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The Great Hunt: Azerbaijan fighting off Fethullah Gulen’s network

Fethullah Gulen. Photo: kavkaz-antiterror.ru

Azerbaijan has launched a fight against Fethullah Gulen’s movement, just after the recent military coup attempt in Turkey. Educational centers and mass media of Gulenists were closed. Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan has initiated a criminal case against supporters of the Islamic preacher over organization of the coup attempt in Turkey. “To prevent unlawful actions by the supporters of Fethullah Gulen’s terrorist organizations in the territory of Azerbaijan, the Investigation Division of the Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a criminal case on relevant articles of the Criminal Code,” said Eldar Sultanov, the spokesperson of the Prosecutor General’s Office.

A few days after the coup attempt in Turkey, the license of the ANS private television channel in Azerbaijan was revoked. This happened just after the television announced it would broadcast an interview with Gulen. The National Council for Television and Radio of Azerbaijan explained its decision with the efforts “to prevent attempts to undermine the strategic partner relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan and direct propaganda of terrorism.”

A daily program on the U.S.-funded RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service Radio Azadliq on a Turkish satellite channel was stopped. The Turkish authorities closed Barish TV on suspicion of the ties with Gulen’s supporters. The channel was broadcasting an oppositional program “Azerbaijan’s Hour.” A couple of days ago, Rector of Azerbaijan’s University of Caucasus Elmar Hashimov fired fifty teachers – citizens of Turkey. In his words, the contracts with the Turkish academics, professors, deans, heads of departments, have expired and will not be extended. “All of them will leave the country by the end of August,” Hashimov said. The University of Caucasus was considered one of the educational centers in Fethullah Gulen’s the educational network. Meantime, Gulen is suspected of organizing the coup attempt in Turkey. In late July, the University was transferred to the Baku Higher Oil School and its rector, a Turkish citizen, left his office. Local mass media say the fired teachers could be Gulen’s supporters.

Ankara welcomes Baku’s fight against that movement. Yet, Turkish publicist Fuat Ugur thinks that the fight is insufficient and Gulen’s network in Azerbaijan is still strong. He is sure that if coup in Turkey was not failed, Gulenists would overthrow the governments in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. Their major goal is to bring these Turkic-speaking states out of Russia’s influence.

The local mass media have reported lately that Gulen’s “resident” in Azerbaijan is Ali Kerimli, the leader of the oppositional Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP). “Suspicions of Turkish law enforcement agencies that Ali Kerimli could serve as a resident of Gulen in Azerbaijan, arose in 2014 after the defeat of Nursist faction in the ruling party. According to reliable sources, the investigation came out on the trail of close cooperation of Kerimli and the head of the financial pyramid of Gulen, Murat Kilicli. The same sources claim that through M.Kilicli A.Karimli received funding from Turkey,” the Azerbaijani media wrote.

On the other hand, some experts say the authorities are settling accounts with the opposition under pretext of fighting Gulenists. Jamil Hasanli, the head of the National Council of Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan, says that accusing the National Council, APFA, Ali Kerimli in religious radicalism are old plans of the authorities.

“It seems Gulen’s network was brought to Azerbaijan not by the authorities, but by Kerimli; and as if official permission to open Gulen’s schools in the country was given not by the government agencies, but by Kerimli. It seems that the Gulen Movement in the country was protected not by the presidential administration, but by the PFPA; as if the US Congressmen were brought to Azerbaijan in 2013 not by SOCAR with the help of Gulen, but by Ali Kerimli; as if the air time on Khazar TV to supporters of Gulen was given not by power, but by Ali Kerimli. Khazar TV, being the main propaganda mouthpiece of Gulen supporters during the presidential elections, conducted against us even more aggressive fight than AzTV. The reason is that the instruction came from officials in the presidential administration who coordinated the Gulen network in Azerbaijan. Those who still used the Gulen network for foreign lobbying activities, as well as for internal policies, now point to Ali Kerimli as a target…How can we understand the officials of Azerbaijan, which remained silent during the 15 hours after the Turkish coup, expecting the results? At the peak of the whole drama just Ali Kerimli expressed clear position against the military coup and publicly supported on behalf of people the officially elected Turkish authorities, thus demonstrating the different groups of trolls in the hands of the Azerbaijani authorities the allegiance to his position… There is no doubt that the authorities will be looking for those supporters not among their people, but will try to direct searches against the democratic camp in order to distract public attention from the changes to the Constitution. Otherwise they will have to look for the supporters of Gulen in the Office of the President, of SOCAR, various ministries, even in the Milli Mejlis, because in our country without the participation of the authorities there could not be any supporters of Gulen, or Nur, or Wahhabis, or Salafis. It seems that the authorities want to hold a referendum peacefully, without headache. That is the source of the plan, which aims to present Ali Kerimli, one of the leaders of the secularism who opposes the power, as a representative of the religious Gülen network,” Hasanli posted on Facebook.

However, an Azerbaijani journalist Agil Alesker disagrees with Hasanli. Talking to EADaily’s correspondent, he said that there were Gulen’s supporters both in the opposition and the incumbent authorities. “Many of them are agents of influence, one of the main propaganda methods of the CIA. Gulen’s network emerged in Azerbaijan at the beginning 1990s. Then Gulenists started establishing ties with majority of the people engaged in politics. One of the most important periods when Gulenists organized their activity in Azerbaijan was during the government of the Popular Front of Armenia. And Ali Kerimli has been their coordinator in Azerbaijan since then,” he said.

Note that the network of Gulenists was widely present at the President’s Administration too, but two years ago at the request of President Erdogan, the authorities got rid of Gulen’s avid supporter Elnur Aslanov, the head of the Department for Political Analysis and Information Support of the President’s Administration.

According to political analyst Elhan Shakhinoglu, the current wave of repressions against Gulenists in Azerbaijan pursues one goal – to finally liquidate that sect in the country. “Gulen’s positions in Azerbaijan have weakened certainly. After the failed putsch in Turkey, Baku as Ankara’s ally has also tackled the Gulen network,” Shakhinoglu says. In his words, Gulen’s supporters in Azerbaijan still have billions of dollars. “These are big developer companies, restaurants, publishing houses etc. For many years they had influence in the political field too. The network had its people both inside the government and the parliament. A few years ago, some of them were exposed and fired. Among them there were many Azerbaijanis that met with Gulen in Pennsylvania,” he said. The political analyst said that several years ago, the Gulen network set sights on the State Oil Company (SOCAR), the key taxpayer in Azerbaijan. “The entire managing staff of the company in Turkey was arrested. In addition, the leadership of the Turkish company PETKİM was detained. SOCAR has invested in that company billions. The law-enforcement bodies of Azerbaijan together with their Turkish colleagues have still much to do to expose the supporters and sponsors of Gulen in Azerbaijan. The Gulen network has increased in Azerbaijan during the last 26 years. This network in Azerbaijan is as old as the independence of that country,” Shakhinoglu told EADaily.

In Azerbaijan like in Turkey they have launched a great hunt on Gulenists. Let us wait and see how they will handle the situation this time. One thing is for sure: Baku is determined to put an end to Gulen’s movement in Azerbaijan.

Maksud Talybli (Baku)

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