‘I can’t breathe’ and the Gulen Movement

Engin Y.
7 min readJun 10, 2020

It shocked when I saw the videos of how George Floyd was killed with police brutality and torture in front of cameras. It was (and is) inhumane, insane, and unacceptable.

Left, an image from I can’t breathe protests by
Heather Mount on Unsplash, Right, Witch hunt operations still underway
against followers of the Gülen Movement since 2016.

Millions of people gathered to protest this brutality and the relentless racist practices in the US. It was a watershed moment as we saw people from all walks of life standing in solidarity with African-Americans in seeking their rights and justice for all. The ensuing countrywide protests call for a pivotal role in making the legislators pass all the necessary laws to end police brutality and root out the racism entirely in the country. Most of the people showed great sympathy, either attending the protests physically or expressing their thoughts and support through social media for defending the rights of the African-Americans.

Almost immediately, media outlets worldwide began following the news related to George Floyd’s death and relayed the protests as newsflash. It was complicated for non-Americans to understand how racism could be so rooted in the American society in the 21st century. The expectation of non-Americans is always different, and they like to see the US in a different light. Yet, the deep-running flow of racist practices have contradicted the image of the US in the global mindset. SpaceX and NASA were on the eve of launching a rocket from the US soil with two astronauts at the same time the protests started. This journey to the stars stole the limelight of the crisis on the ground and became the most viral news in the world. When the rocket was launched, millions of people watched the event live. These two events had shown everyone how the USA became “divided” and transformed into a land of contrasts.

The protests did not remain only in the USA, they spread like wildfire to many countries on the grounds of anti-racism and riot against the use of iron fist in totalitarian regimes. Finding large groups of participants in London, Paris, Mexico, Berlin, Toronto, and many other cities worldwide, the protests were stoked by people’s rejection of injustice, inequality, poverty, and restrictions placed on people’s fundamental rights by totalitarian practices.

Surprisingly, Middle Eastern states like Turkey deem racism, police brutality, and economic injustices as the so-called problems of the Western countries. As there are no such social, political, and administrative problems in their countries, the leaders of these states quickly blame the US as a racist and fascist state. Is it true? Of course not.

In particular, I will focus on Turkey and try to provide a perspective on how the Turkish state has interpreted the George Floyd protests and its global repercussions.

For the record, there are no free media in Turkey. Erdogan regime in Turkey shut down all the opposition media outlets, including Turkey’s most-circulated dailies and the TV stations, before the dastardly failed July 15 coup attempt in 2016. Consequently, the public are deprived of resources for getting accurate news on developments in Turkey and elsewhere. This lack of free media conveniently serves the totalitarian regime to manipulate masses and circulate partisan propaganda at will.

First, Erdogan criticized the Trump administration on Twitter after the George Floyd protests started. He openly dubbed the US a fascist and racist state. Secondly, the mouthpiece of the pro-Erdogan regime, Daily Sabah published an article titled ‘Gulen Movement and Antifa Turn Against Trump.’

What might be Erdogan’s reason to call Trump’s America as racist and fascist, while the newspaper under his tutelage employs another rhetoric to slander at the Gulen Movement as if it is against the US and President Trump.

What might be the reasons for this?

First of all, the Erdogan regime fears of all sorts of protests, especially when the protests shoot sparks in world capitals. Turkey’s human rights index is appalling, and Turkey is known to have one of the worst regimes that jails the maximum number of journalists after China and Saudi Arabia. Erdogan regime engages in a wide spectrum of human rights violations to silence the opposition and cleanse opponents from social and political life no matter what it takes. Gulen Movement is the headline sufferer of all right violations that have been happening since 2013 in Turkey under the Erdogan regime.

Participants of the Gulen Movement are arrested, imprisoned, and deprived of their fundamental human and citizenship rights only because of their affiliation and sympathy with the Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen and due to the baseless and illegitimate allegations placed by the current regime on the Gulen Movement as being the mastermind of the failed coup attempt in 2016. Many of the Movement-affiliated arrestees were tortured, physically and psychologically abused, and some were murdered in the prisons run by the Erdogan regime. Turkish police operatives have played an evil role in all these tortures, abuses, and murders of innocent people.

As if such inhumane treatments have never taken place in Turkey and as if Turkey is the world’s champion of human rights, Erdogan harshly criticized Trump administration through the media outlets under his tutelage which also brazenly blamed the Gulen Movement as being behind all the ongoing protests across the United States. First, this is a solid argument to refute why Erdogan is wrong in his claim, ‘the Gulen Movement was behind the failed coup attempt’. It is a saying in the Middle East that ‘if it rains in Iran, it is because of the US, and if it dries it is because of Israel.’ This is a great metaphor to understand the mindset of the Erdogan regime. Whatever good happens is because of Erdogan, and whatever terrible happens is only because of the Gulen Movement. It will be no surprise for many if the senseless and rash Erdogan regime claims the Gulen Movement as the genitor of the notorious Covid-19 at a lab in the US.

The Gulen Movement is a small community in the US and is not against any ideology, views, or groups in the US. The Movement is also known for its advocacy of dialog, peaceful coexistence, love, and tolerance through the institutions it operates across the USA which intensely engages and collaborates with diverse societal structures. This clearly shows how the Gulen Movement is motivated to root out radicalization, end racism, and build bridges to bring people together around shared values and common denominators.

As a matter of fact, the message on the mouthpiece of the pro-government newspaper portraying the Gulen Movement as somewhat behind the protests was not to the US. This was how the Erdogan regime sent a straightforward message to the Turkish public through his media outlets. The message was that if someone goes outside, just like they did in May 2013 during Gezi protests, to join any protests similar to those in many cities worldwide, they will not be tolerated but will be categorically branded as the supporters of so-called “terrorist” Gulen Movement. Especially for the last six years, people in Turkey know the meaning and repercussions of this criminal badge very well. If someone is arrested with an allegation of affiliation with the Gulen Movement, they will lose everything, including their jobs, wealth, and social connections, and will possibly spend their lives behind bars. This is what the Erdogan regime understands from democracy by spreading fear among people to completely silence them and to reduce the risk of losing his authority.

Erdogan is quite successful in dividing and ruling people. After the heartrending murder of George Floyd, everyone, regardless of their colors, came on the streets and protested police brutality beside their African-American friends, neighbors, and countrymen to support them in seeking their rights. If a nation can unite and seek their rights against authoritarian regimes, it can also be said that no one can divide that nation. Likewise, this happened in the USA, where significant milestones had been covered in civil rights. I believe the African-Americans will get their rights sooner or later, and the people of the USA will widely benefit from this social awareness by becoming constructive voices for one another.

However, it is unfortunate that in countries like Turkey, the intensive polarization has taken its toll on the social fabric. People rejoice in one another’s crisis and plug their ears to pleas of help. As a strategist, Erdogan has been exploiting this mindset skillfully and rather than removing the barriers among people, he generates additional barriers to expand the social chasm. Throughout his political carrier, he has used the ‘divide and rule’ strategy very effectively by creating a new enemy once in every four to five years and motivating his partisans to attack all who do not belong.

Erdogan targeted the Gulen Movement and designated it as a scapegoat from December 2013 onwards. Especially after the failed coup attempt in 2016, no one in Turkey came on the streets to support the oppressed and launch protests against Erdogan, despite the most inhumane torture and human rights abuses of the partisan police officers against the Gulen Movement. While the participants of the Gulen Movement were crushed under the oppression of the Erdogan regime, no one heeded the pleas of any Gulenist who shouted, ‘I cannot breathe.’ On the contrary, Turkish people gathered in the streets to punish Gulenists more severely and support the Erdogan regime in human rights violations against innocent people. Making a general comparison between the American public and the Turkish public shows that the public in the US is more assertive by emphasizing values over self-interests. Turkish public could not achieve this when it was due, and now, the whole Turkish nation cannot breathe. While they have bitterly realized their gross mistake, it is quite late for the peoples in Turkey. When they took to the streets in support to Erdogan and his rule, what happened next was Erdogan changing the regime, silencing all the opposition, and now enjoying his massive authority and privileges.

People in the US deserve plaudits for acting on virtue and prioritizing their rights over self-interests for any reason. It is a shame for those nations who pursue small benefits and interests over virtues and values.

The divided will eventually lose everything, and the divider wins! All nations need to learn a lot from the “I cannot breathe” protests across the USA, and they must not allow anyone to violate their honor, integrity, and righteousness. Once the freedom lost, it would not be so easy to regain it. Live for freedom and struggle for freedom!