Policeman's book alleges war on secular state in Turkey

The author, a prominent officer, claims that religious conservatives are clandestinely trying to take over government institutions.

ISTANBUL // A book written by a prominent police official that alleges a clandestine power grab by Islamists has created controversy by reflecting the ongoing power struggle between secularists and conservatives in Turkey. Simons Living on the Golden Horn: A State Yesterday, A Religious Community Today, written by Hanefi Avci, sold 60,000 copies in the first six days after it was published, a huge number for a Turkish book.

Opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in power since late 2002, have long suspected that Islamists are trying to take over state institutions to weaken or overthrow the secular republic. Now Avci has added his voice to those claims. "It is a struggle between the status quo and change," Ferhat Kentel, a sociologist at Istanbul's Bilgi University, said in an interview yesterday, referring to the social tensions reflected in the book.

A story of a police raid in Ankara is one of many examples Avci uses to illustrate an alleged Islamic power grab. When police in Turkey's capital, Ankara, raided a hotel room in March 2009 after receiving a tip-off that a drugs courier was staying there, they found a married general in bed with his mistress. The general had to resign in disgrace. The way Avci sees it, the raid was much more than just an embarrassing incident for Turkey's military, the powerful secularist institution that is wary of the religiously conservative government.

The aim of the police action was to ensure the resignation of the general, Avci, 54, claims. "It was an operation by the religious community." He argues that followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher living in the United States, have been infiltrating institutions such as the police, judiciary and the armed forces, and have started to destroy the careers and reputations of everyone who stands in their way with the help of illegal wiretappings.

In the past, key posts in the state have traditionally been held by strict secularists, but a rise of a more observant middle class in recent years has meant pious Muslims have risen to important positions, including that of president and prime minister, leaving secularists worried. Avci says they have reason to be. "The scene before me is terrifying," he writes. "It is not correctly chosen men of the state that rule the state."

Avci questions actions by the police and the judiciary against suspected coup plotters in the military in recent years. Critics have accused Avci of failing to provide evidence for his claims. Taraf, an independent newspaper that published several coup plots alleged to have been hatched within the military, said Avci may have written the book because he was frustrated after he failed to be promoted.

Mr Kentel, the sociologist, said Avci may be trying to increase the "no votes" in a referendum on September 12 on wide-ranging constitutional amendments. Avci himself writes that he decided to go public because his warnings of the Gulen sect fell on deaf ears in Ankara. Mr Gulen, whose teachings stress the need to reconcile Islam with the modern world, founded hundreds of schools in Turkey as well as in South and Central Asia. Several respected Turkish media outlets also belong to the Gulen movement.

In 1999, a Turkish television channel broadcast one of Mr Gulen's speeches, in which he tells his followers to patiently work their way through state institutions in Turkey to reach the highest levels of the republic. A prosecutor charged him with "creating an illegal organisation aimed at changing the secular structure of the state". Mr Gulen fled to the United States. Turkey's court of appeals cleared him of the accusations two years ago.

In a statement published by his lawyers in Turkey, Mr Gulen denied the allegations by Avci and referred to the not-guilty verdict. This week, Avci, rightly assuming that the government would not like his book, asked to be relieved of his post as police chief of the province of Eskisehir, a request that was granted within hours. The interior ministry has opened an investigation against him for a suspected breach of rules governing the behaviour of civil servants.