Turkish Ambassador Tunca Ozcuhadar, in an interview with Daily Mirror, shares his views on the Fethulla Terrorist Organization (FETO) that attempted to overthrow his country’s government in 2016, bilateral engagements with Sri Lanka to curb alleged FETO activities here. Also, he responds to questions about recent violence in Sri Lanka and how Turkey, along with the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), takes note of it. Turkey is playing a leading role in the OIC. Excerpts:
Q What have you got to say about FETO?
This terror organization is like a cancer which tries to overtake you from inside. FETO terrorist organization increases its political and economic influence by abusing the State resources. Turkey was carrying out its fight against FETO internally and externally during the past three years. We have been fighting it very decisively. It can be described under three counts. First, bringing perpetrators to book is there. FETO tries to make inroads into all areas, particularly education, media and banking sectors.
They lost their backbone in Turkey. Now, they try to use their structure overseas. FETO has been established in 160 countries through their schools, businesses and other institutions. Fight against FETO structures abroad has been among the top priority of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a potential threat to the countries. It is a different kind of terrorist organization. It does not fight the State directly. Instead, it infiltrates the State system, and tries to benefit from it. Other terrorist organizations just open fire at your head or chest. But,FETO is a kind of long term problem. It is a dark and insidious organization working with political and economic ambitions. In many countries FETO has been declared a terrorist organization.
The Turkish leadership has requested the extradition of FETO leaders. FETO was active in the education field. They were running schools all around the world. Friendly countries that understood this threat closed these schools. It has been declared a terrorist organization by the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).
- FETO operates in Sri Lanka by running education institutions
- Islamic countries concerned about communal violence
- Yet, sanctions are not the proper way to solve problems
- OIC is friendly towards Sri Lanka
- This country does not deserve this type of turmoil. It is a beautiful place here.
Q You raised this matter with the Sri Lankan government. At what level did you raise it?
In June, 2016, the Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister visited Sri Lanka. He brought up the issue with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The visit took place one month before this coup attempt took place. Even before that, we were warning and making it clear to the Sri Lankan authorities about the activities of this organization. Also, our embassy has been working with concerned Sri Lankan authorities about what this organization is and its interests are. We told how they could be a threat to Sri Lanka’s stability. We are working closely with Sri Lankan foreign policy and security authorities.
Q What is the kind of response you got?
The schools operated by FETO are not closed yet. We are working closely with Sri Lankan foreign policy and security authorities. The schools have changed their names. Their names used to be leading international schools here. They change their name to peace islands. Some teachers and administrators of these schools have left the country. But some are still here. They still continue to have business outlets here. We are aware of it. We have also shared information with the Sri Lankan authorities.
QTurkey is a leading country in the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). How have you taken note of the recent spate of violence in Sri Lanka?
It is very serious. The OIC reaction is not something recent. The OIC reacted when violence broke out in Digana, Kandy in March, last year. The OIC comprises 57 countries. It accommodates 1.5 billion people. It is a very strong organization. It is also specially focusing on the Muslim minorities all around the world. Since then Muslim minorities all around the world face discrimination and harassment, the close follow-up is one main objective of the OIC. Immediately after the April 21 terrorist attack, the OIC expressed its concern about the communal violence. The missions of the OIC countries in Colombo issued a statement. Later on, after incidents in Gampaha, Kurunegala and Puttalam, they issued a statement. We have a comprehensive report on the damages done in these incidents. Turkey is a leading country in the OIC. Turkey was Summit President until last May in the OIC. In Myanmar, there are atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. Therefore, these incidents in Sri Lanka ring warning bells. We fear whether Muslims who lived for thousands of years with the majority community peacefully will be affected.
They lost their backbone in Turkey. Now, they try to use their structure overseas. FETO has been established in 160 countries through their schools, businesses and other institutions
Q Will this trend affect Sri Lanka’s traditional relations with the OIC eventually leading to economic sanctions?
I don’t believe sanctions are the right way to solve problems. We don’t interfere with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. What we do is making friendly recommendations. If a friend expresses his concern, it is genuine. It is candid. If a person who is not so friendly expresses concern, it is hostile. We are longstanding friends of Sri Lanka. Each individual country of the OIC has had long standing relations with Sri Lanka. This country was in solidarity with many Muslim countries in the international fora. In this sense, Sri Lanka was one of the major leaders of the non-aligned movement. Within this framework, Sri Lanka has a very good history with the OIC countries. Our relationship with Sri Lanka is based on friendship and goodwill. We would like to see the communal harmony, peace and stability in Sri Lanka to prevail. This country does not deserve this type of turmoil. It is a beautiful place here. Unity in diversity is unique in this country. Politically motivated violence should not disturb peace and stability of this lovely island
Q Easter Sunday attack was carried out by an Islamic terrorist outfit. All the Muslims are not terrorists. But these terrorists emerged from within the Muslim community. What is the kind of cooperation the OIC extends in curbing such terrorism?
It is a wrong interpretation. Terrorism has no religion. Terrorists are instruments of certain political and economic interests. Whatever their outfit is, they do not represent the religion they claim to be in, or its ideology. This is a kind of a huge distortion of the truth. A person who really follows the philosophy of the religion cannot harm even a fly. If a crazy guy kills persons shooting indiscriminately and later on justifies it according to his religion, it will be the biggest insult to religion.
Q But, these terrorists cite versions from Quran when they commit terrorist acts. What do you say about it?
This is black propaganda to provoke other communities against Islam. Islam does not say anything like this. This is just a wrong interpretation of the verses. This is against the logic of the religion. Even His Eminence the Cardinal said openly after this attack that this has nothing to do either with Islam or with the Muslim community of Sri Lanka.
Q At the end of the day, Muslim youths seem to have been attracted by such terrorist ideologies. They are getting radicalised. What is your response?
Here there are two million Muslims living in this country, the number of guys, brainwashed, is around 20. It is a very tiny segment. People have to be identified by their names here. If you say Muslims, there are thousands of them. It will be unfair to generalize.
Q What kind of assistance can the OIC extend to counter such terrorism?
President Maithripala Sirisena, in his meeting with OIC Member countries Ambassadors, categorically expressed his gratitude to the intelligence support to Sri Lanka. In respect of countering international terrorism, the countries are cooperating. Terrorism is terrorism.
Q In Sri Lanka, there is a call for de-radicalisation of local Muslims. What insight can Turkey offer in this case?
I don’t see any radicalisation in that sense. Let the people live as they want to live! Outsiders should not come and tell you what you should eat, wear etc. It is the basic right to live according to the way you like, as long as you do not harm others.
Terrorism has no religion. Terrorists are instruments of certain political and economic interests. Whatever their outfit is, they do not represent the religion they claim to be in, or its ideology
Q But, in a multi-cultural society, there has to be common space for all to live in. You would have noted how local Muslims have alienated themselves from the local culture. What have you got to say about it?
Changes of cultural aspects should not be viewed as alienation. Nothing stays in the same position. Interaction among the communities is not something one-sided. The other side should also be interested for interaction to take place. If interaction suffered during the past 20 years, you should look at both sides. You cannot judge things from one side.
Q What is your message to Sri Lankan Muslims?
I can recommend only one thing to my Sri Lankan Muslim brothers and sisters- don’t hesitate to discuss openly and frankly and express yourself directly if there is something disturbing you. And within the Muslim community don’t let others decide on your behalf. You have to be part of the decision making process.