Turkey: The Fethullah Gulen Movement, including structure, areas of operation and activities; procedures for becoming a member; roles and responsibilities of membership; treatment of supporters; the Gulen Movement in Canada, including connections with organisations in Turkey and ability to confirm an individual's involvement with the Gulen Movement in Turkey (2014-September 2016)
Sources indicate that the Fethullah Gulen Movement is also known as Hizmet, which means "service" in Turkish (CBC 21 July 2016; BBC 18 Dec. 2013; New York Times 26 July 2016).
Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish Islamic scholar who has been living in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999 (CBC 21 July 2016; DW 27 July 2016). The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) states that Gulen built his reputation as a Muslim preacher with "intense sermons" and "espouses a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with democracy" (CBC 21 July 2016). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a non-resident senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies' Silk Road Studies Program stated that
[t]he Gulen movement started in the 1970s when Gulen was an Imam, and there was a huge emotional impact of his speeches. The movement took off in the 1990s, becoming a political power. The movement was already well established in Turkey prior to Gulen's move to the United States in 1999. (Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016)
In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI), an organization founded in 2005 by Turkish Canadian entrepreneurs inspired by Gulen's work and teaching, indicated that
Hizmet started as a religious movement in Turkey back in the 1960s through the sermons of Fethullah Gulen in mosques. Over the years, it was transformed into a civil society movement, and the movement became a transnational movement by the participation of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds through schools and other institutions in their respective countries. (IDI 21 Sept. 2016)
According to the website of the Gulen Movement (www.gulenmovement.us), the objective of its participants is "to attain God's good pleasure based on the conviction that 'service to humanity is service to God'" (Gulen Movement n.d). The same source indicates that the Movement is primarily composed of Turkish Muslims, but there are also others from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds (ibid.).
Some media sources state that there are "millions" of Gulen followers (New York Times 24 Apr. 2012; BBC 18 Dec. 2013). The CBC reports that it is unknown how many members there are, but quotes Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the University of Waterloo's Centre for International Governance Innovation, as stating that there may be as many as four million members in Turkey, accounting for 5 percent of the population (CBC 21 July 2016).
A 2012 article published by The New York Times describes the Gulen Movement as "one of the most influential Islamic movements in the world" (24 Apr. 2012). The Globe and Mail also states that Gulen is “one of Turkey’s most influential and controversial Islamic scholars” (25 July 2016).
According to the New York Times, Gulen fled to the US in 1999 "amid accusations of plotting to overthrow the secular government" (New York Times 24 Apr. 2012). The same source states that during that time, a taped sermon appeared in the media instructing his followers to "'move within the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers'"; he claimed the tape was doctored, and he was acquitted of the charges in 2008 (ibid.).
Politically, sources indicate that Gulen was a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prior to a deteriorating in their relations in 2013 (Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016; DNA 17 July 2016) due to Gulen supporters in the police instigating corruption investigations against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) (ibid.; Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016). According to the Senior Fellow, in the time period from 2008-2012, the Gulen Movement "was regarded as even more powerful than Erdogan" and some people joined the movement for the connections and power that it provided (ibid.). He stated that there was a "climate of fear around Gulenists" and that "Gulenists were known to fabricate cases against people who criticised them or to reveal a person's secret" (ibid.). In 2012, the New York Times wrote that "[a] culture of fear surrounding the so-called Gulenists, however exaggerated, is so endemic that few here will talk openly about them on the telephone, fearing that their conversations are being recorded and that there will be reprisals" (24 Apr. 2012). According to Deutsche Welle (DW), from 2008 to 2011, there was "a series of coup trials and purges against Kemalist military brass based on fabricated evidence" which were instigated by "Gulenist prosecutors and police with the backing of Erdogan" (DW 27 July 2016). The same source quotes Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard University who has written about Gulen and the coup trails, as stating that "'it should be clear to any objective observer that the Gulen movement goes much beyond the schools, charities, and inter-faith activities with which it presents itself to the world: it also has a dark underbelly engaged in covert activities such as evidence fabrication, wiretapping, disinformation, blackmail, and judicial manipulation" (ibid.). Media sources indicate that prior to the break between Gulen and Erdogan, Turkish authorities jailed critics of the Gulen Movement, including journalists (CBC 21 July 2016; BBC 18 Dec. 2013) and a police chief who wrote a book critical of the movement’s influence on the police and judiciary (ibid.).
Media sources report that Turkish authorities have accused Gulen of running a "'parallel'" structure within the Turkish state (CBC 21 July 2016; Globe and Mail 25 July 2016; DNA 17 July 2016), particularly within the judiciary, education system, media and military (ibid.). CBC quotes Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the University of Waterloo's Centre for International Governance Innovation, as indicating that the majority of Turks believe that the Gulen Movement is "a parallel government" and distrust them (CBC 21 July 2016). DW reports that, according to a poll conducted by a Turkish research organization, nearly two-thirds of those polled believe that Gulen was behind the coup attempt in July 2016 (DW 27 July 2016). The same source states that "the opaqueness of [the Gulen Movement's] funding and infiltration of the state has for years made it the target of secular suspicion about its motives to establish an Islamic-inspired state" (ibid.).
According to their website, the Gulen Movement is a "combination of both informal service networks and institutionalized services, such as aid and relief organizations, schools and dialogue societies" (Gulen Movement n.d).
The Senior Fellow and the IDI representative indicated that the Gulen Movement is loosely structured and has no strict or central hierarchy (Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016; IDI 21 Sept. 2016). Similarly, the BBC reports that the movement has "no formal structure" and "no visible organisation;" the source cites advocates as stating that people involved in the movement "simply work together in a loosely affiliated alliance inspired by the message of Mr. Gulen" (BBC 18 Dec. 2013). The IDI representative explained that
The connections between each organization vary significantly. These connections may exist at personal level, as well as institutional and professional level depending on the collaboration and partnership between the organizations. There is a wide-variety of project based partnership happening within the movement. (IDI 21 Sept. 2016)
In terms of leadership within the movement, the Senior Fellow stated that
[t]here are certain people who have geographical responsibility and these regional leaders meet with Gulen fairly regularly. However, from what I know, Gulen is rather vague at these meetings and does not micro-manage. He will give instructions such as "we should do more for education in the Balkans" rather than giving specific instructions. (Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016)
Corroborating and further information on regional leaders within the Gulen Movement could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
According to a 2010 study of the Gulen Movement published on the movement’s website by Helen Rose Ebaugh, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Houston, local circles of the Gulen Movement are typically organized according to members’ location, as well as their professions and/or education; for example, doctors within a neighbourhood will meet together with other Gulen-inspired doctors (Ebaugh 2010). The same source indicates that "organizing on the basis of natural groups, such as professions or occupational groups, also facilitates recruitment" (ibid.).
The Senior Fellow explained how the movement contains different levels of supporters, as follows:
The Movement has an inner circle of activists and an outer circle of people who support or sympathize with Gulen's message or the movement's ideals.
The inner circle of activists is mainly composed of people who were recruited into the Movement as teenagers. . . . Gulenists would identify students from poor backgrounds and help them to be successful in their education--by offering tutoring or schooling on the weekends, accommodations if going to a school in a different region etc. These students were paired with a mentor, who acted in the role of an elder brother or sister (called "abi" or "abla" in Turkish). The mentor was also responsible for the spiritual development of the student.
These students were encouraged to work in civil service and business after completing their education. . . . They particularly joined the police, judiciary and military. During the 1990s, the military, which is very secular, started purging Gulenists in the officer corp and created a vetting process to try to prevent suspected Gulenists from becoming officers. When Erdogan came to power, these restraints were reduced and the vetting procedures were dropped. In the police, Gulenists were particularly focused on controlling the intelligence gathering branch.
The teenagers recruited into the movement as students continued to be active in the Gulen Movement and to donate to their charitable causes. In addition, Gulenists within the state apparatus networked with Gulenists outside the state (such as businesses, media, charities etc.). In some cases, Gulenists used the people in this inner circle of activists who were in the police, judiciary and military to fabricate court cases against critics of the Gulen Movement.
Regarding the outer circle of supporters, there are a lot of people attracted by the public message of the movement. A lot of the people who follow the general message are not aware of some of the hardcore things that occur within the inner circle of Gulen activists. (Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016)
Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
According to the BBC, "followers are said to donate between 5% and 20% of their income to groups affiliated with the movement" (BBC 18 Dec. 2013). Further and corroborating information about funding could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
3. Activities and Areas of Operation
DW indicates that Gulen operates "a vast global enterprise of schools, businesses, media outlets and charities" (DW 27 July 2016). The same source notes that Gulen-affiliated institutions are located throughout the world, including in Africa, Central Asia, the US and Europe (ibid,). According to the website fethullah-gulen.org., the movement has opened "hundreds" of schools and colleges in Turkey, as well as in 160 countries (fethullah-gulen.org n.d.). DW similarly states that the movement has schools in more than 140 countries (DW 27 July 2016). The Gulen Movement has also established private hospitals and health clinics (fethullah-gulen.org n.d.a.).
Sources indicate that the Gulen Movement established their own business association, the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), which was headquartered in Turkey, with offices in Washington and Brussels (Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016; Hurriyet Daily News 6 Nov. 2015), Moscow and Beijing (ibid.). The Turkey-based Hurriyet Daily News describes TUSKON as an umbrella organization founded in 2005 that represents "'seven business federations, 211 business associations and over 55,000 entrepreneurs from all over Turkey'" (Hurriyet Daily News 6 Nov. 2015). The Senior Fellow noted that TUSKON was disbanded after the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey (Senior Fellow 13 Dept. 2016).
Sources state that the Gulen Movement is active in the media (Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016; fethullah-gulen.org n.d). According to fethullah-gulen.org, the Gulen Movement established the second largest media conglomeration in Turkey, which includes Turkish and English language newspapers, six TV stations, two radio stations, and publishing houses (ibid.). The Senior Fellow similarly noted that they owned media outlets, including Zaman, Today's Zaman, Samanyolu TV and others (13 Sept. 2016).
4. Membership Procedures and Roles
Sources indicate that there is no formal membership in the Gulen Movement (BBC 18 Dec. 2013; Gulen Movement n.d) and "no entry or exit protocols" (ibid.). Sources further state that the movement does not issue membership cards (CBC 21 July 2016; fethullah-gulen.org n.d.) or have an "official joining ceremony" (ibid.). According to the Senior Fellow, there is no central membership register, no membership number and information about membership is “very opaque” (Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016). He also noted that
[s]ome dissidents of the Gulen Movement who left it said that Gulen members who were commissioned in the military were required to go to their big brother/mentor and swear allegiance to Gulen on the Koran. Some have said that other members in the Movement are also required to swear allegiance to Gulen, while others have said that allegiance to Gulen is only implied. (ibid.)
The same source stated that Gulen members are reluctant to self-identify (ibid.). According to sources, it is difficult to determine if someone is a Gulen follower (ibid.; CBC 21 July 2016).
Regarding membership, the website of the Gulen Movement states that participation is voluntary and varied depending on the participant; some participants "actively support all projects" in addition to supporting the "ideas and principles of the movement," while others only support some principles and are only involved in those activities or are not involved in any activities (Gulen Movement n.d.). The IDI representative explained:
There is no formal membership to the movement. Different types of voluntary participation are possible. The types of voluntary activities include financial donations, volunteering, participation in spiritual conversation circles, serving as a non-paid board member or advisor or committee member, or a paid position with a formal organization. There might be membership in formal organizations depending on the structure and legal framework of each country where these organizations are operating. (IDI 21 Sept. 2016)
According to their website, the Gulen Movement does not offer monetary incentives and participants "choose to embody highly cultural, ethical and spiritual values, rather than to accrue worldly goods and material gains" (Gulen Movement n.d).
5. Treatment of Members and Supporters
The Globe and Mail indicates that after December 2013, Erdogan closed schools and media outlets associated with the Gulen Movement and conducted "purges and reshuffles within the police force and judiciary to marginalize Mr. Gulen’s followers" (The Globe and Mail 25 July 2016). Similarly, CBC reports that since 2014, Turkish authorities shut down Gulen-affiliated preparatory schools, media outlets, and Bank Asya, a Gulen-affiliated bank (CBC 21 July 2016).
According to an article in Turkey Analyst, a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center that provides analysis and news on domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey (n.d.), since November 2015, the AKP “intensified and broadened” their campaign against the Gulen Movement, but instead of targeting Gulen’s followers who “engaged in genuine criminal activity or abuse of power—such as the members of the police and judiciary responsible for the notorious Ergenekon and Balyoz investigations,”  the AKP prosecutors targeted “journalists, businesspeople and academics who appear to be guilty of little more than sympathy for Gulen’s publicly expressed calls for moderation, non-violence and interfaith dialogue” (Turkey Analyst 21 Dec. 2015).
Hurriyet Daily News reports that in November 2015, Turkish authorities raided the offices of business groups that were part of TUSKON as part of an investigation into the "'Parallel State Structure Terror Organization/Pro-Fetullah Terror Organization' (Fethullahçi Terör Örgütü)" (6 Nov. 2015).
Sources indicate that the Turkish government has categorized the Gulen Movement as a terrorist organization (Human Rights Watch 3 Aug. 2016; CBC 21 July 2016), calling it the "Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization" or FETO (CBC 21 July 2016). Human Rights Watch notes that being labelled a terrorist group allows Turkey to apply “overbroad terrorism laws against suspected Gulenists” (Human Rights Watch 3 Aug. 2016).
According to sources, Turkish authorities blame the failed coup attempt in July 2016 on Gulen and have requested that the US extradite him (New York Times 26 July 2016; CBC 21 July 2016;). The US Secretary of State made a statement indicating that the Turkish authorities would need to provide "'legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny'" before the US would extradite Gulen (CBC 21 July 2016). Sources report that Gulen denied involvement in the coup attempt, but did not rule out the possibility that some of his followers may have been involved (CBC 21 July 2016; New York Times 26 July 2016).
The Turkey Analyst states that Erdogan declared a 3-month state of emergency in July 2016 following the attempted coup in order to “cleanse” Turkey of Gulen supporters (Turkey Analyst 22 July 2016). Human Rights Watch also notes that the state emergency allows the government to “rule by decree with minimal oversight from parliament and none from the constitutional court” (Human Rights Watch 3 Aug. 2016). According to sources, following the coup attempt, Turkish authorities detained or jailed "thousands" of people (Globe and Mail 25 July 2016; CBC 21 July 2016), including judges, political figures, journalists, and members of the military, while thousands of public service employees lost their jobs (ibid.). DW similarly reports that after the coup attempt, "[m]ore than 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, teachers and civil servants have been arrested, suspended or put under investigation as part of a wide reaching crackdown" (DW 27 July 2016). According to Human Rights Watch, the Turkish government’s purge “goes far beyond” punishing those involved in the coup attempt, and has targeted people based on “their perceived association with the Gulen movement” (Human Rights Watch 3 Aug. 2016). Targets reportedly include people in “the judiciary, prosecutors’ office, police, the media, the civil service, schools, universities trade unions and hospitals” (ibid.).
Amnesty International (AI) reports that people detained as a result of the purge following the attempted coup, based on information obtained from their lawyers, were “being held arbitrarily” with “no evidence establishing reasonable suspicion of criminal activity” and that “[s]ome of the questioning by judges was entirely irrelevant to the events of the coup attempt, and appeared intended to establish any link to Fethullah Gulen or institutions sympathetic to him” (AI 24 July 2016). The same source states that detainees have been “subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centres in the country” (AI 24 July 2016). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
6. Gulen Movement in Canada
Sources indicate that the Gulen Movement is active in Canada (Gulen Movement Canada n.d.a; Senior Fellow 13 Sept. 2016; IDI 21 Sept. 2016) in the form on the Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI) (ibid. Gulen Movement Canada n.d.a).
The IDI has branches in nine cities in Canada (ibid.; IDI n.d.) including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, London, Hamilton, Vancouver and Kitchener/Waterloo (Gulen Movement Canada n.d.a). According to their website, the IDI was established in 2010 and aims to "advance social cohesion via (through) personal interaction by promoting respect and mutual understanding among people of all cultures and faiths through dialogue and partnership" (IDI n.d.). Their activities include organizing "social, educational and cultural activities such as lectures, seminars, conferences, discussion forums, luncheons, informative dinners, programs for students and youth, intercultural exchange trips, courses, [and] outreach programs" (ibid.).
The IDI representative stated that, in addition to the IDI, there are other Gulen-inspired organizations in Canada active in promoting cultural activities, business functions and education (ibid. 21 Sept. 2016). Some of these organizations are members of the umbrella organization Anatolian Heritage Federation, although the federation does not have a "formal or official relationship" with Fethullah Gulen or the movement (ibid.). Gulen-inspired organizations and institutions in Canada include the Nile Academy in Toronto, the Nebula Academy in Edmonton and the Turkish Canadian Chamber of Commerce (TCCC) (ibid.). According to the Gulen Movement Canada website, there are "several Gulen-inspired relief organizations in Canada," such as Northern Lights, an Ottawa-based NGO that aims to provide relief to disaster victims and the poor (Gulen Movement Canada n.d.b). The IDI representative indicated that there are 25 organizations that are members of the Anatolian Heritage Federation, and "each organization has its own board and governance structure" (IDI 21 Sept. 2016). He estimated individual membership in these organizations at approximately 800 people, but noted that the AHC "does not have a list of individual members and volunteers of these organizations" (ibid.).
Media sources report that Turkey has asked the Canadian government for information on people in Canada with the Gulen Movement, but Canadian officials have stated that they needed to be presented with evidence of crime rather than allegations before taking any actions (Globe and Mail 21 July 2016; National Post 28 July 2016). Requests for this information were reportedly made both before and after the coup attempt (ibid.).
According to the IDI representative, the Turkish-Canadian Chamber of Commerce (TCCC) used to have a memorandum of understanding with TUSKON prior to the government closure of the business association, and "through this connection, TCCC might be able to confirm involvement of business people within the Hizmet movement" (IDI 21 Sept. 2016). The same source indicated that Nile Academy has been recruiting students from Gulen-inspired schools in Turkey and abroad and that administrators and board members of Nile Academy might be able to confirm the involvement of teachers and administrators working at these schools, parents sending students to these schools and the sponsors and founders of these schools (ibid.).
The source further indicated that:
Individual participants of the Gulen Movement in Canada and the Intercultural Dialogue Institute do not have the capacity to confirm an individual’s membership or involvement with the Gulen Movement.
However, officers of Intercultural Dialogue Institute might be able to provide a non-definitive, subjective evaluation of a person’s affiliation with the movement based on factors such as employment history (such as employment in Hizmet affiliated organizations and institutions), as well as involvement in voluntary activities with and donations to affiliated organizations, or sending their children to Hizmet affiliated schools. (ibid.)
Information on whether the IDI has ever issued such evaluations could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Amnesty International (AI). 24 July 2016. “Turkey: Independent Monitors Must be Allowed to Access Detainees Amid Torture Allegations.” [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 18 December 2013. “Profile: Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet Movement.” [Accessed 6 Sept. 2016]
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). 21 July 2016. “Who is Fethullah Gulen, the Man Erdogan Blames for the Coup.” [Accessed 14 Sept. 2016]
Daily News and Analysis (DNA). 17 July 2016. “Turkey: Who is Cleric-in-exile Fethullah Gulen and Why is He Being Accused in the Coup Attempt.” (Factiva)
Deutsche Welle (DW). 27 July 2016. “Turkey’s Coup Attempt: Real and Imagined Threats.” (Factiva)
Ebaugh, Helen Rose. 2010. “The Gulen Movement: a Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam.” [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
Fethullah-Gulen.org. N.d. “On the Structure of the Hizmet Movement.” [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
The Globe and Mail. 25 July 2016. Simon A. Waldman. “Is Erdogan Seeing Gulenists or Ghosts?” (Factiva)
The Globe and Mail. 21 July 2016. Laura Stone. “PM Urges Turkey to Respect Rule of Law.” (Factiva)
Gulen Movement. N.d. “Participation in the Movement.” [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
Gulen Movement Canada. N.d.a. “Dialogue—Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue.” [Accessed 14 Sept. 2016]
Gulen Movement Canada. N.d.b. “Charity—Gulen Inspired Relief Organizations.” [Accessed 14 Sept. 2016]
Human Rights Watch. 3 August 2016. Benjamin Ward. “The Government Response to Turkey’s Coup is an Affront to Democracy.” [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
Hurriyet Daily News. 6 November 2015. “Ankara Police Raid Gulen-linked Business Group TUSKON.” [Accessed 14 Sept. 2016]
Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI). 21 September 2016. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.
Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI). N.d. “About.” [Accessed 14 Sept. 2016]
The National Post. 28 July 2016. Laura Hensley. "Turkey Says U.S.-based Cleric Gulen Could Flee for Canada." [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
The New York Times. 26 July 2016. Fethullah Gulen. “I Believe in Democracy for Turkey.” (Factiva)
The New York Times. 24 April 2012. Dan Bilefsky and Sebnem Arsu. “Turkey Feels Sway of Reclusive Cleric in the US.” [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
Senior Fellow, Silk Road Studies Program, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. 13 September 2016. Telephone interview with the Research Directorate.
Turkey Analyst. 22 July 2016. Gareth H. Jenkins. “Post-Putsch Narratives and Turkey’s Curious Coup.” [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
Turkey Analyst. 21 December 2015. Gareth H. Jenkins. “Stoking the Fires: Crises, Conspiracies and Miscalculations.” [Accessed 7 Sept. 2016]
Turkey Analyst. N.d. "Home." [Accessed 29 Sept. 2016]
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Gulen Movement of Canada; Professor of political science, University of Utah; Professor of politics, Acadia University; Professor Emeritus of sociology, University of Houston.
Internet sites, including: ecoi.net; Factiva; Freedom House; International Crisis Group; Jamestown Foundation; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; UN – Refworld; US – Congressional Research Services, Department of State.