Fethullah Gulen’s civic movement is inspired by the concept of “hizmet,” which means “service” in Turkish. The Turkish Cultural Center in Albany is affiliated with the movement, although no Gulen-inspired charter schools operate in the Capital Region.
In Turkey, the movement is portrayed by the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as shadowy and bent on infiltrating key parts of the government, such as the judiciary and police. Last year, Turkey’s strongman leader — a onetime Gulen ally — charged that the violent July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey that resulted in widespread arrests and more than 250 deaths, was organized by Gulen from Pennsylvania. The cleric denies it, and Erdogan’s tactics both at home and abroad have drawn sharp criticism. In April, Turkey’s chief prosecutor opened an investigation of 17 people, including New York U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, for what were termed possible connections to the Gulen movement and the coup. In May, members of Erdogan’s security team were accused of assaulting peaceful protesters outside the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C.
Turkey has sought multiple ways to undermine Gulen and his followers. In the months before Donald Trump won the presidential election in November, a key campaign adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was paid more than $500,000 to do work for the Turkish government. According to multiple reports, he was hired in part to push the U.S. government to extradite Gulen back to Turkey. In an op-ed targeting Gulen that was published on Election Day, Flynn noted that Gulen schools give out more H1-B visas — meant to be reserved for highly skilled labor — than Google did.
Flynn resigned only weeks into his tenure as Trump’s national security adviser after he misled White House officials about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Erdogan has continued to press the president to extradite Gulen.
The Turkish government is also paying a prominent attorney, Robert Amsterdam, of the London and Washington D.C.-based firm Amsterdan & Partners, to research and publicize information on the Gulen movement and charter schools.
Syracuse-based Terra Science and Education in a statement expressed concern the Times Union’s reportage “stems, directly or indirectly, from the efforts of the Amsterdam law firm. … We are hoping your story will not be a vehicle for a foreign agent’s purposes and that you will carefully investigate all aspects of the situation and act fairly.”
Amsterdam did not respond to requests for comment.