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Who is Fethullah Gulen, and was he the mastermind behind the failed Turkish coup?

Who is Fethullah Gulen, and why is the leader of Turkey on a rampage to arrest him and tens of thousands of his followers?

Gulen, now 75, is a Turkish citizen, an Islamic cleric, and a long-time rival of Turkish President Recip Erdogan. He is currently living in exile in Pennsylvania.

In 2013, Time magazine named him one of “The World’s 100 Most Influential People.” Describing him “the most potent advocate of moderation in the Muslim world,” Time said Gulen “preaches a message of tolerance that has won him admirers around the world.”

Others describe Gulen as a “cult leader.”

Erdogan says Gulen is the “mastermind” behind last Friday’s coup attempt. He is demanding the U.S. government extradite Gulen back to Turkey immediately.

Gulen strongly opposes Erdogan, but denies any involvement in last week’s violence and political intrigue.

Gulen “went into self-imposed exile when he moved from Turkey to the United States in 1999 and settled in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania,” reports CNN.

Gulen leads a movement called “Hizmet,” described by the New York Times as “a moderate, pro-Western brand of Sunni Islam that appeals to many well-educated and professional Turks.”

Followers of the movement — which number in the millions — are called “Gulenists.” Some reports suggest that upwards of 10% of the Turkish population of 80 million support Gulen and Hizmet, reports the UK Guardian newspaper.

Was Gulen truly the man behind the plot to bring Erdogan down? That remains to be seen. But it is an interesting question.

Unable — so far — to persuade the Obama administration to arrest and deport Gulen, Erdogan and his regime are conducting a massive purge of Turkish society.

In less than a week, they have has arrested, fired or suspended nearly 60,000 citizens this week for being part of what Erdogan calls a “cancer virus” of opposition to his rule that he says must be eradicated, reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Many are believed by the government of being Gulenists in highly influential positions, though Erdogan appears to be purging almost anyone who has expressed dissent against him, even if they are not part of the Hizmet movement.

Erdogan has also just “announced a three-month state of emergency starting July 21 to augment the government’s power to avenge last week’s bloody coup attempt,” noted RFE/RL. This gives him even more draconian power to crackdown on political, religious, military, academic and media opponents.

Among those arrested, fired or suspended (according to RFE/RL):

  • 21,000 teachers
  • 15,200 Education Ministry officials
  • 8,000 police officers
  • 7,500 soldiers
  • 3,000 members of the judiciary
  • 1,577 university deans
  • 492 Muslim preachers and scholars
  • 1/3 of the 360 active generals serving in the Turkish military

Please keep praying for the people of Turkey as they undergo this authoritarian nightmare. Please pray for the Christians in Turkey to be lights in the darkness, and that they would have the courage to boldly proclaim the Gospel and make disciples despite the sweeping crackdown by an Islamist dictator.

This article originally appeared on Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog, July 21, 2016, and reposted with permission.

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg is a New York Times best-selling and award-winning author of 10 novels and five non-fiction books, with more than 3 million copies sold. He is also the Founder and Chairman of The Joshua Fund (, a non-profit educational and charitable organization he and his wife launched in 2006 to mobilize Christians to “bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus, according to Genesis 12:1-3.” He and his wife have four sons. They made Aliyah in 2014 and now live in Israel and the United States.

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