The purge of Erdogan’s Turkey spreads abroad: The future of Hizmet in Europe

The Hizmet, also known as Gülen Movement, has been started as faith based religious community in the 60’s in Turkey around Mr. Fethullah Gülen’s ideas. During the 80’s with the momentum of political and economic liberalism in Turkey, it has been become a nation wide religious movement. In 90’s, it extended its education activities cross-borders and transformed from a grassroots community in Turkey to a wider social effort around the world through opening non-denominational educational institutions and dialogue centres. It has been evolved from a religious community to a transnational faith inspired civil society movement.

The movement has been attracted scholars in the last decade for its activities, mobilization capacity, educational institutions, media outlets and dialogue centers. The main focus of the movement is education and interfaith and intercultural dialogue. It has been very active in Turkey and also in many continents especially in Africa.

However, the rift between Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) put the movement in a challenging and problematic position in Turkey and elsewhere. The conflict between these two actors has been dominated the Turkish politics in last three years. Erdoğan’s war against Hizmet is resulted as a social purge against Hizmet participants in Turkey. President Erdoğan blamed Hizmet for the failed coup within hours of the start of the coup starting a massive purge in no time. He declared the movement as a terrorist organization. Turkey officially designated Hizmet as top one terrorist organisation along with PKK and ISIS, and persons who government deem has affiliation with as terrorists for guilt by association. The failed coup of 15th July 2016 gave him an opportunity to extend his war not only against Hizmet people but also targeting other different groups such as Kurds, Alevis and secular people in Turkey.

The Turkish state shut down all of media, schools, universities, dormitories, associations and foundations affiliated with the Hizmet Movement by decree of law. Business people’s companies are confiscated. Many people from the movement are in jail now. The conflict between Erdoğan’s Turkey and Hizmet is extended and spilled into overseas. In some countries such as in Pakistan, Somalia; Erdoğan’s efforts to close Hizmet schools were resulted successfully.

Facing this reality and challenge coming from Turkey, the crucial question is to understand how the post-coup process shape the future of the Movement, especially in Europe? Could movement sustain its activities outside Turkey? The movement has started its activities in the beginning of 80’s with first migrants Turks in Europe. There are a couple of networks in the movement lead mostly by the second generation of Turkish descendants: schools, dialogue centres, women associations, charity organizations, and tutoring centres are some of the institutions that are developed in last decade.

The first networks were established around the first Turkish migrants people in different European cities. Following the same legacy and logic of the migrant movements, the movement started up its own institutions via associations and cultural centers. The project-based institutions has been emerged with the second generation and spread in many European countries. The institutionalisation of the movement in local contexts is a recent phenomenon for the Hizmet. Mostly the first institutions with few exceptions are business associations that later become the financial source of the movement and tutoring centres that resulted as schools. The project based institutions answer the need of migrant people in Europe. They have firstly and mostly educational problems. The tutoring centres were opened and supported by the Hizmet to struggle with the lack of education and early drop out in education. The centres are providing tutoring for students and families. In the beginning, the first institutions were opened and run by the Turkish origin people.

As a consequence of these first initiators, the Turkish identity is very present in the institutions. However, with the arrival of the second generation who knows very well the local needs and problematic issues that they face such as employment, discrimination, they developed more a local understanding of Hizmet. At the same time, the Hizmet movement keep its transnational ties for long time. It becomes more cosmopolitan-transnational and global. This global and transnational aspect of the movement affects also Hizmet activities in Europe. The emphasis has been remained on local activities and depend the national contexts.

The Movement has different settings and adaptation model in different contexts. In Europe, local and national circumstances shape the movement’s strategies and aims. In that sense, there is not one movement but maybe one can talk about several movements. The adaptation and integration to the local contexts has been already on the agenda of the movement, however the ‘Turkish problem’ force the movement to re-think its activities, networks, structures.

Are schools, dialogue centers, women associations, charity organizations, tutoring centres functioning as previously or is there a change in their organizational structure and ideology? The Turkishness is seen in most part of the movement, especially in leadership in schools, associations. Some scholars define the movement in terms of Turkish Islamic movement. Is there a change? The institutions define themselves as neutral establishments, not present themselves directly affiliated with the movement. There is no clear attachment and formulation about the definition of the Hizmet inspired organization. As the movement is widely known in Europe via media and tragic harassments against Hizmet people happened after coup attempt in several European cities, is this hesitation about the structural identity going to be continue or how will the institutions respond to this challenge of self-identification?

The religious inspiration and motivation is always an important element to understand movement’s objectives and activities, however during the last decade, the cosmopolitan understanding of Islam and also human values are developed among Hizmet followers. The crisis with AKP as political Islam opens the doors indirectly to reconsider what is Islam and how a Muslim lives faithfully in a secular context in Europe. The clash between two actors is also perceived as a problem within Islam and the clash of two Islamic understanding. What will be the relation of Hizmet with Islam? Is it a crisis of Islam or a local problem? How does the movement react with this specific question if it is a problem within Islam ?

Professor Leman and Professor Sunier have explored some of the challenges and questions with regards to the above matters and the implications of the coup on Hizmet in Europe.

To watch the discussion please click here