That US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen has been blamed for Turkey's July 15 failed coup comes as no surprise to investigative journalist Ahmet Sik. For years he has warned of the Gulen movement's infiltration of the state. But that doesn't mean he's in the pocket of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan either.
His investigation into the movement for his book The Imam's Army, which was banned from publication, led to him serving nearly a year in detention in 2011.
To what extent is Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) responsible for the fact that Gulen was able to obtain so much influence over the Turkish state?
Ahmet Sik: The history of the Gulen movement goes back 45 years, of which 15 alone were under the AKP regime. All the governments since 1970 share the responsibility, but the brunt of it obviously falls on the AKP. To discuss the Gulen movement while at the same time ignoring the AKP's complicity in it is a huge omission. Gulen and Erdogan should both be tried in court for their hand in the organisation.
Erdogan has admitted that he had earlier been a Gulen supporter. However, he's also publicly apologized for that stance and said he had been acting in "good faith."
Ahmet Sik: Is Erdogan the only one who's allowed to be bamboozled? Everyone else fooled by the Gulen movement has been arrested. If anyone should be arrested, then it should be Erdogan who's first on the list.
Many in Europe believe that Erdogan staged the coup attempt.
Ahmet Sik: What happened on July 15 was an honest-to-goodness bloody coup attempt. We barely got our act together again - I want to stress that. The West's point of view is very Orientalist; they view Erdogan with the same animosity as they do the Turkish opposition, which is why people in the West think Erdogan could have staged the putsch. They also know nothing about the movement and don't ask those who do.
The West knows very little about Gulen's infiltration of the Turkish state. Could you describe it?
Ahmet Sik: The goal of the Gulen movement is to take over the inner workings of the state and to control the security services. The Turkish armed forces, the police, the national intelligence agency, the judiciary - these four are the heart and head of the state. Take these over, and you've taken over the state. ... In short, the Gulen movement is essentially a religious mafia.
How big is Gulen's influence on the Turkish army?
Ahmet Sik: Army officials have told me that, among the generals alone, about 30 to 35 per cent are part of the Gulen movement. That is a third of all generals. And at the moment, a third of all generals are sitting in prison due to the coup attempt. When it comes to the lower-ranking officers, the number of supporters is no less than 50 per cent. So one could say that the extent of the Gulen movement's network within the army should not be underestimated.
Is the Turkish government correct in suspending or letting go thousands of people in the civil services and the army?
Ahmet Sik: It's all a witch hunt. ... The government shoves all those who don't belong to it and are therefore seen as against it in a sack. When it comes to how many are involved, we have absolutely no idea.
Many in the West, especially politicians, are warning of a burgeoning dictatorship in Turkey. Are they right?
Ahmet Sik: Yes, of course. But there were more than enough signs before July 15. (The Turkish government) has split the population into those who are for and those who are against it. Only those who are on the government's side work for the state, and it pursues policies that remove all obstacles and use the judicial branch as a doormat.