From ‘diaspora by design’ to transnational political exile: the Gülen movement in transition

Watmough, Simon P. and Öztürk, Ahmet Erdi (2018) From ‘diaspora by design’ to transnational political exile: the Gülen movement in transition. Politics, Religion & Ideology, 19 (1). pp. 33-52. ISSN 2156-7697


In the wake of the July 2016 putsch and the subsequent purge of followers of the outlawed Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen in every sphere of Turkish life under the ruling AKP government’s state of emergency, the Gülen movement (GM) is in disarray and crisis. A fruitful way to bring some analytical order to this issue is through the frame of diaspora, which we contend provides some useful analytical purchase on understanding the movement historically and in transition. The GM as it stood prior to 2016 is, we contend, best conceived as a transnational parapolitical network—a ‘diaspora by design’—dedicated principally to the service, not of humanity, but of power. Based on interviews with over 70 key members of the movement conducted between 2012 and 2018, we show how, from the late 1990s Gülen and his supporters crafted a complex transnational structure that has combined extensive financial operations with a distinctive organizational morphology. We map out the contours of this structure and show how it emerged over time via instrumentalization of Gülen’s parapolitical ideology and the steady accretion of politically-directed, corporate projects outside Turkey. Finally, drawing again on the notion of diaspora the we offer a framework for thinking about how the movement may evolve in future as it transitions to a fragmented community in transnational in political exile.

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