Hilmi Özkök, a former chief of General Staff who served between 2002-2006, said that being a member of the Gülen movement did not constitute as a “crime” back in his time, in response to the criticism of the army’s “failure” to expel the movement’s members.
“Being a member of Fethullahism, referred to as ‘Community’ [Cemaat] back then, was not a crime between 2002-2006. Can you give a heavy penalty to someone such as ‘expelling from the army’ if the law considers them not to have committed a crime?” Özkök said during an interview with daily Sözcü on Feb. 15.
However, if the National İntelligence Organization (MİT) or police forces ever determined that the relevant military officers were receiving “orders” from the Gülen movement, then a disciplionary action would have been launched against them, said Özkök.
The Gülen movement first began to infiltrate the army in the late 1980s. During the 1990s, as the Gülenists intensified their efforts, the army began to tighten its vetting procedures for new entrants. Starting in the mid-1990s, the army began expelling hundreds of officers, mostly at biannual meetings of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ), on suspicion of Gülenist sympathies.
After the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, it made it clear that they were uncomfortable with the YAŞ expulsions. Although they initially continued, by the time Özkök retired in 2006, the vetting procedures had been relaxed and YAŞ expulsions had dwindled considerably.
Following the July 2016 coup attempt, suspected to be undertaken by the followers of the U.S. based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, former army chiefs came under fire for “failing” to clear the army of Gülenists.
One of those names was Özkök, who was criticized during his term as chief of General Staff for “failing to be more assertive” in his dealings with the AKP government. He was also said to be less concerned than the majority of his colleagues by the perceived threat posed by the Gülen movement, which the Turkish authorities started to describe as “the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ)” since Gülen and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then prime minister, had a massive falling-out in late 2013.
Özkök said that he was being targeted because he did not “argue with the government” during his term as chief of General Staff. “They are trying to show me as if I sympathized with Fethullah [Gülen], in an attempt to wear me out. No one can find a remark of me uttering a praise for Fethullah [Gülen] or Fethullahists. In my overseas trips, I have never visited one of his schools or talked to anyone whom I thought was a Fethullahist.”
“I have neither deposited money in their banks or read their newspapers. If I had a wrong-doing regarding these issues, you can guess what some might have done already,” he said.
Özkök also said that he had warned the government of the Gülenist threat within the military at the National Security Council (MGK) meeting in August 2004. He said that he had talked during the meeting about the “means and capabilities that the Gülen movement” had reached at the time.
Özkök said that although the threat posed by the Gülenists was “known,” the officials did not forecast the infiltration of “so many of them” into the army.