BBC interviews Fethullah Gülen: ‘Everybody very clearly sees what is going on’

As Turkey’s political and economic tension grows, one of the main actors in the developing story, Fethullah Gülen, was interviewed by a BBC team.

Here are the excerpts of the story:

Fethullah Gulen has been called Turkey’s second most powerful man. He is also a recluse, who lives in self-imposed exile in the US.

An apparent power struggle between his followers and those around the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has reached a new pitch of intensity and loathing.

Since arriving in the US in the late 1990s, Mr Gulen, 74, has not given a single broadcast interview. What rare communication there has been with the media has almost exclusively been conducted via email.

But now, the BBC has had exclusive access to the Muslim cleric. I travelled with Guney Yildiz from the BBC Turkish Service to a remote part of Pennsylvania to meet the man.

In the interview, Mr Gulen denied using his influence to start investigations into alleged corruption among senior members of Mr Erdogan’s AK Party which have led to a number of police commissioners being sacked and to some of Mr Erdogan’s allies being arrested.

Frailty

Two moments stood out from my interview with Mr Gulen. Neither had anything to do with what he said.

The first occurred as our camerawoman, Maxine, was making some last-minute adjustments to the lighting. Mr Gulen waved his hand wanly, and a man rushed forward from the chairs arranged on one side of the room. In his haste, he stumbled over the carpet. He was Mr Gulen’s personal physician.

He took the blood pressure of his elderly charge, before poking, one-handed, a pill from its packet and giving it to his patient to chew. The testing and dispensing routine would be repeated later in the interview.

The second incident happened at the end of our long conversation, which was prolonged by the consecutive translation. Moments after Mr Gulen stood up, he swayed. One of his 13 followers in the room caught him by his shoulders, and righted him.

Fethullah Gulen may be, as the former US ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey told me, Turkey’s second most powerful man – an Islamic cleric who sits atop a movement with perhaps millions of followers, worth perhaps billions, with a presence, often through its high-achieving schools, in 150 countries.

But Mr Gulen’s own physical capabilities appear to be ebbing. He has, we were told, a series of chronic ailments, and is recovering from an upper respiratory disorder. Indeed, just before the interview, one of his closest colleagues told me it had been on the cusp of being cancelled.

For the full interview, click here.

 

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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