As It Happens

Canadian lawyer for Turkish government leads charge against Erdogan rival

A lawyer for the Turkish government says there are signs that the military coup was planned from outside - possibly by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Some say Gullen is just a convenient scapegoat. Guest host Helen Mann speaks with Robert Amsterdam.
The Turkish government suspects exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen may have had a hand in planning the failed military coup. (cpimages (left) / reuters (right) )

The coup in Turkey has failed. Now the crackdown on the alleged plotters has begun.

Some six thousand military personnel, including more than a hundred generals, have reportedly been arrested -- and thousands of judges have been suspended.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his allies are pointing the finger far beyond Turkey. 

This is a very sophisticated operator who pretends to be an old man sitting on his chair in the Poconos.- Robert Amsterdam, lawyer for the Turkish government 

They say Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen may have had a hand in planning the attempted coup. Gulen lives in exile in Pennsylvania.

We requested an interview with Mr. Gulen to respond to these allegations, but we didn't receive a response.

On July 17, the reclusive cleric denied any involvement in the coup, but said he couldn't rule out the possibility that any of his followers may have been involved.

Robert Amsterdam is a lawyer for the Turkish government who has been collecting evidence against Gulen. Here is part of his interview with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann:

Helen Mann: Do you have any direct evidence that Mr. Gulen was involved in orchestrating this attempted coup?

Robert Amsterdam: Normally, with him we call it a dog whistle. He makes speeches, he does various things, he sends signals to his followers as to what to do, how to act. But he also very frequently dispatches followers to and from his his estate in the Poconos, that's heavily guarded.

The issue about Gulen that is very important to understand is his people have infiltrated the army, the justice ministry, the media. They are incredibly influential. There is no part of the government that hasn't been infiltrated by Gulen. 

The evidence that will come out will be - as we've already seen on Turkish news - that the ringleaders have connections to him. You're not going to get signed orders. That's not how these types of conspiracies work. 

[Gulen] reminds me of that story of that Mafia don who walked around New York in slippers and pajamas. This is a very sophisticated operator who pretends to be an old man sitting on his chair in the Poconos.

Lawyer Robert Amsterdam acts on behalf of the Turkish government. He suspects Fethullah Gulen may have had a hand in Friday's failed coup. (Twitter / Robert Amsterdam )

HM: The U.S. Secretary of State says that if Turkey really wants Mr. Gulen to be returned, they are going to have to provide actual evidence... 

RA: The State Department is saying they haven't received the formal request for extradition...

HM: Let me be clear, Mr Kerry says he's spoken to the foreign minister of Turkey saying send us evidence, not allegations. 

RA: And that's fine. What I'm telling you is we are 60 hours from when President Erdogan was at risk for his life. Let's give them time to properly engage in some form of reasonable process and I'm sure all of the evidence will be put forward. 

HM: But there is concern that Mr. Erdogan may be using this coup to crack down on his political opponents. Three-thousand judges lost their positions. You are a lawyer. How concerned are you when you watch things like this unfold?

RA: You have to as a lawyer be concerned about all of those issues...this isn't something that just came up as a result of the coup. Many people in the United States and other countries - because they don't agree with President Erdogan - were rejoicing. I think we need a lot more measured response to the tragedy that's occurred in Turkey. 

HM: Turkey has threatened war on quote "any country" that stands by Mr. Gulen. If the U.S. continues to not hand him over, do they have something to be concerned about?

RA: No. I think we need to be empathetic with a country and a people that took to the streets to defend their democracy, barely a few days ago. Lets let tempers moderate ... It's a time for Canada and other countries to assist their friends and NATO allies."

A group that promotes Mr. Gulen's ideas, the Alliance for Shared Values, told the Associated Press, "We categorically deny such accusations and find them to be highly irresponsible...we condemn any military intervention in the domestic policies of Turkey."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.