Imagine what would happen if one of your most trusted government organizations, the one you relied on for safety and protection, turned on you. One year ago, Turkish citizens experienced this ultimate betrayal. Individuals sworn to defend the country against external threats to its democracy attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government.
This was the worst act of terror in the history of the Turkish Republic. The armed disciples of Fetullah Gülen, a man who calls himself “Imam of the Universe,” waged a campaign of terror on the night of July 15. The perpetrators bombed the Turkish Parliament, the presidential compound, the police headquarters, and more. They used military weapons against civilians who took to the streets to defend democracy.
And defend democracy, they did. The Turkish people stood up to military tanks and blocked roads and bridges. Two hundred and fifty people died, and thousands were injured as they successfully turned back the soldiers.
That night was a test of strength for the Turkish democracy. We remain proud of the people, from all backgrounds and political views, who became one in opposing the plotters. Now, again in unity, Turkish people support the investigation process to uncover Gülen’s network, which has infiltrated the military, judiciary, and other structures and ruthlessly expanded at the cost of rule of law and public interest.
FETÖ (Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Organization) is a new generation criminal group that desires to take control of Turkey and reinstitute a religious-based regime. Loyal to a fault, his followers believe Gülen is the messiah and they are willing to violate any legal, religious, or ethical codes to advance his interests. FETÖ is not a benign civic education movement, as some try hard to portray. A global enterprise, with aspirations of power and dominance, this network is present in more than 150 countries, through schools, NGOs, media outlets, and companies, including in the United States.
Turkey had already taken action against this organization and its financial resources before last year’s coup attempt. Yet, confronting such clandestine structure is not easy. One year later, Turkey is still struggling to overcome the trauma. It has been difficult as we learn the depth of this existential threat to our country. The government is working diligently to identify the perpetrators and take necessary and proportionate measures to defeat this imminent threat.
Like many other governments today, we are working hard to ensure the security of the country while safeguarding the freedoms of our people. A state of emergency was necessary to ensure swift action to confront the threats against the state. It is not intended to intervene the daily lives of our citizens.
We are working closely with the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, and we remain committed to strengthening our democratic credentials. We know this is the only way to counter terrorism in all forms.
Our internal issues have not dwindled our commitment to the broader world. We continue to work hard for a solution to the conflict in Syria. Most importantly, we continue to provide housing, feeding, and caring for more than three million refugees, mostly Syrians who fled the conflict and the atrocities of ISIS. Turkey unwaveringly remains the most generous country in humanitarian assistance and a linchpin for regional stability.
On Saturday, the Turkish American community in Boston will gather to commemorate the lives lost in 2016. And in these critical times, we continue to need the support and encouragement from our friends, including the people of Boston.Ömür Budak is consul general of Turkey in Boston.