- Ex-Air Force prosecutor Ahmet Zeki Ucok says purge insufficent
- Supporters used stolen exam answers to enter military schools
Followers of Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic cleric accused of orchestrating Turkey’s coup attempt, spent decades infiltrating the country’s military and used stolen entrance exams to place students in key positions in its academies, a former Air Force prosecutor said.
The tactic was known to politicians and military personnel, who either turned a blind eye or were unable to stop it because Gulen’s supporters also controlled military auditing and appointments, Ahmet Zeki Ucok said in an interview in Ankara on Monday. Both Gulen, who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania and hasn’t entered Turkey since 1999, and his Alliance for Shared Values have denied involvement in the failed military putsch on July 15.
“Almost all of the military personnel chiefs, almost all of the intelligence chiefs and 72 percent of the military judicial staff were members of this group,” Ucok said. “The people who would have removed them were all members of the organization. They had the intelligence officials and military staff responsible for personnel.”
In his investigative role, Ucok was among the first to research the Gulen movement and warn of its infiltration of the military. He himself was jailed in 2009 and served five years of a life sentence for his alleged role in a coup plot that was later revealed to have been based largely on forged evidence. His conviction was overturned and his original trial dismissed after then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government split with the Gulen movement, purged the judiciary of suspected Gulenist judges and re-opened the case.
Turkey’s exam system was central to the Gulen movement’s power, Ucok said. Students close to the group have been given exam answers for decades, allowing them disproportionate representation in prestigious schools including the military academies, he said.
"In a prosecutor’s investigation, it was determined that the answers were stolen every year, and 70 to 80 percent of students got in that way," he said.
The process began in the 1980s, meaning 40,000 people may have benefited over the last decade, Ucok said. The evidence suggests that even after the dismissals of some 6,000 people from the military and 60,000 more from the rest of the bureaucracy, the group’s reach hasn’t been erased, he said.
Gulen, in his 70s, is revered by supporters as a moderate advocate of interfaith dialogue, and was once an ally in Erdogan’s efforts to give Islam a greater role in Turkish public life and curb the power of the secular army. He was employed as an imam by the Turkish state, and established schools for needy students that form a key part of his organization, called Hizmet or “the service,” according to a 2008 biography by journalist Faruk Mercan.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition People’s Republican Party, said Gulen’s supporters were placed in key positions deliberately.
“There was no such thing as an infiltration of the state -- these people were knowingly and willfully placed inside the state,” he said in parliament on Monday. “You can’t hand over a state to a cult. The minute you do that, you destroy the state. I hope we’ve learned our lesson from this.”
Gulen’s relationship with Erdogan disintegrated in 2013, when the government charged him of orchestrating a corruption probe targeting Erdogan’s family, cabinet ministers and leading businessmen. The graft allegations were eventually thrown out when the government dismissed police and prosecutors working on the case.
In a speech to investors in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdogan reiterated his demand for the U.S. to extradite Gulen, and said the coup scenario was “written outside” Turkey.
As president since 2014, Erdogan has seized control of the country’s best-selling newspaper Zaman, which had links to Gulen and had become a fierce opponent of Erdogan’s rule. Last year, a court in Istanbul ordered a management takeover at companies owned by Kaynak Holding on suspicion it aided the cleric’s followers.
"I don’t think the danger has passed,” Ucok said. “I think this group hasn’t given up its preparations, and will keep trying its luck in new ways.”