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The Army of the Imam: Who are the Nurcus?

The chapters:
Who are the Nurcus?
Who is Fethullah Gülen?
 Infiltrating the Police
Trial of the Gülden Parish
Avcı, Ergenekon and Epilogue

The followers of Said Nursi  are called Nurcu (plural Nurcus) . Other terms such as Nur Sect (tr: tarikat) or Nur Parish (tr: cemaat) are also possible. Over the years several streams developed in and outside Turkey. One of the most powerful wings is connected to a specific name: Fethullah Gülen. In the book of Ahmet Şık this is the imam having an army.

The Beginning

When Said Nursi died on 23 March 1960 the sect was uncertain on how to continue. Some wanted one leader to be selected others wanted a Council for Consultation to be established. Others wanted to found a political organization and still others wanted to conduct armed struggle against the State. Some elderly members such as Tahiri Mutlu, Mustafa Sungur, Ceylan Çalışkan, Hüsnü Yeğin, Bayram Yüksel and Mehmet Fırıncı elected Zübeyir Gündüzalp the most altruistic of them to lead the movement. But this did not terminate the discussion.

The split between the “writers” and the “readers” that started during the life of Said Nursi openly showed. After the coup of 27 May (1960) the confusion grew. The “writers” became a separate group under the leadership of Hüsrev Altınbaşak. These people had copied the tractates (risale) of Said Nursi by hand. Others preferred the printed version in Latin letters and were known as the “readers”.

Some people around Mehmet Kayalar believed that it was time to get armed in order to spread the Nur philosophy. Similar ideas had Müslüm Gündüz from Elazığ. Rumours say that he and his followers practised shooting near Kayseri. Said Özdemir, an important name from Ankara that later founded the Tenvir arm of the Nurcus is said that he and his men went around in arms in Ankara.

Candidate for leadership: Fethullah Gülen

At the time there was another candidate for leadership in secret preparation: Fethullah Gülen, a preacher from Erzurum. He approached the leading figures in Erzurum with the wish to participate. Between 1963 and 1966 when he was on duty in Edirne and Kırklareli he drew attention with his manner of speech. He often wept and would even throw himself on the ground.

His way of appeal was different to the “readers”, “speakers” and those opting for “armed struggle”. He also was different, because he did not openly say that he was a Nurcu and did not often use the name of Said Nursi.

In 1966 Fethullah Gülen was appointed to Izmir. At the time the leader of the “writers”, Hüsrev Efendi was well respected in the movement and under his influence the “writers” had some weight in Denizli, Kütahya, Eskişehir and İzmir. The Aegean region was their fortress. From the Council of Elderlies (ağabeyler konseyi, ağabey meaning elderly brother) Zübeyir Gündüzalp, Mehmet Fırıncı and Bekir Berk went to the Aegean, but in many places they were not allowed into the classes and some discussions turned into a fight.

Zübeyir Gündüzalp felt that the conflict could only be solved by a centralized administration. After their return the house in Kirazlı Mescit Street in Istanbul No 46 was rented and made the centre of the Nurcus. All decisions from printing the books of Said Nursi to the opening of new classes were taken here. At some stage the parish was even called according to the address: the Kirazlı Mescit Parish.

The Nurcus and Political Parties

When at the end of the 1960s Süleyman Demirel, leader of the Justice Party (AP) and thought to belong to the Freemasons, dismissed Necmettin Erbakan from the Union of Chambers the trust into the AP decreased and the idea of an Islamic party emerged. Among the Nurcus there was no clear preference. Some “elderlies” were not fond of Necmettin Erbakan.

The National Movement Party (MHP) tried to gain their support. They talked to Hüsrev Altınbaşak and got the support of the “writers”. Fethullah Gülen's attitude was in favour of them and in a short time the MHP got support from the Nurcus in Isparta, Kastamonu and Elazığ. In Ankara, Adana and Yozgat a group of Nurcus also was close to the MHP.

Their leader Alparslan Türkeş sent men among the Nurcus who spread the word that Türkeş was reading the Risale-i Nur tractates and was to become a leader of the Nurcus. The Council of Elderlies opposed this intervention and published a book called “The Islamic Movement and Türkeş” in which they took a firm stand against the MHP.

This was the first political book of the Nurcus. It was reminded that Said Nursi had voted for the Democratic Party (DP) against the Republican People's Party (CHP) and that the AP was the continuation of the DP.

However, the movement was not completely satisfied and some members found that it damaged the parish to openly oppose the MHP. They objected against the distribution of the brochure. One of them was Fethullah Gülen.

The Nurcus in Ankara supported Erbakan to the dislike of the Nurcus in Istanbul. On 12 October 1969 Necmettin Erbakan was elected as independent deputy from Konya province. A few deputies from the AP supported him, but wanted to get assistance from the Nurcus first, but Zübeyir Gündüzalp rejected.

Nevertheless Erbakan founded the National Order Party (MNP) on 26 January 1970. When the Constitutional Court opened a case for the closure of this party many Nurcus turned to it and particularly in small towns actively worked for the party.

The coup of 12 March 1971

The coup of memorandum irritated the Nurcus. Shortly afterwards Zübeyir Gündüzalp died and there was nobody to fill his position. In Izmir Fethullah Gülen and Mustafa Birlik were arrested. Bekir Berk went to Izmir, wrote their defence and went to Balıkesir, where he was arrested.

A total of 53 persons were held at Bademli Military Prison and charged with belonging to the Nurcu sect. Bekir Berk and others openly defended that they belonged to the parish, while Fethullah Gülen and Mustafa Birlik concealed their membership.

Despite of this, Bekir Berk was sentenced to one year's imprisonment, while Fethullah Gülen and Mustafa Birlik were sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The others were acquitted.

After the 1971 coup d'etat Necmettin Erbakan founded the Nationalist Salvation Party (MSP)  It became the third strongest party in the next election. Apart from the MSP the New Asia (Yeni Asya) Parish was the largest Islamic community in Turkey. In this group Fethullah Gülen was like a curiosity (passage continued at The Army of the Imam: Who is Fethullah Gülen?).

The 12 September coup

Following the coup of 12 September 1980 the MSP was closed and Necmettin Erbakan was put in prison. The Islamists first were afraid, but later were satisfied by the fact that the leader of the coup, Kenan Evren, did what they would have done. During his trips he cited verses from the Qu'ran, read hadiths and praised Islam.

Against the support of the parishes the generals made religion an obligatory lesson at schools. Philosophy became optional.

The generals acted tolerantly against Islam circles in order to gain support for the Constitution. There were also some direct contacts. Mehmet Kırkıncı in Erzurum wrote a letter to Kenan Evren making suggestions on what to do. He praised the generals stating that he was praying for them.

Mehmet Kırkıncı, who was powerful in the New Asia Parish, later turned to Fethullah Gülen, strengthening his movement. Even though there were posters showing Fethullah Gülen as a wanted person, he supported the coup. He wrote leading articles in the journal “Leakage” such as “Soldier” and “Last police station” stating that the whole nation was a nation of soldiers and that the soldiers intervened in the last minute. Sourch

The series of translated passages

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