After Turkish President Tayipp Erdogan reassured the country his government successfully stopped a military coup, he began pointing fingers at an exiled cleric living in Pennsylvania whose movement maintains followers around the world -- including people in Colorado.
The Multicultural Mosaic Society in Denver is a group that follows the teachings of Fethullah Gulen. The group’s president, Ismail Akbulut, says he wasn’t surprised by the accusations. He says it’s led to violence and discrimination against people in the Gulen Movement.
“It is scary because some friends and family members are being targeted by individuals in Turkey motivated by Turkish president Erdogan. They are seeing them as terrorists so they target them individually, attack them physically and also on social media with death threats,” Akbulut said.
Experts at University of Denver agree with Akbulut. Director of Middle East Studies at the University, Nadar Hashemi, finds the accusations to be farfetched but not surprising when considering the relationship history between Erdogan and Gulen. In 2013, documents and audio was leaked exposing corruption within the Turkish government and it’s widely believed that the Gulen Movement was behind it.
“Since then Erdogan has basically been on a campaign to completely eradicate the Gulen Movement from Turkish society and I think he is using the coup now as an opportunity to try and settle scores suggesting that he is going to demand the extradition of Fethullah Gulen from the United States even hinting that U.S.-Turkish relations and relations between Turkey and NATO could be put in jeopardy if the united states doesn’t comply with his request,” Nadar said.
But the Gulen Movement’s not a violent one despite the Erdogan led government labeling the group as a terrorist organization. Hashemi says it’s a civil society, religious based movement that does social welfare work. Gulen promoted interfaith communication and perhaps most notably, education.
Gulen inspired schools have popped up all over the world with a focus on S.T.E.M. education and English language learning outside of the US. Several hundred secular charter schools exist in the United States, including the Lotus School of Excellence in Aurora.
Hashemi says these schools generally have a good reputation but there have been investigations into questionable financial management of the schools run largely by Turkish immigrants who follow the teachings of Gulen.
“They finance the movement, they have schools around the world including several hundred charter schools here in the United States. It does have a certain hierarchal sort of authoritarian internal organizing capacity and component to it’s internal functioning,” Hashemi said.
The Colorado Board of Education denied to appeals for additional charter schools by Lotus citing “financial concerns, facility concerns, enrollment concerns” and a “lack of transparency.”
But the way schools are run probably aren’t an indication of Gulen’s involvement or lack-thereof in last week’s coup.
“It is sad to see people are going against other citizens, other friends because they are motivated by the Turkish president,” said Akbulut, worried about an Erdogan dictatorship. “I am completely against the military coup attempt. I am completely against the military regime. I am pro democracy.”