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Gülen movement

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Gülen movement
Gülen hareketi
Also known as
CountryTurkey, United States, Canada, Finland, Sweden, European Union
Headquartersİzmir, Turkey (1969–1999)
Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, United States (1999–present)
Active regionsWorldwide
SizeFormerly 200,000 to 4 million,
presently unknown.
Designated as a terrorist group by GCC
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation OIC
Northern Cyprus

The Gülen or Hizmet movement (Turkish: Gülen hareketi / Hizmet hareketi) is an Islamist fraternal movement. It is a sub-sect of Sunni Islam based on a Nursian theological perspective as reflected in Gülen's religious discourse (oration). It is referred to by its members as the "service" ("Turkish: Hizmet") or "community" ("Turkish: Cemaat"), in which originated from Turkey around late 1950s and institutionalized in 180 countries in that addition to educational institutions owns media, finance, for-profit health clinics, and affiliated foundations that reached a net worth in the range of $20-to-$50 billion in 2015. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] Both the movement and its organizations led by the Islamic preacher Hoca Fethullah Gülen, who left Turkey under the cloud of the lawsuits and settled in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania in 1999. The members of the organization who were directly involved at 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt were put in prison and the members who worked for Turkey’s governmental agencies were dismissed (2016–present purges in Turkey). The movement is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, Pakistan, Northern Cyprus, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. [9] [10] [11]

The movement has attracted supporters and drawn the attention of critics in Turkey, Central Asia, and other parts of the world. It is active in education and operates private schools and universities in over 180 countries. It has initiated forums for interfaith dialogue.

Despite its teachings which are considered conservative in Turkey, some have praised the movement as a pacifist, modern-oriented version of Islam, and an alternative to more extreme schools of Islam such as Salafism.[12] It has also been reported as having a "cultish hierarchy"[13] and as being a secretive Islamic sect.[14][15]

The Gülen movement is a former ally of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP). When the AKP came to power in 2002 the two formed a tactical alliance against military tutelage and the Turkish secular elite, despite their differences.[16][17] It was through this alliance that the AKP accomplished an unprecedented feat in Turkish republican history by securing national electoral victories sufficient to form three consecutive majority governments in 2002, 2007, and 2011. The Gülen movement gained influence in the Turkish police force and the judiciary during its alliance with conservative President Erdoğan, which saw hundreds of Gülen supporters appointed to positions within the Turkish government.[18] Once the old establishment was defeated around 2010 to 2011 disagreements emerged between the AKP and the Gülen movement. The first breaking point was the so-called ″MIT crisis″ of February 2012; this was also interpreted as a power struggle between pro-Gülen police and judiciary and the AKP.[19][20][21] After the 2013 corruption investigations in Turkey into alleged corrupt practices of several bureaucrats, ministers, mayors, and family members of the ruling AKP of Turkey,[22][23] President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the movement for initiating[24] the investigations as a result of a break in previously friendly relations.[25] President Erdoğan said Gülen attempted to overthrow the Turkish government through a judicial coup by the use of corruption investigations and seized the group-owned newspaper (Zaman— one of the most circulated newspapers in Turkey before the seizure[26]) and several companies that have ties with the group.

Since May 2016, the Gülen movement has been classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey under the assigned names Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (Turkish: Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü) (FETÖ) and Parallel State Structure (Turkish: Paralel Devlet Yapılanması) (PDY).[27] After the failed coup attempt in 2016, the government of Turkey blamed the group for the coup and authorities have arrested thousands of soldiers and judges.[28][29][30] Over ten thousand education staff were suspended and the licenses of over 20,000 teachers working at private institutions were revoked for stated affiliation to Gülen.[31][32] Fethullah Gülen condemned the coup and denied any involvement.[33][34]


Support to conservative-democratic movements

From 2002 to 2013, the Gülen movement comprehensively collaborated with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in obtaining political power in Turkey.[35]

Bombing of Şemdinli Bookstore, 2005

On 9 November 2005, a bookstore was bombed in Şemdinli. The Prosecutor of the case, Ferhat Sarıkaya, prepared a criminal indictment in which Turkey's Commander of Land Forces Yaşar Büyükanıt was accused of forming a gang and plotting the bombing. A decade later, prosecutor Sarıkaya confessed that he was ordered by Gülenists to include General Yaşar Büyükanıt into the criminal indictment, in order to prevent his promotion in the army (Chief of General Staff) and to ease the grip on Gülenist structures within the army.[36]

The defendants Ali Kaya and Özcan İldeniz and the confessor Veysel Ateş are acquitted of this bombing after 18 years on 20 December 2021.[37]

Assassination of Hrant Dink, 2007

Allegations have been made about the role of the Gülen movement in the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul. Hakan Bakırcıoglu, one of Hrant Dink's lawyers, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that the underaged perpetrator, Ogün Samast, had help from third parties, including people connected to the Istanbul and Trabzon police forces.[38]

Four prosecutors in the trial have been dismissed from their posts due to their ties with the movement, and for failing to make progress with the case. Furthermore, police commissioners Ramazan Akyürek and Ali Fuat Yılmazer were accused of not sharing their foreknowledge of the attack with the prosecutors, gendarmarie, or the intelligence services despite being briefed of a planned assassination several times.[39]

Ergenekon trials, Sledgehammer trial, 2008

Questions have arisen about the Gülen movement's possible involvement in the ongoing Ergenekon investigation,[40] which critics have characterized as "a pretext" by the government "to neutralize dissidents" in Turkey.[41]

According to investigative journalist Nedim Şener, the Gülen movement used the assassination of Hrant Dink, the assassination of priest Andrea Santoro, the Zirve Publishing House murders as well as other events, to create an atmosphere and illusion of a clandestine Kemalist ultra-nationalist organization holding responsible for these misdeeds.[42] With the start of the Ergenekon trials, this alleged organization was called "Ergenekon terrorist organization". The Gülenist media, in particular Taraf, Zaman and Samanyolu Haber TV, were instrumental in shaping the public opinion during these operations. In these court cases, military officials, parliamentarians and journalists were accused of plotting a violent coup to oust the government. It later turned out that these cases were based on fabricated evidence, and that most such fabrications were produced by the Gülenists in the police.[43] In 2011, Nedim Şener was included to the Ergenekon trials for being member of Ergenekon and subsequently was arrested and held in pre-trial detention.[44]

According to Gareth H. Jenkins, a Senior Fellow of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center at Johns Hopkins University:

From the outset, the pro-AKP media, particularly the newspapers and television channels run by the Gülen Movement such as Zaman, Today's Zaman and Samanyolu TV, have vigorously supported the Ergenekon investigation. This has included the illegal publication of "evidence" collected by the investigators before it has been presented in court, misrepresentations and distortions of the content of the indictments and smear campaigns against both the accused and anyone who questions the conduct of the investigations. There have long been allegations that not only the media coverage but also the Ergenekon investigation itself is being run by Gülen's supporters. In August 2010, Hanefi Avcı, a right-wing police chief who had once been sympathetic to the Gülen Movement, published a book in which he alleged that a network of Gülen's supporters in the police were manipulating judicial processes and fixing internal appointments and promotions. On September 28, 2010, two days before he was due to give a press conference to present documentary evidence to support his allegations, Avcı was arrested and charged with membership of an extremist leftist organization. On March 14, 2011, Avcı was also formally charged with being a member of the alleged Ergenekon gang.[40]

The Gülen movement has also been implicated in what the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) – and after 2013 also President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – have said were illegal court decisions against members of the Turkish military, including many during the Ergenekon investigation.[45]

Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, 2009

Politicians with no recorded scandalous behavior are believed to be killed like the Great Union Party leader Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, who died in a helicopter crash in 2009.[46]

Sex and corruption tapes, 2010

Members of the Gülen movement inside the intelligence agency were accused of reshaping Turkish politics to a more "workable form" by leaking secretly filmed sex tapes and corruption tapes of both government members and opposition members, with the resignation of main opposition leader Deniz Baykal in 2010 as one of the most notable example.

The Imam's Army, 2011

In March 2011, seven Turkish journalists were arrested, including Ahmet Şık, who had been writing a book, "Imamin Ordusu" (The Imam's Army),[47] which states that the Gülen movement has infiltrated the country's security forces. As Şık was taken into police custody, he shouted, "Whoever touches it [the movement] gets burned!".[48] Upon his arrest, drafts of the book were confiscated and its possession was banned. Şık has also been charged with being part of the stated Ergenekon plot, despite being an investigator of the plot before his arrest.[49]

In a reply, Abdullah Bozkurt, from the Gülen movement newspaper Today's Zaman, said Ahmet Şık was not being an investigative journalist conducting "independent research", but was hatching "a plot designed and put into action by the terrorist network itself".[50]

Corruption scandal, 2013

On 17 December 2013, an investigation into stated corrupt practices by several bureaucrats, ministers, mayors, and family members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey was uncovered, resulting in widespread protests and calls for the resignation of the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[22][23] Due to the high level of political influence by the Gülen movement in Turkey, it is rumored to be facilitated by the movement's influence on the Turkish police force and the judiciary,[24] the investigation was said to be a result of a break in previously friendly relations between the Islamist-rooted government and the movement.[25]

President Erdoğan and the AKP (the ruling party of Turkey) have targeted the movement since December 2013. Immediately after the corruption statements, the government subjugated the judiciary, media and civil society which were critical of the government's authoritarian trend in recent years.[51][52][53] After the corruption statements surfaced, Erdogan labelled it as a "civilian coup" against his government. Since then, Erdogan has shuffled, dismissed or jailed hundreds of police officers, judges, prosecutors and journalists in the name of fighting against a "Parallel State" within the Turkish state.

Gulen related media, 2014

On 14 December 2014, Turkish police arrested more than two dozen senior journalists and media executives connected with the Gülen movement on various charges.

A statement by the US State Department cautioned Turkey not to violate its "own democratic foundations" while drawing attention to raids against media outlets "openly critical of the current Turkish government".[54][55]

EU Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that the arrests went "against European values" and "are incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy".[56]

The Turkish government took over the Gülenist Zaman Daily, on 4 March 2016. Turkish police entered the Zaman's headquarters by force and fired tear gas at the protesting journalists and civilians. Hundreds of protestors were injured.[57][58] In his efforts to eradicate the movement within the country the Turkish National Security Council has identified the movement as the "Gülenist Terror Organisation" ("Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü", FETÖ).[59] The government has also been targeting individuals and businessmen who have supported the movement's organizations and activities.

Eavesdropping on state offices, 2015

On 20 January 2015, Turkish police launched raids in Ankara and three other cities, detaining some 20 people suspected of illegally eavesdropping on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other senior officials. The suspects are linked to Turkey's telecommunications authority and to its scientific and technological research center TUBITAK. Local media said the move was aimed at the "parallel structure" — the term Erdogan uses to refer to Gülen's supporters in the judiciary, police and other institutions.[60]

Collaboration with PKK

Since 2013 Gülen movement has been accused by the Turkish Government of collaborating with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).[61] In 2014 the movement reportedly conducted several meetings with the PKK, in parts of Northern Iraq under PKK control.[62] In 2015, Turkish Government said the movement had leaked the identity of 329 Turkish Gendermarie informants to the PKK. Who were then executed by the PKK.[63]

On 15 April 2016, during the Kurdish–Turkish conflict Gülen movement member Brigadier General Ali Osman Gürcan deliberately sent 17 soldiers to a house that was packed with IEDs according to the testimony of his companions. Which led to the death of a police officer and wounding of eight soldiers. The house was marked on a map with the code 'P368' for IED's, which Gürcan erased from the map. Leading to a brawl that led to his companions calling him a "traitor".[64] Gürcan later participated in 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt under the Peace at Home Council. He was arrested after the coups failure and charged with life imprisonment.[65]

15 July 2016 coup attempt

In reaction to the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, led by a military faction operating outside the chain of command, the Turkish government quickly stated the coup's leader to be Gülen. In following days and weeks, a massive crackdown affected all entities affiliated to the Gülen movements, from individuals to businesses, newspapers to schools and universities.[66]

Purges from state offices

Since the 2016 coup attempt, authorities arrested or imprisoned more than 90,000 Turkish citizens and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations, primarily for alleged ties to the Gülen movement.[67]

In 2018, approximately 25,000 Turkish asylum requests were filed by alleged Gülenists in the European Union (a rise of 50% from 2017), with Germany's share 10,000 and Greece's about 5,000.[68] Within the U.S., according to news reports, a number of Gülenists successfully receiving political asylum status are resettled in New Jersey.[69]

In 2019 it was reported that Interpol had denied Turkey's appeals of the agency's rejections of Turkey's red notice requests regarding 464 fugitives, citing Interpol's legal definition of the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt as not terrorism but a failed military putsch.[70]

Extradition of Gulen

Despite Turkey's official request, the United States has not extradited Gülen.

Extradition of the leadearship

As of 2020, Turkey had successfully pressured a number of countries, especially those in Africa and the former Soviet Union, to extradite over 80 alleged Gülenists to Turkey.[71][72]

Some of the Gulenists were also kidnapped abroad -allegedly- by MİT (Turkish Intelligence Service) and brought to Turkey. Turkish officials claimed that Turkey was involved in more than 100 international Gulenist abductions. Turkish former Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed that 104 Gülenists from 21 countries were abducted and brought back to Turkey.[73] Former Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kiran stated that this happened to more than 100 Gülenists.[74] 68 of these abductions are publicly known. The number of abductions and the countries are: Azerbaijan (8),[75][76] Bahrain (1), Bulgaria (1), Gabon (3),[77] Indonesia (1), Kazahkstan (2), Kenya (1),[78] Kosovo (6),[79] Kyrgistan (1),[80] Lebanon (1), Malaysia (11), Moldova (7),[81] Myanmar (1), Pakistan (4), Saudi Arabia (16), Sudan (1), Ukraine (3).[82]

Among Turkish citizens within Turkey convicted for alleged memberships in the Gülen movement are Turkey's honorary president of Amnesty International, Taner Kilic, and Amnesty's Turkish branch, Idil Eser, in July 2020.[83]

In June 2021, the Turkish-Kyrgyz educator and the head of the Sapat educational network in Kyrgyzstan, Orhan Inandi, went missing from the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, leading to mass protests. Inandi, 53, had lived in Kyrgyzstan since 1995, and holds dual Turkish-Kyrgyz citizenship.[84] One month later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on July 5 that Turkish intelligence agents had abducted Inandi, accusing him of being “a top Central Asian leader” of the Gülen movement led by U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.[85] Kyrgyz officials have denied claims they colluded with Turkish intelligence to abduct a Turkish-Kyrgyz educator who disappeared from Bishkek.[84]

Designation as a terrorist group

Gülen movement is deemed a designated terrorist group by the following countries and international organizations:

Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey and considered by the international community to be part of the Republic of Cyprus, also designated the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization in July 2016.

In 2017, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee there was no "evidence to justify the designation of the Gülenists as a terrorist organisation by the UK".[88] The same year, Gilles de Kerchove, EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator, said that the European Union didn't see the Gülen movement as a terrorist organisation and that the EU would need "substantive" evidence to change its stance.[89] In 2018, in a conference with Turkish President Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany needed more evidence to classify the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization.[90]

Assassination of Andrei Karlov

Following the assassination of Andrey Karlov, the Turkish government was reportedly investigating the assassin's links to the "Gülenist Terrorist Organisation" (FETÖ); in a speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the perpetrator was a member of FETÖ.[91][92]

Turkish officials declared the Gülen movement to be responsible for the assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov, while Russian officials accused the shooter of aiming to damage Russia–Turkey relations[93][94] that had been normalizing since the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt.[95][96][97][98] Gulen described the killing as a “heinous act of terror” that pointed to a deterioration of security in Turkey.[99]

Faith, practice, and experience

The movement has been characterized as a "moderate blend of Islam". [100] [101] Sources state that the Gülen movement is vying to be recognized as the world's leading Muslim network, one that is more reasonable than many of its rivals. [102] The movement builds on the activities of Gülen, who has won praise from non-Muslim quarters for his advocacy of science, interfaith dialogue, and multi-party democracy. It has earned praise as "the world's most global movement".[103] Fethullah Gülen's and the Gülen movement's views and practices have been discussed in international conferences. In October 2007, in London a conference was sponsored by the University of Birmingham, the Dialogue Society, the Irish School of Ecumenics, Leeds Metropolitan University, the London Middle East Institute, the Middle East Institute and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.[104] Niagara Foundation of Chicago, together with several academic institutions, organized "The Gülen Movement: Paradigms, Projects and Aspirations" conference, which was held at University of Chicago on 11–13 November 2010.[105]

Interfaith dialogue

Gülen and Pope John Paul II

The movement's avowal of interfaith dialogue grew out of Gülen's personal engagement in interfaith dialogue, largely inspired by the example of one of his influences, Said Nursi. Gülen has met with leaders of other religions, including Pope John Paul II, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.[106] Gülen advocates cooperation between followers of different religions as well as those practicing different forms of Islam (such as Sunnism or Alevism).

Gülen's call for interfaith dialogue has influenced three generations of movement followers.[107]

Gülen movement participants have founded a number of institutions across the World that promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities. Among these are the Journalists and Writers Foundation in Istanbul, the Rumi Forum in Washington and the Indialogue Foundation in New Delhi.

Devotional practices

Detractors of the movement "have labeled Gülen community members as secretive missionaries, while those in the Movement and sympathetic observers class it as a civil society organization".[108]

Critics have complained that members of the Gülen movement are overly compliant with the directions from its leaders,[109] and Gülen's "movement is generally perceived by its critics as a religio-political cult".[110] The Guardian editorial board described the movement in 2013 as having "some of the characteristics of a cult or of an Islamic Opus Dei".[111]

Scholars such as Simon Robinson disagree with the characterization, writing that although "[t]here is no doubt that Gülen remains a charismatic leader and that members of the movement hold him in the highest respect", the movement "differs markedly from a cult in several ways", with Gülen stressing "the primacy of the scriptures" and "the imperative of service" and consistently avoiding "attempts to institutionalize power, to perceive him as the source of all truth, or to view him as taking responsibility for the movement".[112] Zeki Saritoprak says that the view of Gülen as "a cult leader or a man with ambitions" is mistaken, and contends that Gülen should be viewed in the context of a long line of Sufi masters who have long been a center of attention "for their admirers and followers, both historically and currently".[113]

Relations to state

The Gülen movement works within the given structures of modern secular states; it encourages affiliated members to maximize the opportunities those countries afford rather than engaging in subversive activities.[114] In the words of the leader himself and the title of a cornerstone of his philosophy, Gülen promotes "an Ottoman Empire of the Mind".[115]

Beginning in 2008, the Dutch government investigated the movement's activities in the Netherlands in response to questions from Parliament. The first two investigations, performed by the AIVD, concluded that the movement did not form a breeding ground for radicalism and found no indications that the movement worked against integration or that it was involved in terrorism or religious radicalization. A further academic study sketched a portrait of a socially conservative, inwardly directed movement with an opaque organizational structure, but said that its members tend to be highly successful in society and thus form no threat to integration.[116]

Relations to politics

Regarding establishing a political party, it is Neither Gülen nor his followers were formed a party, but they had political involvement or parliamentary representation. In 2008, Gülen was described as "the modern face of the Sufi Ottoman tradition", who reassures his followers, including many members of "Turkey's aspirational middle class", that "they can combine the statist-nationalist beliefs of Atatürk’s republic with a traditional but flexible Islamic faith" and "Ottoman traditions that had been caricatured as theocratic by Atatürk and his 'Kemalist' heirs".[117] In the early 2000s, the Gülen movement was seen as keeping a distance from established Islamic political parties.[118]

According to academic researcher Svante E. Cornell, director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, "With only slight exaggeration, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as well as the government it has led could be termed a coalition of religious orders."[119]

"[...T]he Gülen movement stayed away from electoral politics, focusing instead on increasing its presence in the state bureaucracy. The Hizmet movement’s stated success in this regard would initially make it Erdoğan’s main partner, but also his eventual nemesis."[120]

Freedom of speech

Der Spiegel also criticized the movement regarding its activities towards freedom of the press. Despite Gülen emphasizing how much he cares of the freedom of the press in interviews, the movement launched a campaign towards the newspaper in 2012, after an article was written regarding the "cult", in which about 2000 readers wrote letters of complaint to the press council, all of which were alike each other, and which were all rejected. Der Spiegel said the movement distorted events, threatened those who spoke against it, and accused Der Spiegel of having ties to the Turkish mafia. While Gareth Jenkins of The Sunday Times said, despite portraying itself as a peaceful educational movement, the Gülen organization never hesitates using anti-democratic and anti-liberal methods.[121]


"It is impossible to calculate the size of the Gülen movement" since the movement is not a centralized or formal organization with membership rosters, but rather a set of numerous, loosely organized networks of people inspired by Gülen.[122] Estimates of the size of the movement vary, with one source stating that between 200,000 supporters and 4 million people are influenced by Gülen's ideas (1997 Tempo estimate),[123] and another stating that Gülen has "hundreds of thousands of supporters".[124] The membership of the movement consists primarily of students, teachers, businessmen, academics, journalists and other professionals.[8] \


The movement states that it is based on moral values and advocacy of universal access to education, civil society, tolerance and peace. The emphasis among participants is to perform "service" (also the meaning of the Turkish word "hizmet") as arising from individuals' personal commitments to righteous imperatives. Along with hizmet, the movement, which has no official name, is termed the Gülen movement or cemaat (the latter also used to describe participants in Sufi orders, meaning "congregation," "community," or "assembly.")

The movement's structure has been described as a flexible organizational network.[125]

Lay clergy (Imam-Mullah-Shaykh)

The movement skirted Kemalist Turkey's prohibitions against assembling in non-state sponsored religious meetings. (As a young man, future President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan belonged to the Naqshbandi tariqa, then technically banned in Turkey.[126])

Akin to Turkey's Sufi tariqas which are lay religious orders, banned in Turkey in 1925. [127] Movement schools and businesses organize locally and link themselves into informal networks. [128] Each local Gülen movement school and community has a person designated its "informal" prayer leader (Imam). In Turkey Imam is state-sponsored. In the Gülen movement, this individual is a layman who serves for a stint within this volunteer position, lay clergy. His identity is kept confidential, generally only purposely made known to those with close connections to those participating in decision-making and coordinating councils within the local group. Above a grouping of such "secret" (not-publicly-acknowledged) imams is another such volunteer leader. This relationship tree continues on up the ladder to the nation-level imam and to individuals who consult with Gülen himself. [129] These individuals closest to Gülen, having degrees from theology schools, are offhandedly referred to within the movement as mullahs.[130] Gülen's position, as described in the foregoing, is analogous to that of a shaykh (master) of a Sufi tariqa. Unlike with traditional tariqas, no-one makes pledges of any sort, upon joining the Gülen movement; one becomes a movement participant simply by working with others to promote and effect the movement's objectives of education and service.[131]

In 2017, German magazine Der Spiegel called the movement a "secretive and dangerous cult" while calling Gülen a suspicious individual. Saying, "the movement calls itself a tolerant service movement, while those who have left the movement call it a secretive Islamist organization with Fethullah Gülen as its leader". The article said pupils attending the "cults" schools in Germany were under immense pressure from their abi's (tutors) who were telling them which books to read, which movies to watch, which friends to meet and whether to see their families or not. While the abi's were keeping a protocol of all those staying in the cult's dormitories.[121]

The Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted a German lawyer calling the organization "more powerful than the Illuminati" and "not transparent as opposed to the claims", and reported that the organization tried to reorganize in Swabia region of Germany.[132]

Economic activities

Gülen and the Gülen movement are technology-friendly, work within current market and commerce structures, and are savvy users of modern communications and public relations.[117]

Its members have founded schools, universities, an employers' association, charities, real estate trusts, student organizations, radio and television stations, and newspapers.[124]

Hizmet-affiliated foundations and businesses were estimated as worth $20-to-$50 billion in 2015.[133]


Beyond the borders of Turkey, many Gülen schools can be found in countries with large populations of people of Turkish descent. Gülen schools in predominantly non-Turkish Muslim countries provide families with an alternative to madrasa education. The movement is active in education (kindergarten–university) as well in civic opportunities in other areas such as interfaith dialogue, humanitarian aid, media, finance, and health.[6] and its educational footprint extends to over 160 countries. In 2009, it was estimated that members of the Gülen Movement ran schools around the world in which more than two million students were enrolled.[41] Estimates of the number of schools and educational institutions vary widely; it appears there are about 300 Gülen Movement schools in Turkey and over 1,000 schools worldwide.[134][135] Gülen schools heavily emphasize instruction in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).[136]

Many charter schools founded or managed by members of the Gulen movement emphasize instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The achievements of students in these fields are often highlighted on school websites.

In many countries instruction is in English. However, all of the schools outside of Turkey offer Turkish as either a mandatory or elective foreign language. [citation needed]

The curricula of the schools vary from country to country. They generally follow a secular mixture of Turkish and local curricula. Gülen schools are not for Muslims alone,[100] In Turkey "the general curriculum for the network's schools prescribes one hour of religious instruction per week, while in many countries the schools do not offer any religious instruction at all. With the exception of a few Imam-Hatip schools abroad, these institutions can thus hardly be considered Islamic schools in the strict sense."[137] The greatest majority of the teachers are drawn from members of the Gülen network, who reportedly encourage students in the direction of greater piety.[138] A 2008 article in the New York Times said that in Pakistan "they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer",[100] and described the Turkish schools as offering a gentler approach to Islam that could help reduce the influence of extremism.[100]

Organization and administration

Most Gülen Movement schools are private. By 2017, it was estimated 1.2 million Turks had passed through Hizmet schools (including Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son in-law, Berat Albayrak);[139]

There are many allegations about money-laundering, kickbacks, investigations, and raids concerning charter schools founded or operated by Gulen followers.[140][141]

A reporter for the magazine In These Times noted in 2010 that the Chicago Math and Science Academy obscured its relationship to Gülen. Furthermore, the school board was strikingly similar to Beehive's:

When I went to the school's board meeting on July 8, I was taken aback to see a board of directors comprised entirely of men. They all appeared of Turkish, Bosnian or Croatian descent. Although I have nothing against Turkish, Bosnian or Croatian men, it does seem that a school board serving students who are 58 percent Hispanic/Latino, 25 percent African American, 12 percent Asian and 5 percent white might be well served by some women board members and board members from ethnic backgrounds the school predominantly serves.[141]

In August 2016 former head of the American Federation of Teachers' Strategic Campaign Department Gene Bruskin wrote an article for AlterNet arguing that the Gülen movement's charter school network "severely tested" the American model of a secular state, due to what he sees as the missionary nature of the Gülen movement and the way the Gülen schools often played down their links to the movement. He also asserted that publicly available teacher rosters and labour condition applications for the Turkish teachers frequently employed in the Gülen schools illustrated that American teachers employed by the schools were often paid less than their Turkish counterparts.[142]

The 60 minute episode said that the schools generally received high marks for the quality of education, but also said that Gülen's reclusive nature "invites conspiracy theories that he's running Turkey from the Poconos and is bent on global Muslim domination" and that "[o]ne statement involves immigration fraud: that the schools are providing work visas for hundreds of Gülen followers from Turkey."[143]


Schools established by the Gülen movement are usually private or semi-private schools founded by the members of the movement who are inspired by the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen. In addition there are many American charter schools founded or managed by members of Gülen movement.

In 2009, it was estimated that members of the Gülen movement run schools that serve more than 2 million students.[41] Estimates of the number of schools and educational institutions vary widely, from about 300 schools in Turkey to over 1,000 schools worldwide.[144][145] There are Gülen schools in countries with large Turkish populations, such as the United States, Germany, and Canada. Gülen schools in non-Turkish Muslim countries provide families an alternative to madrasa education.


The achievements of these schools are often highlighted in publications or websites managed by the Gülen movement. For example, Somali Higher Education and Culture Minister Duale Mohamed Adem praised the contributions of the schools to the Somali people.[146] Foluso Oluwole Adeshida, Nigeria's deputy ambassador to Ankara, praised the 16 schools in his country.[147] Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif praised the 23 PakTurk International Schools and Colleges in his country.[148]


In April 2009, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published a piece about the Gülen schools in Central Asia stating the "Turkish educational institutions have come under increasing scrutiny ... Governments as well as many scholars and journalists suspect that the schools have more than just education on their agendas ..." The article quoted Hakan Yavuz, a Turkish professor of political science at the University of Utah, as calling the Gülen movement:

a political movement ... and it has always been political ... They want to train an elitist class that will then turn Turkey into a centre of the religious World, Islamise the country ... It is the most powerful movement right now in [Turkey] ... There is no other movement to balance them in society.[149]

In other sources, the schools in Central Asia have been described as supporting a philosophy based on Turkish nationalism rather than on Islam.[150]


The 17 Gulen-inspired schools in Australia rank highly in comparisons to other schools in terms of academic results and retention rates.[151]


In April 2010, Trend News Agency published a piece about the Gülen schools in Georgia. Excerpt: "The Georgian Labor Party protested the opening of Turkish schools in Georgia. The party's Political Secretary Giorgi Gugava called the mass opening of Turkish schools in Georgia, "the dominance of Turkey in the Georgian educational system," and noted that these schools aim to spread Turkish culture and fundamentalist religious ideas...Gugava said the process is headed by Turkish religious leader Fetullah Gülen, whose activities are banned in his motherland..."[152]

Other commentators disagree with these assessments and are suspicious of the anti-integrative potential of Gulen-movement schools. In 2008, the Dutch government investigated the movement's activities in the Netherlands. Following the investigation, the Dutch government, concluding that the Gülen schools did indeed promote "anti-integrative behavior," reduced their public funding.[153] This decision was overturned in 2010 and funding was restored after an investigation by the Dutch intelligence organization AIVD and an assigned academician Martin van Bruinessen which resulted in findings that Gulen movement schools did not represent a threat to Dutch society.[154]


Prior to the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt, there were many Gülen schools in Turkey. The schools were all subsequently banned by law, as were other Gülen schools in countries with large Turkish populations.

Gülen schools promote education in the local languages where they are located, including the controversial use of Kurdish in Turkey.[155]

United States

A network of private or semi-private schools founded by Turkish Americans. In 2011, it was estimated that over 120 charter schools in the United States in 25 states were operated by participants of the Gülen movement.[156][157] A 60 Minutes episode profiled Gülen movement-operated charter schools in the U.S. in May 2012, and estimated that there were about 130 affiliated schools nationwide, with about 36 Harmony Schools in Texas, serving "mostly underprivileged students" and all emphasizing math and science.[143] The largest numbers of such schools were in Texas (60 schools, Harmony schools, run by the Cosmos Foundation); Ohio (19 schools, known as Horizon Science Academies and operated by Concept Schools Inc.); and California (14 schools, operated by the Magnolia Foundation).[157] A U.S.-based umbrella foundation which is affiliated with the movement is the Alliance for Shared Values. Alp Aslandoğan, executive director of the non-profit organisation Alliance for Shared Values has said that the schools are independent yet indirectly tied to the Gülen movement on the "intellectual or inspirational level." [158] Gulen followers have been active in founding approximately 120 charter schools in 25 states. Although there is no formal networking of all the schools, collectively they form one of the largest collections of charter schools in America." [159]

Gülen schools in the United States, which provide solely secular education to children mostly from low-income households, receive federal financial support.[160]

Two American professors at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and Temple University wrote that "these schools have consistently promoted good learning and citizenship, and the Hizmet movement is to date an evidently admirable civil society organization to build bridges between religious communities and to provide direct service on behalf of the common good".[161] Participants in the movement have also founded private universities.[162]

Professor Joshua Hendrick of Loyola University Maryland, who studies the movement, said that Gülen himself "does not have a direct hand in operating" the charter schools,[163] and it was reported that Gülen has never visited the schools.[143] The Harmony Schools in Texas do not teach religion, and the charter network says that some 7.8% of its teachers are non-Americans.[163]

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2016 that around 150 U.S. charter schools were tied to the Gülen movement, "ranging from networks in Texas, Illinois and Florida to stand-alone academies in Maryland".[163] The Journal stated that like other charter schools "blacks and Hispanics in underserved neighborhoods" made up the majority of the student body, with common themes including "an emphasis on math and science education, Turkish language classes and sponsored trips to Turkey".[163] Hendrick said that in the upheaval following the 2016 Turkish coup attempt, proposed new charter schools and charters up for renewal "that are run by Turkish-Americans and are said to be connected with the cleric" could run into increased opposition, as the Turkish government has sought "to bring down Mr. Gülen through U.S. charter schools they claim are connected to him".[163]

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported at the time that Gülen schools were one of the largest users of H1B visas, receiving approval for 684 such visas in 2009.[157] The Inquirer reported that the FBI, Labor Department, and Education Department were investigating whether some charter school employees employed via H1B visas misused funds by kicking back a portion of their salaries to movement groups.[157] The investigation had no tie to terrorism, and there was "no indication the American charter network has a religious agenda in the classroom".[157]

The Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in East Baton Rouge Parish Louisiana, has posted impressive gains in academic performance which resulted in a renewal of its charter.[164]

Member schools of the Concept Schools network of charter schools have won numerous designations such as Blue Ribbon School designations, mention in U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools, Ohio State Department of Education designations as "Excellent" and "Schools of Progress." Students from Concept Schools have won numerous awards and honors such as acceptance at the Intel International Science Fair and the International Environmental Project Olympiad in Azerbaijan. Teams from Concept Schools have won awards in Chess tournaments and regional Robotics competitions.[165]

In the 2012-2014 the Beehive Science and Technology Academy, a 6-12 school, student achievement according to the Utah State Report Card was above the state average in the 2012–2013 school year and achieved a "B" rating,[166][167] and scored above the Utah mean in the 8th grade writing assessment[168]

The FBI has investigated Concept Schools, which operate 16 Horizon Science Academies across Ohio, on the suspicion that they illegally used taxpayer money to pay immigration and legal fees for people they never even employed, an Ohio ABC affiliate discovered. The FBI's suspicion was confirmed by state auditors. Concept Schools repaid the fees for their Cleveland and Toledo schools shortly before the ABC story broke, but it's unclear whether they have repaid—or can repay—the fees for their other schools.[141] In December 2013, the FBI raided another Gülen-linked charter school, Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School, located in Louisiana. The investigation, initially for tax-related purposes, led to the discovery of a business link between the school and Harmony Public Schools, another Gülen-linked charter school district based in Texas that makes up the state's largest charter operator.[169]

Two schools, located in Texas, have been accused of sending school funds—which are supplied by the government—to Gülen-inspired organizations. Last year, The New York Times reported that the some schools were funneling some $50 million in public funds to a network of Turkish construction companies, among them the Gülen-related Atlas Texas Construction and Trading. The schools had hired Atlas to do construction, the paper said, though other bidders claimed in lawsuits that they had submitted more economical bids. Folwell Dunbar, an official at the Louisiana Department of Education, has accused Atlas's vice president, Inci Akpinar, of offering him a $25,000 bribe to keep mum about troubling conditions at the Abramson Science and Technology School in New Orleans. Dunbar sent a memo to department colleagues, the Times-Picayune reported, noting that "Akpinar flattered him with 'a number of compliments' before getting to the point: 'I have twenty-five thousand dollars to fix this problem: twenty thousand for you and five for me.' " Abramson is operated by the Pelican Foundation, which is linked to the Gülen-inspired Cosmos Foundation in Texas—which runs the two Texas schools.[141]

One of the Cosmos Foundation's school systems, Harmony Public Schools, was subject to a compliance review by the United States Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, examining whether the system was compliant with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in education programs operated by recipients of federal financial assistance), and Title II of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities). The OCR's investigation found that although HPS's admissions policies, procedures, and information provided to prospective students and their parents were prima facie non-discriminatory, the school systems' enrolments of disabled students and English-language learners were significantly lower than for public school districts covering the same geographical areas. In late 2014 the investigation was closed after HPS submitted proposals to resolve the issues identified by the OCR.[170]

Utah's Beehive Science and Technology Academy was $337,000 in debt, according to a financial probe by the Utah Schools Charter Board. The Deseret News tried to figure out where all this taxpayer money had gone. "In a time of teacher layoffs, Beehive has recruited a high percentage of teachers from overseas, mainly Turkey," the newspaper reported. "Many of these teachers had little or no teaching experience before they came to the United States. Some of them are still not certified to teach in Utah. The school spent more than $53,000 on immigration fees for foreigners in five years. During the same time, administrators spent less than $100,000 on textbooks, according to state records." Reports have also claimed that the school board was almost entirely Turkish.[141]


Gülen Movement Schools have received both praise and criticism. Gülen schools have received both criticism and praise.[107]

The Gülen movement runs the International Turkish Language Olympiads (Turkish: Uluslararası Türkçe Olimpiyatları), an annual competition in the Turkish language. Students who have learned Turkish from over a hundred countries compete in different titles such as: grammar, oral skills, writing essays, reciting poems, singing songs, theatre, general culture etc.


Movement participants have set up a number of media organizations to promote its core values such as love, tolerance, hope, dialogue, activism, mutual acceptance and respect. These media organs include TV stations (Samanyolu TV, Samanyolu Haber TV, Mehtap TV), (Ebru TV) (English), the newspapers Zaman, Today's Zaman (English), magazines and journals in Turkish like Aksiyon, Sızıntı,[171] Yeni Ümit, Çağlayan,[172] The Fountain Magazine (English),[173] Hira (Arabic), The International Cihan News Agency and the radio station Burç FM [tr].


The movement runs charity and humanitarian aid organizations which are transnationally active. The leading one among them is the Istanbul-based Kimse Yok Mu Association (KYM). KYM organizes charity campaigns to help those in need in different parts of the world. Like any other activities of the Gülen-movement, KYM runs local projects responding to specific needs. KYM holds UN Ecosoc Special status.

Another charity organization Embrace Relief was established in New Jersey and is active in America, Asia and Africa.[174]

Professional associations

While being both praised and criticized for being market friendly, the Gülen movement has established various professional associations and business networks. Among them Istanbul based TUSKON is the major non-profit business confederation which aims to promote economic solutions as well as social and political ones. Another one called TUCSIAD is based in China, in addition to DTIK's Asia-Pacific Group which supports the Gülen movement outside of Turkey in China, hoping to influence Turkish politics from the outside.


  • 1941 – Fethullah Gülen was born in the village of Korucuk in the Pasinler district of Erzurum, Turkey.
  • 1950s – Gülen's first meeting with people from the Nur Movement[175]
  • 1960 – death of Said Nursî[176]
  • 1979 – Science journal Sızıntı begins publication[177]
  • 1982 – First "Gülen school" opens.[178]
  • 1986 – Zaman, a daily newspaper in Turkey,[179] begins publication, later becoming one of Turkey's top selling newspapers
  • 1993 – A television channel opened in Turkey, Samanyolu TV.
  • 1994 – The (Turkish) Journalists and Writers Foundation (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi) established, with Gülen as honorary president[180]
  • 1998 – Gülen meets with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican[181][182]
  • 1999 – Gülen went to the United States because of the accusations in Turkey and many lawsuits filed against him and his health problems. Gülen currently resides in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.[22]
  • 2004 – Establishment of Niagara Foundation[183]
  • 2004 – Establishment of Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There?), a charitable organization;[184] 2010, receives "special" NGO status with United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.[185]
  • 2005 – Establishment of TUSKON (Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists)[186]
  • 2007 – A news channel was opened in Turkey, Samanyolu Haber TV.
  • 2012 – Journalists and Writers Foundation (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi) receives "general consultative status" as a Non-Governmental Organization of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.[187]


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External links

  • "Expulsions, pushbacks and extraditions: Turkey's war on dissent extends to Europe: The Gülenists, dubbed by Turkey as FETO, the Fethullahist Terror Organization, are being purged on a massive scale. Those who have been accused include scientists, schoolteachers, policemen and journalists" (broadcast with transcript). The World. Public Radio International. 23 July 2020.

Further information