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Asylbek Izbairov: “Ankara seeking to neutralize foreign institutions of its rivals”

Turkish media report Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Kyrgyz counterpart Erlan Abdildayev held a phone call yesterday, on July 25. The Turkish minister asked the Kyrgyz authorities to change their stand on Fethullah Gülen and his Hizmet movement.

After the military coup attempt – Turkey’s leadership blames Gülen for it - the Turkish authorities have focused on the activity of Gülen’s supporters outside Turkey. They are mostly concerned over the post-Soviet countries densely populated with Turkic-speaking people. Ankara has no claims to Russia where the Nurjular organization operating on behalf of Gülen has been recognized as a terrorist organization. Nor has he had any problems with Azerbaijan where the authorities started “cleaning up” the country from Gülen’s “presence” after the coup attempt. Turkey has no claims to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan either. The only Turkic post-Soviet country that does not fit into that list is Kyrgyzstan. Gülen’s movement in that country is represented by a network of Turkish lyceums Sebat operating throughout the country. 

“In Kyrgyzstan, the [Gülen] gang is very powerful,” Cavusoglu said. “ I told my Kyrgyz brother, Erlan Abdildayev ‘The way we look at you will be different if you do not take measures against them. Our expectation from our brother is not [for them] to protect those who attempted [a coup] on your brother. You should show your brotherhood to us in these difficult days,’” he said.

In an interview with EADaily, Asylbek Izbairov, the director of the Astana-based Institute for Geopolitical Surveys, speaks about the reasons behind the sudden “care” of Turkey’s authorities for Gülenists in the former Soviet Central Asia and about who, in fact, Gülen’s supporters in Kyrgyzstan are.

Why have the Turkish authorities suddenly remembered Gülen’s supporters outside Turkey, specifically, in Kyrgyzstan? Isn’t it a new game by Ankara?

First, we should understand that Turkey is now experiencing a revolutionary transformation when the traditional system of checks and balances that was established by Kemal Ataturk is cracking before our eyes. Drawing historical parallels, one would remember The Tanzimât and partially the reforms by the Young Turks. There are Russian analogues too – reforms of Peter the Great, partially, the government of Nikolai I and his response to the Decembrists revolt and powerful conservative message.

Second, it is natural that the tragic events in Turkey and the tectonic changes in its political structure will affect not only the domestic situation in the country, but also its foreign policy line. One can say for sure that the internal conflict between Erdogan and Gülen will affect the external communities tied to Turkey in Europe (in Germany and Austria, first) as well as in the Middle East (Northern Cyprus, Turkomans of Syria etc.) and in the Caucasus. It will naturally affect the 25-years-old independence of the pro-Turkish elements in Central Asia that are close to Ankara by some cultural, religional, linguistic and historical factors. The successfully implemented model of the educational system of Turkish lyceums and business cooperation (associations) “Hizmet” established by Fethulhah Gülen has worked for a long time in our countries. 

It is quite natural that Ankara is now seeking to neutralize foreign institutes of its opponents considering Gülen’s conflict with the Government of Turkey that accuses his supporters of creating a parallel state.  This is behind the request to the governments in Central Asia to close the Turkish lyceums. It is not a new game by Erdogan. He has brilliant working relations with the presidents of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where the given lyceums and business associations are stronger than anywhere else.  Uzbekistan has already closed those lyceums, like Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan did.  At the same time it is evident that Ankara has no efficient levers of influence on our countries to push through the given issues, which our countries consider internal issues and have independent decisions on them.

Are there immigrants from Kazakhstan in those pro-Gülen communities in Kyrgyzstan?  Who are those people, if there are such?  Which social sections do they represent? What do they want and what are their political views? Are there any “hidden” Wahabis or Hizbuts among the Gülenists of the former Soviet Central Asia?  

It is necessary to understand that thousands of highly educated young people who graduated from the Turkish lyceums of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have fulfilled their potential in many fields of the public and economic life in our countries. In addition, the associations of businessmen from Hizmet movement are indifferent to politics. If anyone of those people has any civil or different political stance, it is his personal view. These are people of various nationalities and origin (the graduated students of the Turkish lyceums are of various nationalities, including the Slavonic one) and there are various political platforms, not just “Pan-Turkism agents” as it may seem from outside. Those people have not had any visible influence on the policy of our countries. The main political elites of our countries represent the generations that grew up wearing “Soviet foot wraps.”  

It is very hard to speak of the ties of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz Gülenists, at least because those ties cannot be outlined from the general relative-and-neighbor ties between our peoples, as close as Russians and Belarusians are. Many Kyrgyz students continue their education in Kazakhstan, there are many marriages between our young men and women. I see no “plot” here like I see no extremists hidden among the graduated students of the Turkish lyceums.

The social picture of a typical extremist in Central Asia is a jobless, poorly educated young man with previous convictions and no prospects to change his status. This image little resembles the graduated students of  Gülen’s lyceums where people receive good education, learn perfect English, and get access to the higher educational establishments, labor market and business resources of “Hizmet.” The ideological supporters of Gülen are irresponsive to Takfirism, Jihadism, non-Gülenist underground parties and movements generally. However, if the Turkish leadership manages to prove and demonstrate the world that Gülenists are behind the deaths of dozens and hundreds of civilians during the attempt of the coup and overthrow of the democratically elected president, I think, the leaderships of our countries will get enough ground to at least inspect the activity of that movement, toughen control over its education programs and business associations. 

Interviewed by Artur Priymak

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