Mustafa Aksoy

October 14, 2016
I had found a better embodiment of Gülen’s ideas in Turkey: Mustafa Aksoy, a businessman I met in 2011, in the café of an Istanbul hotel. (After the coup and the subsequent crackdown, Aksoy asked to be identified by a pseudonym, to protect his family in Turkey.) Like many followers of Gülen, he was clean-shaven, wore a Western business suit, and projected an almost aggressively cheerful appearance. He was a very successful man: he owned a construction firm, a hotel-services company, and a housewares factory, which together employed about six hundred people. For three years, Aksoy had lived in Europe. He spoke fluent English and was married to a Scandinavian woman; his work had taken him to every corner of the world.

Aksoy told me that he became associated with the Gülenist movement in 1993, when he accompanied a group of businessmen on a trip to Turkmenistan, one of the Turkic-speaking countries of Central Asia. While there, he was given a tour of a secondary school that had been built by Gülen’s followers. The school stirred Aksoy’s patriotic pride; it was named for a former Turkish President, a Turkish flag flew at graduation, and a large photo showed the Turkish and Turkmen Presidents shaking hands. “It was the best school in the country,” Aksoy said. “All the parents were trying to get their kids into it.”

Through the schools, Aksoy got involved in the Gülen movement, donating money as he travelled throughout Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. “It became like a hobby for me—whenever I go somewhere, I just go and visit the Gülen school,” he said. The schools served as a sort of beachhead for Turkish interests. “Even in California, in the Hispanic area, I see schools that are totally Turkish. When I arrived in Tanzania, there were two schools there, but no embassy. Now there is an embassy and many businesses.”

Aksoy said the schools formed a loose network: “They’re communicating with each other, and they’re keeping up standards. There’s a continuous flow of information.” But, like Gülen, he insisted that the movement had no secret agenda. He said the complaints about the Gülenists tended to come from people who were nostalgic for Turkey’s old secular order, an era that he regarded as dead. “The people who lost power cannot see the real changes,” he said. “Things are changing so fast in Turkey, and they need to blame someone.”


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