Skip to main content

Pro-government supporters hold a flare as they protest on Istanbul's iconic Bosporus Bridge, late Thursday, July 21, 2016. Turkish lawmakers approved a three-month state of emergency, endorsing new powers for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that would allow him to expand a crackdown that has already included mass arrests and the closure of hundreds of schools, in the wake of the July 15 failed coup.Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press

The Turkish government is calling on Canada to "take the necessary steps" to address what it describes as a terrorist organization responsible for last week's failed coup.

Turkish Consul-General Erdeniz Sen told The Globe and Mail's editorial board Thursday that his country, which has detained thousands of people since the attempted coup, has "concrete evidence" that the followers of the religious cleric Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, are behind the plot. Mr. Gulen has denied involvement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this week that Mr. Gulen's followers constitute a terrorist organization that has infiltrated the military and public service. About 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants, teachers and academics have been suspended, detained or have been placed under investigation since the coup was put down, measures that have alarmed human-rights advocates around the world.

Mr. Sen declined to say whether there are specific actions it has asked the Canadian government to take, but said it's a subject his country has raised routinely with its Canadian counterparts in the context of terrorist threats. He wouldn't discuss whether there is a Gulen movement in Canada, saying only that it is "everywhere."

"The Canadian authorities know the elements. U.S. authorities know the elements.We want from our allies and partners to take the necessary measures about this organization," Mr. Sen said, referring to what he called the Fethullah Gulen terrorist organization.

"This is always a part of meetings. Because in our meetings we talk about all terrorist organizations, not only [the Islamic State]," he added. "We have been telling it for two years to our allies and partners that this is a dangerous organization."

Mr. Gulen is a former ally of Mr. Erdogan who now lives in a compound in Pennsylvania, and the Turkish government has called for his extradition. The United States has asked to see evidence of his involvement in the failed putsch before it would consider such a move.

The Gulen movement – which calls itself Hizmet, or public service – preaches a message of tolerance and worldly success. By some estimates, he has more than four million followers in Turkey. The cleric and Mr. Erdogan were allies until 2013 when Mr. Gulen's allies in the police and judiciary detained 52 members of the ruling Justice and Development Party on corruption charges while Mr. Erdogan was out of the country.

Mr. Sen defended his government's actions in the wake of the failed coup. He said Turkey's decision to implement a state of emergency is in keeping with international norms, noting that France has recently extended its own state of emergency in the wake of terrorist attacks and was not accused of threatening its democracy.

"I don't think we are sacrificing democracy. I think we are upholding democracy. That is why everything is going by law. The state of emergency is something in our constitution, it is something in international documents. … All the detentions are within the existing legal context," Mr. Sen said. "Here, the threat, the dimensions of it are so wide. We are talking about a group infiltrated into the state structure."

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion said in a statement Wednesday that Canada is very "concerned" by reports of thousands of dismissals and detentions in Turkey, and by statements made by Turkish officials about the possibility of re-introducing the death penalty.

"Canada urges Turkey to comply fully with its relevant obligations under international human-rights law," Mr. Dion said in the statement. "The rule of law and respect for due process in the conduct of investigations are integral to the democratic principles that, last Friday night, thousands of Turks flooded into the streets to protect. It is important that these same democratic principles and values guide the government's actions in the coming months."

Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens responded to Mr. Erdogan's iPhone appeal for support early Saturday morning as the coup attempt was being quelled.

Mr. Dion told The Canadian Press that Canada has received inquiries from Turkey about the Gulen movement in Canada.

"We have received requests before the coup and after from the government of Turkey about the movement that is existing in Canada, and we have asked for evidence because otherwise the Canadian justice system cannot address an issue on the basis of allegations," Mr. Dion explained. He later elaborated: "It was certainly an expression of concern about this group and its presence in Canada, and an invitation for us to work with them on that. And we just said: 'The ball is in your camp. You need to provide evidence,'" he said.

Mr. Sen said he first learned of the attempted coup in a text message from his wife, who was in Turkey at the time. The notion of a coup seemed so far-fetched he ignored the text at first, thinking that she meant their children were staging a coup in their home. He and his colleagues waited anxiously for news that evening, watching television and taking heart when Mr. Erdogan appeared on a Turkish private broadcaster via Facetime.

He recounted how Mr. Erdogan, who was vacationing near the coastal city of Marmaris when the coup began, said he first got word of something unusual taking place in a phone call from his brother-in-law.

One colleague from their Toronto office was in Turkey attending a wedding and had no idea a coup was taking place, Mr. Sen said.

When Mr. Erdogan returned to Istanbul and the people took to the streets, they had a good sense that the coup would be defeated.

"We were all worried. First of all for our families, for our people, our nation," he said.