Thursday’s “Turmoil in Turkey” panel was an educational opportunity regarding the recent failed coup d’etat in Turkey. Held in the Barrett Athletic Administration conference room, the panel was hosted by Cal State Long Beach’s department of religious studies and associate professor of religious studies Sophia Pandya.
Prior to the panel, two speakers dropped out due to “fear of being associated with the Gülen movement,” according to Pandya.
The panelists were not mentioned by name.
Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher currently living in self-imposed exile in the United States, is the leader of the social Islamic Gülen movement, which has members across the globe.
According to the Gülen movement website, “the movement is distinguished for its support of democracy, its openness to globalization, its progressiveness in integrating tradition with modernity, and its humanistic outlook.”
Pandya said the Turkish government believes Gülen was responsible the July 15 coup that took place in cities across Turkey, specifically Istanbul. The Turkish government is not welcoming to Gülen’s supporters.
During the coup, Turkish soldiers attempted to overthrow the government, bombing several institutions throughout Turkey. However, the attempts failed after only a few hours.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was not in the Istanbul at the time of the coup, immediately announced his accusal of Gülen and his followers. Erdogan went so far as to demand the U.S. extradite Gülen back to Turkey.
According to Pandya, the coup was an attempt to eradicate secularism in Turkey and ultimately led up to approximately 300 deaths.
The aftermath of the coup has caused tension for Turks living in California, such as students and the panelists who dropped out, fearing association to Gülen.
“People from Turkey are fleeing because of this coup and many have been arriving to California the past few months, but even then, a few of my Turk students are fearful of talking [about the coup],” said Pandya.
About 60 people, including students, staff, and colleagues of panelist and vice president Atilla Kahveci, of the non-profit organization Pacifica Institute, attended the panel. Kahveci and Pandya separately spoke about what the coup meant.
For students, attending the panel was a learning opportunity of global events with possible local impacts.
“What we see in [media outlets] might be different to what is actually happening, so listening to panelists helps us think critically about these events,” said international studies major Christina Wong.
Kahveci said he fears his country of Turkey will only experience more fear and destruction, especially with the recent plan to construct about 170 prisons. Recently, the government has been imprisoning teachers, journalists and pregnant women known to be connected to the Gülen movement.
Kahveci lived in Turkey during two coups in 1971 and 1980. Now watching the July coup while living in the U.S. gave him an outsider’s perspective.
“The only people who benefitted from the coup was people in power,” Kahveci said. “We’re used to coups happening in Turkey, but we didn’t get used to this one.”
Pandya said she wanted to do the panel sooner, but since the coup happened in July, she said a lower turnout would have been expected during the summer.
Kahveci said that the place he and many Turks called home is unstable. While the consequences for him of staying in the U.S. are risky, the possibility of returning is too dangerous.
“I cannot go back home,” said Kahveci. “I fear for my family and the ripple effects that me speaking here can have on them.”
Pandya said Turkey is still experiencing political unrest and the end of the coup does not necessarily mean the beginning of peace.
“[What happened in Turkey] may not affect us all directly,” Wong said, “but it’s possible for situations similar like this to happen here someday.”