The Fethullah Gülen Movement in Central Asia after the Failed Military Coup in Turkey

H22 A contribution to the SIPCATS Discussion Forum

Bayram Balcı, CERI Sciences Po, Paris

Editorial remark
In our ongoing SIPCATS Forum for discussions on sociocultural and political developments forming the so-called Central Eurasia Discourse, the failed attempt at a coup d’état in Turkey last July is of immediate concern. Its consequences for the Turkish society as well as its repercussions on the political status-quo in adjacent Central Eurasian regions and at a still broader international level are yet to be seen.

Bayram Balcı, CERI Sciences Po, Paris, a participant in our discussion forum in his capacity of author in one of the anthologies presently revisited by the SIPCATS Forum (”Prospects for Democracy in Central Asia”), has written an English summary of his own recent article “Quel avenir pour le mouvement de Gülen en Asie centrale et dans le Caucase depuis le coup d’état manqué”.

Comment by Patrick Hällzon
Comment by Fernando Rosa

The Fethullah Gülen Movement in Central Asia
after the Failed Military Coup in Turkey

There is a huge consensus in Turkey that the main actor behind the failed coup d’état in Turkey was Fethullah Gülen, or rather, the organization represented by him. More than anyone and long before what happened on the night of the coup attempt, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has entertained a harsh campaign to eliminate this movement and to uproot it in Turkey. Furthermore, Erdoğan’s all-out war against the Gülen movement is not limited to Turkey. Well aware of the wide-ranging international network of this organization and its influence in other parts of the world, the Turkish president has exported this war abroad agitating against the Gülen movement since the first overt clash between the government and the Gülen movement in December 2013 and urging Turkish embassies to take measures against this movement. Two regions that will for sure be affected by this campaign are Central Asia and the Caucasus. In terms of political influence and geopolitical strategy, from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan, this mainly Turkic sphere is of great significance to Turkey. It was also in Central Asia and the Caucasus that the Gülen movement started its transnational strategy and implementation after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This is the sphere, more precisely Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrghyzstan, where the Gülen movement has made its best achievements with at least 3 universities, more than 60 high schools, and dozens of business companies established in the aforementioned countries.  As can be expected, the Turkish government will increase its influence and pressure on local authorities, in order to eliminate the Gülen movement in these and other countries. However, this may not be a very easy task. It is not certain that Central Asian authorities will satisfy Erdoğan’s demands, for at least the following reasons :

1)      Sovereignty is the first obstacle to Erdoğan’s campaign. In Kyrghyzstan, for example, it has been indicated, with reference to the country’s sovereignty and independence, that good relations with Turkey does not necessarily mean that the Kyrghyz are willing to take part in what they have called “a Turkey Turkish war”.

2)      In addition to the principle of sovereignty, there is an economical and practical reason for local countries to defend the schools set up by the Gülen movement. The education provided in these schools is modern and secular, with all kinds of facilities and equipment, up-to-date laboratories, etc. These schools are also attractive to the elites, who send their kids to these schools, first and foremost because the education is in English and enhances the children’s chances to be accepted at prestige universities.

3)      Last but not least, shutting down these schools will create more problems than resolving them. These schools were established in Central Asia and the Caucasus just after the end of the Soviet Union, 25 years ago. This is a very long period during which new elites have been formed and now constitute an important part of society. For 25 years, these schools were legal and it may seem awkward to suddenly make them illegal, especially as long as there is nothing concrete to replace them with.

For such reasons, it is difficult to predict the end of the Gülen schools in Central Asia, where – and this is another reason for the local authorities to maintain them – the Gülen movement was never as much infiltrated in the state apparatus as it has been in Turkey. In Turkey the official government, and Erdoğan himself, as he confessed recently, contributed to the infiltration of the movement in Turkish state organs. In Central Asia, the local authorities have always been very clear about the mission of the Gülen schools restricting their activities to education only.

My full article in French on this topic can be retrieved from

To the Central Eurasia discussion forum


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