It has been one year since the bloody and, thankfully, failed coup attempt by FETO in Turkey. I was with family in Ankara, the capital, for summer leave on the night of July 15. I will remember forever how I was almost speechless trying to explain to my little daughter why on Earth fighter jets were flying so frighteningly close and loud as well as the horrific sound of distant bombing of state institutions, including the Parliament.
Obviously, the trauma was much worse at the national level. They killed 250 people and wounded more than 2,000. They also wanted to assassinate President Erdogan. In essence, they aimed at the very heart of our constitutional order. But the Turkish people stood up against this calamity and heroic averted what may have been the greatest blow to our democracy.
So, who are the members of FETO? What do they want? The followers of Fethullah Gulen, the head of FETO, believe that he is the “messiah.” To advance its interests, FETO believes that violating any legal, religious or ethical codes is fully legitimate. Its members excel at concealing their connection to Gulen to avert suspicion while establishing themselves in different institutions in different countries. In other words, FETO is a new-generation terrorist organization based on hypocrisy, concealment, and secrecy. Of course, all this serves their higher purpose: They see themselves as the “golden generation” destined to take control of Turkey and, believe it or not, of the world.
Gulen’s desire to reign in Turkey and start a regime according to his perverted religious ethos was no secret. For decades, he directed his followers to infiltrate all critical state organs, such as the police, judiciary, and armed forces. Even when I was at college in early ’90s, their younger recruits were in our midst preparing themselves for future positions. I always thought they were too obvious. No firm handshake, no genuine eye contact but a sinister approach to the needy to take advantage of them. Unfortunately, they were all too good at steering the vulnerable little by little toward becoming a servant of their perverted religious ways and political objectives.
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Yet this was never only about Turkey. We are faced with a terror organization with global aspirations. FETO is active in more than 150 countries. It conceals its true nature behind a loose network of schools, NGOs seemingly promoting interfaith dialogue, lobbyists, media outlets and companies, including in the United States. One disturbing example is the presence of more than 170 charter schools that FETO members run across the United States. These schools are supported by a whopping half-billion dollars in American taxpayers’ money. It is believed that a good portion of this is funneled into darker avenues than educating American kids. Yet it is hard to believe the leader of this organization still is living in Pennsylvania in a self-imposed exile. Turkish requests of extradition have so far not been met.
However, Turkey has proven to be a resilient nation in the face of such a challenge. Stability and order were restored soon after the coup attempt. A state of emergency was declared, but it did not interfere with the daily affairs and aims at bringing the responsible to justice.
Turkey made the utmost effort not to compromise rule of law, democracy, and morality. Life continues.
We just transformed our political system into a presidential democracy in line with the results of a peaceful referendum. Turkish economy is growing at an accelerated pace recording one of the fastest growth rates in Europe supported by strong exports. Tourism is coming back in a promising way. Turkey is at the center of strategic crossroads. We have a stake in almost every remarkable international topic. Our foreign policy is much more active and assertive. Turkey is the most generous country per capita in the world accommodating more than 3 million people who fled persecution in our region, first and foremost in Syria. Turkey is a fascinating country. We always had challenges. We will always have them. Yet, we will always prevail thanks to the potential of the Turkish people.
Sunday is my last day in Miami as the Consul General of Turkey.
I had the privilege of watching over the establishment of the Turkish consulate and new connections between Miami and Turkey such as direct Turkish Airlines service between Istanbul and Miami. I have seen promising new business links. Just recently Miami and the Csty of Antalya, on the Turkish Riviera. Both were declared sister cities.
In three years, my family and I truly connected with Miami and its wonderful people. We will always love and remember this great town.
Özgür Altan has been the consul general of Turkey in Miami since 2014.