Albanian PM turns down Erdoğan’s request for measures against Gülen followers

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Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has rejected a request made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for measures against followers of the faith-based Gülen movement in the country, the Albanian edition of Euronews reported.

Erdoğan made the request to Rama during an official visit to Tirana on Jan. 17, where he travelled for the inauguration of apartment blocs built by Turkey’s state-run housing authority, TOKİ, in the city of Laç, for victims of a deadly earthquake in November 2019.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity. Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have been carrying out a massive crackdown on the movement’s real and alleged followers inside and outside Turkey for about a decade, which culminated in the aftermath of the failed coup.

Rama said during a statement to the media from Socialist Party of Albania headquarters that “we have no debt” to Erdoğan and Turkey itself regarding Erdoğan’s request concerning Gülen followers.

“We have no debt to the president of Turkey and Turkey, just as the president of Turkey and the Republic of Turkey owe us nothing because there is no debt between friends and a brotherly friendship,” Rama said.

According to Erdoğan, this was a “precondition” for friendship and partnership between the two countries. He also described the Gülen movement as a “threat to Albania’s national security.”

This is not the first time Erdoğan has made this request, Euronews said. In January of last year, when he received Rama and the Albanian cabinet in Ankara, he made the same ask.

Albania has officially refused to hand over most members of the Gülen movement to Turkish authorities, but there have been exceptions.

In January 2020 the Albanian government deported Harun Çelik, an alleged Gülen movement follower, to Turkey, despite his request for political asylum.

Since 2016 Albania has also allowed the takeover of the Gülen-affiliated educational institutions by the Turkish-state-run Maarif Foundation.

Maarif was established by the Turkish government prior to the coup attempt through legislation in the Turkish parliament, and after the abortive putsch, it targeted the closure of Gülen-linked educational institutions as part of Turkish foreign policy.

Erdoğan and his government enjoy close relations with Albania.

In addition to the TOKİ project in the country, a memorial was erected in Tirana for victims of the coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. The memorial has angered some nationalists in Albania as it has nothing to do with the country and is the only such memorial for July 15 coup victims outside Turkey. Nationalist circles in Albania claim that a similar memorial should be erected in Turkey as well in line with the principle of reciprocity for Albanian victims of communism.

The Turkish government has also launched an initiative in Tirana to plant 1,000 trees upon an order from Erdoğan.

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