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Azerbaijani TV Station Closed Over 'Interview' With U.S.-Based Turkish Cleric Accused By Ankara In Coup

  • RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen has lived in the United States since 1999.

Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen has lived in the United States since 1999.

A private Azerbaijani television station has been taken off the air and accused of damaging Baku's "strategic" links with Turkey after announcing it would broadcast an interview with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey's government blames Gulen for orchestrating last weekend's failed military coup, in which hundreds died and more than 1,500 more were injured when troops tried to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Azerbaijan's National Television and Radio Council (NTRC) on July 18 announced on its website that it was temporarily suspending the operations of private-owned ANS television while also filing legal action to revoke the station's license.

"To avert provocations aimed at disrupting strategic relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, and to prevent overt terrorist propaganda … it has been decided to suspend the operations of ANS television channel for one month," said a July 18 statement posted on the council's website.

Erdogan has repeatedly called for the cleric's extradition from the United States since the plot was defeated.

Gulen has condemned the coup and denied involvement, and U.S. officials have said they would only consider an extradition request based on evidence of Gulen's involvement.

ANS (Azerbaijani News Service) was founded in 1991, and it was the first privately owned independent television company in the former Soviet Union.

Although ANS is a staunchly pro-government station, the regulatory council said it would "file a lawsuit in court" to have the channel's license withdrawn permanently.

The statement accused the channel of "propaganda aimed against the Turkish state and government" and claimed that it had depicted developments in Turkey as "a show staged by the Turkish government" while backing cleric Gulen.

It also said ANS "interviewed Gulen in the United States" and announced its intention to broadcast the interview in advance "through local and foreign media."

In fact, Gulen spoke on July 16 -- before the coup had been completely put down -- at an impromptu news conference with multiple news outlets at his home in the remote village of Saylorsburg, in eastern Pennsylvania.

'Fraternal Stance'

The statement said that Turkey's embassy to Baku voiced "deep concern" over ANS's intention to broadcast Gulen's discussion with the media and called on Azerbaijani authorities "to take relevant measures."

Both Azerbaijan and Turkey are Turkic nations and have generally enjoyed strong relations.

Azerbaijan's authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev is a close Erdogan ally.

On July 18, Aliyev telephoned Erdogan to reassure him of his full support and "noted that Azerbaijan stands by the Turkish state and people, and fully supports the democratically elected Turkish government," according to an Azerbaijani presidential statement that said Erdogan was "highly appreciative" of Aliyev's "fraternal stance."

In a separate move, Turkish authorities on July 19 scrapped all television and radio-station licenses linked to Gulen.

The broadcasting watchdog said it had "canceled all broadcasting rights and licenses for media that had links to FETO/PDY," the acronym for the Gulen movement.