000 judges and prosecutors were dismissed in the post-coup state of emergency period. According to Uludağ, close to 10,000 judges and prosecutors joined Turkey’s judiciary since then. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) believes a majority of these new hires were lawyers who had worked in local branches of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Two Islamic groups under the Nakşibendi order, the İskenderpaşa and Menzil sects, have filled the empty judiciary seats, Uludağ said. AKP’s coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) facilitated these new hires in higher courts, while another group of Islamist conservatives, followers of the National Viewpoint (“Milli Görüş”), were given important offices to hold under Abdülhamit Gül as the justice minister.
Menzil also has a strong presence in the police force, together with the Nur sect, according to Uludağ. Nur is competing with the followers of a former Gülen supporter, Kemalettin Özdemir, the journalist said.
The Gülenist purge continues in the armed forces, while photos emerging last year brought to the fore the possible Nur organisation in the navy. Rear Admiral Mehmet Sarı was photographed in Islamic robes and headdress in a house that belonged to the Nur order, or the secretive Kurdoğlu sect within it in particular.
Menzil and Kurdoğlu sects are also rumoured to have influence in the gendarmerie. Menzil is also said to have the most influence in the Health Ministry, Uludağ wrote. The sect became more prominent during Recep Akdağ’s term as health minister between May 2016 and July 2017. Akdağ was also the AKP’s first health minister, between 2002 and 2013.
Current health minister Fahrettin Koca was rumoured to be appointed to his post specifically to break the influence Menzil had, Uludağ said. Koca himself is rumoured to be a follower of the İskenderpaşa sect, which has gained influence since his appointment, Uludağ added.
Another area Gülen’s followers had huge influence in was education. Currently, İskenderpaşa, İsmailağa and Süleymancılar have the most influence in the ministry, and have been allowed to organise events in public schools with special protocols they signed with the ministry, Uludağ said.
Religious NGOs including pro-government İlim Yayma Foundation, the youth-focused TÜRGEV with close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Ensar Foundation which runs many student’s dormitories and has ties to government officials, and the religion focused Önder Association are increasingly involved in Turkey’s education policies, according to the journalist. These groups run private primary and secondary schools and dormitories.
Religious groups taking root within the bureaucracy “will undoubtedly create a threat”, Uludağ cited lawyer and former CHP deputy İlhan Cihaner as saying. According to Cihaner, the Gülenists have not been purged completely while new groups started to take hold.
“A member of the Court of Cassation was dismissed over Gülen connections, and he was able to come back by writing to the president and telling him he was ‘actually a follower of Menzil’,” Cihaner said. “The sects’ approach towards the government is what matters to them, not the fact that the sect leaders recruit members for themselves.”
“Clearly no lessons have been taken from the issues that arose in the Gülenist phase,” Cihaner said. Before their falling out that started with the 2013 corruption probes and peaked with the coup attempt, Gülenists enjoyed a good relationship and alliance with the government.
“This needs to be asked: What kind of a Turkey does the İsmailağa Sect want? … Today we must analyse how the bureaucracy will interact with religious orders and sects as a whole. The AKP, as it transitions into election mode, wants to keep the coalition of religious groups on its side,” Cihaner said.
Ahval News, July 17, 2022, Photo/Gurcan Ozturk/AFP