This year, 15 July marks five years after the coup attempt in Turkey that failed miserably with minimum loss of life and damage to Turkish institutions, but it brought disastrous impact on the Turkish society afterwards leading to gross human rights violations on a mega scale.
Being of Indian Muslim origin, I am very much familiar with Turkish heritage, culture and language. Many modern Turks are not aware of the fact that the Indian Muslim rule that spanned for almost 1000 years, was largely led by Turkish rulers initially and ending with almost 350 years of Mughal rulers, who were also of Turkish ancestry.
My mother tongue Urdu, itself a Turkish word meaning ‘army’, developed with the confluence of Muslim Arabs, Turks, Persians and native Indians, is a mixed language consisting of almost a quarter each of Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Sanskrit.
During the Muslim rule, the main court and administrative language in India was Persian, while the Ulama used Arabic, but the rulers spoke, read and wrote in Turkish within their royal surroundings.
Indian Muslims, although not part of the Ottoman Empire, respected it as the seat of the Khilafah and supported them during WWI against the British. After the formal abolition of the Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during the early 1920’s, Indian Muslims started the Khalifat movement to restore the Caliphate that was also supported by Mahatma Gandhi.
Although not happy with the radical westernisation of modern Turkey, Indian Muslims still admired Turkish people and the fact that Turkey was the only Muslim country that was never colonised and maintained pride and self-respect specially in comparison with the fractured Arab world.
Arriving in Australia almost half a century ago towards the end of 1971, together with my father, as a young man I had to engage with the two main Muslim communities at the time, (Lebanese and Turks) in an effort to organise Muslims, especially in and around Sydney.
I found the young Turks to be very nationalistic, to some extent anti-Arab and largely conservative, while a small cohort of elites being highly westernised. During the seventies we had a few sessions with Milli Gorus members that we somehow identified with, ideologically being inspired by Said Nursi.
We supported the Turkish community in the establishment of the Erskineville mosque where the first formal five daily prayers and Juma prayers were established and later also helped with the establishment of our local Bonnyrigg mosque that we used for our own Islamic activities.
It was only after the year 2000 that my imagination caught up with the Turkish community again. I saw a new breed of young Turks, either born here or raised here, who were in the forefront of establishing face to face and eye to eye contact with the mainstream community, engaging the diverse Australian community in their programs and innovative institutions.
This was a new trend as opposed to other sections of the Muslim community that were largely insular – engaged within their own ethnic community and limited to their suburban mosques.
I was curious as to where this new energy among the young Turks in Australia came from. I later found out that they were inspired by Fethullah Gülen’s global educational movement, using his highly successful methodology of engagement with mainstream civil society irrespective of religious, ethnic and ideological affiliations.
A lightening but highly productive study tour together with my wife, daughter and niece to Turkey visiting several cities including Gallipoli, where we attended the Anzac Day Dawn Service in April 2012 and engaging with diverse group of Turkish civic society movement members including academics, religious scholars, health professionals, educationists and journalists, completely transformed my view of modern Turkey.
I found that post-Kemalist Turkey had shed its indifference with Islam and there had been a rapid Islamisation of the Turkish society during the last two decades. I got the impression that the Kemalist forces were on the run and Turkey was again ready to take on the leadership of the Muslim World coming back to its Islamic roots establishing a modern Islamic civil society.
However, my dreams and hopes were soon dashed when I realised that the Islamophilic forces that had transforming Turkey from Erbakan to Erdogan helped by the Islamic grass root movements inspired by Said Nursi like Milli Gorus and the Gülen movement were having splits from within.
Then came the 15 July 2016 coup attempt against the Turkish government in general and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular, which was apparently carried out by a faction of the Turkish Armed Forces, which had a track record of conducting coups from time to time against elected governments in Turkey.
The coup attempt failed miserably with minimum loss of life and damage to Turkish institutions, but it brought disastrous impact on the Turkish society afterwards, leading to gross human rights violations on a mega scale that are still continuing.
The government blamed the Gülen movement, which was earlier designated as a terrorist organisation by the Republic of Turkey and resulted in a witch hunt.
Similar to Communist purges, unexpected in a democratic Muslim country, immediate mass arrests followed after the coup, with nearly 100,000 arrested, including 4,463 judges and over 300 journalists.
So far more than 500,000 people have been investigated and over 150,000 dismissed from their jobs, on reports of connections to Gülen. Over 3,000 educational institutions, primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions that has any association with the Gülen movement were shut down while over 6,000 academics lost their jobs.
All educational, health, aid, media organisations and institutions either closed or taken over with any formal or informal association with the Gülen movement including those in many other countries under pressure by the Turkish government.
In Australia and during my overseas trips to various cities in USA in 2018 and in Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa in 2019, I had firsthand experience of meeting a large number of victims, both men and women, highly successful businessmen, academics, educationists and journalists who have been the victim of these purges and fled Turkey to avoid persecution and now living as refugees and asylum seekers out of their home country.
As a non-Turk, this makes me feel incredibly sad, where just a decade ago I had a vision of Turkey providing a viable leadership for uniting the fractured Muslim world but now seem to have imploded because of internal division, corruption, and gross violation of human rights.