Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said at a press conference on Wednesday prior to an official trip to Azerbaijan that supporters of the Gülen movement have no right to own property.
Erdoğan’s comments came in response to a question by a pro-government journalist who claimed that, following the talk of judicial reform in the country, supporters of the Gülen movement have been talking about the possibility of reacquiring their properties that were confiscated by the government.
President Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigations as well as journalists who reported on them.
“They do not have any property rights. They have a large debt to pay to this nation,” Erdoğan said. “So many people were killed [during the abortive putsch]. What will happen to their property rights?”
Turkey experienced a controversial military coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016 that cost the lives of 251 and wounded more than a thousand others. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the Gülen movement following the abortive putsch, which, according to many, was a false flag aimed at entrenching his authoritarian rule by rooting out dissidents and eliminating powerful actors such as the military in his desire for absolute power.
The assets of thousands of people with alleged ties to the Gülen movement were confiscated or frozen by the government both before and after the failed coup. According to a report by Brussels-based human rights group Platform for Peace and Justice (PPJ), the total value of confiscated or frozen assets is $32 billion.
Property rights are part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Article 17 of the declaration, “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”
In reference to London-based Turkish businessman Akın İpek, Erdoğan asked, “I wonder how this person who is now in the United Kingdom will pay for the price for this?” İpek was the chairman of Koza-İpek Holding, a multibillion-dollar business group that operated in various sectors including mining, tourism and media and was seized by the Turkish government in 2015.
Some of the group’s media outlets were shut down and their assets transferred to the Turkish government. Other companies are being run by trustees nominated by the government’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). President of TMSF Muhiddin Gülal said at a press conference in October that the group could be transferred to Turkey’s sovereign wealth fund.
In response to Erdoğan’s comments, İpek said on Twitter: “The Koza-İpek group was seized in 2015, not in 2016 [the year of the abortive putsch]. Let alone ‘terror’ or ‘violence’ [my family] didn’t even cause any heartbreak that we know of. They cannot show any crimes that we have committed based on national or international law. Thankfully we have no debt to anyone but God Almighty. That is the truth.”
Koza İpek grubuna 2015 yılında el kondu, 2016 da değil… Değil 'Terör, şiddet' Biz hayatımızda bilerek kalp kırmadık. Ulusal veya Uluslararası yasalara göre işlediğimiz tek suç da gösteremezler… Çok şükür; Allah tan C.C. Başka hiç kimseye de bir borcumuz yok… Doğrusu budur.
— Akın İpek (@akinipek01) December 9, 2020
As part of the massive crackdown against the Gülen movement, over 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors as well as 20,571 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny. One hundred sixty-four media outlets, 1,058 educational institutions and close to 2,000 NGOs were shut down without any due process.
According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Nov. 26, a total of 292,000 people have been detained while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,655 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed due to links to the movement.