There’s been speculation in the American media that the new administration’s friendly attitude towards the Tayyip Erdogan regime could increase the likelihood the U.S. will extradite Fethüllah Gulen to his native Turkey before the cleric can seek asylum in Canada or another country.
Ömer Çelik, the minister in charge of Turkey’s negotiations with the European Union, said granting Gulen refugee status would be akin to providing a safe haven to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“What kind of implications would that have with respect to Canada’s relations with the U.S., with the Western world?” Çelik said in an interview Saturday, aided by a translator. “Allies are not supposed to host the enemies of one another. They’re supposed to fight against the enemies.”
Retired Lt.-Gen. Michael Flynn, tapped by Trump as his national security adviser, penned an op-ed for Washington-based newspaper The Hill on Nov. 8 arguing that allowing Gulen to remain in the United States would be like harbouring “Turkey’s equivalent of Osama bin Laden.”
Çelik said Flynn’s assessment of Gulen was “100 per cent right,” comparing cleric’s teachings to a book that begins with lofty notions of democracy, but by its conclusion, reveals itself to be something more insidious.
“From page one till the end, it’s all about terrorism,” said Celik.
Gulen has long been one of Turkey’s most influential scholar with legions of followers in his native country and beyond. More recently, Turkish official have accused the self-exiled cleric of remotely orchestrating a plot to overthrow Erdogan’s officially secular government from his Pennsylvania hideaway.
Gulen has denied involvement in the failed coup that led to 270 deaths in July.
A report in Hurriyet, a Turkish newspaper, reported last month that Canada is on the list of countries Gulen is considering as a place to escape in the event he is extradited from the United States.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Gulen’s followers run a loosely organized global network of charitable foundations, professional associations, businesses and other projects. Erdogan’s government has branded the movement a “terror organization,” though it is not known to have committed any acts of violence.
Çelik said Canada is home to “high-profile actors” linked to Gulen’s movement and urged co-operation with Turkey in targeting these individuals.
Çelik said Davud Hanci, a dual Turkish-Canadian citizen who was arrested in the coup attempt, will have to wait for his prosecution to conclude before the imam can return home to Calgary.
Canadian officials have been working on Hanci’s case through diplomatic channels.