Protesters waved Turkish and American flags, chanted and played Turkish songs Saturday afternoon at a second peaceful protest this summer against Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen in Saylorsburg.
But this time, rather than scrambling for a place to stand after police told them they could not block Mount Eaton Road in July, protesters’ plans were more sophisticated.
A sound system and stage area gave speakers a platform, while portable toilets and coolers of soda for sale were available on the same field where they held their last protest several miles from the retreat center where Gülen lives.
Gülen has made his home in the Poconos since the 1990s and is a controversial, but well-known figure in Turkey. Supporters say he promotes living in harmony with people of different faiths and has inspired people around the globe, while critics treat his “movement” with suspicion.
The property owner at T&R Farm Shack declined comment Saturday, but representatives collected $10 per car and directed traffic as more than 100 protesters filed into the area with the enthusiasm they also brought in July.
Most of the protesters were Turkish American and many wore shirts with the Turkish flag and depictions of national secular hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
The protesters repeated earlier accusations against Gülen, arguing that he is connected to the government now leading Turkey and is seeking to Islamicize the country. Speakers also discussed charter schools affiliated with the movement across the U.S. and said Gülen is using American tax money to spread his message.
Umit Dikkaya came from New York City and joined friends. She wore a shirt proclaiming that she is proud to be from Turkey.
“We’re here to expose the reality about this Gülen movement,” she said.
Retired Admiral Turker Erturk came to speak from Istanbul and said he wanted to be part of the peaceful protest.
“I think our mission is to send a real message to the American people,” he said, exposing Gülen.
He spoke to the crowd, leading a chant of “We are Mustafa Kemal’s soldiers.” Attendee Sevtap Schreffler, from Washington D.C., translated his words and said the chant references Atatürk but demonstrates solidarity with all who fight for democracy.
A tattoo of Atatürk’s signature decorated Schreffler’s arm. She said to her, Atatürk represents freedom of religion and feminism.
“Gülen hates Atatürk,” she said. “They want to do away with everything he did.”
Representatives for Gülen released statements Saturday, once again countering each accusation and calling Erturk a well-known Communist in Turkey.
Sharon Higgins, of California, told protesters she has done extensive research on Gülen-affiliated charter schools in the U.S. She has said she favors public school districts against the privitization of education with charter schools.
The statement from the center said the schools are not religious and each began as an individual grassroots effort.
At the protest, Turgut Gozlev wore elaborate clothing and walked quietly with a large flag. He smoked a cigar while explaining he was born in Istanbul, but has lived in the U.S. for 45 years. He came from Philadelphia for the protest and said Gülen must go.
“I do miss Turkey,” he said. But, “this is my country. My children were born here.”