Pennsylvania-based imam pulling strings in Turkey?

With links to CIA and Turkish PM, cleric Fethullah Gulen allegedly fixes soccer scandal

By Justin Vela

Fans of Turkish soccer team Fenerbahce rally outside an Istanbul courthouse where a match-fixing case involving the team was being held in early June. (Justin Vela)

Saylorsburg in rural Pennsylvania is an unlikely base for a Turkish cleric who wants to expand his influence back home. Yet, from his gated compound between Allentown and Scranton, 71-year-old Fethullah Gulen, founder of one of the world’s largest Islamic networks, is embroiled in a match-fixing scandal involving Fenerbahce, Turkey’s most popular soccer team.

Gulen hasn’t been in Turkey since receiving asylum in the United States in the late 1990s. His lengthy stay could be related to his reported links to the Central Intelligence Agency. But his followers contend that he hasn’t returned home because he doesn’t want to inflame the culture wars raging in his country. “Some people might use his being in Turkey as a pretext to their violence, and Turkey again might lose long-awaited stability,” said Mustafa Yesil, chairman of the Istanbul-based Journalist and Writers Foundation, an organization allied with Gulen.

Distance has never stopped Gulen from stirring controversy in Turkey, however. Gulen’s so-called “movement” — sometimes called Cemaat, which means community in Turkish, or Hizmet, meaning service — has been implicated in many scandals over the years.

Publicly, the Cemaat espouses interfaith dialogue and a respect for science and education. Gulen wants to create a “golden generation” of Muslims via the movement’s schools in 140 countries, including the US, where the University of Houston hosts the Gulen Institute, an academic research center.

Fethullah Gulen bans use of his photo without permission, but does not respond to requests for permission. This image is from a filmed sermon he gave in Turkey. (via YouTube)

But critics say the preacher has also engineered the arrests of Turkish journalists, misused U.S. funds for charter schools and forged documents to assist his ally, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party — known by its Turkish acronym, AKP — in their goal of reducing the military’s role in Turkish society.

Against the generals

Turkey’s powerful generals have overthrown four democratic governments since 1960, often to preserve secularism in the Muslim country. Gulen, Erdogan and the AKP want Islam to exert greater influence. Gulen has told his followers to support the pro-religious AKP at the polls, including during a 2010 referendum on constitutional amendments to make the military more accountable.

Now, Gulen’s followers in Turkey’s judiciary and police force have been accused of launching a match fixing investigation into Fenerbahce in order to exert influence on the high-profile Istanbul club. Last year, the probe resulted in the arrest of club president Aziz Yildirim, a noted friend of the Turkish military. The accusations were recently splashed across Twitter, opposition media outlets and blogs. Yildrim’s trial is ongoing. If convicted, he faces more than 13 years in jail.

Erdogan is rumored to have approved the match fixing investigation because his son-in-law’s employer, the Calik Group, wanted to win military contracts usually awarded to Yildirim, who controls numerous business interests, reports said.

Gulen doesn’t give interviews, his followers said. Reports said he is suffering from ill health.

A Fenerbahce mural in Kadikoy, the Istanbul neighborhood that is home to the team’s stadium. (Justin Vela)

Like the Yankees in New York or the Red Sox in Boston, Fenerbahce is a cultural lodestone that could help expand Gulen’s message throughout Turkey. “It does seem like a bad joke. doesn’t it?” said Andrew Finkel, author of Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know. “Fenerbahce is a prize to be captured.”

Indeed, Fenerbahce’s prestige is so great, even some Gulen followers are unwilling to mess with the team. “If true it would divide the Cemaat,” according to Cemil, 36, a follower of Gulen and a self-described Fenerbahce fanatic who asked that his surname not be published. “If the movement tried to attack Yildirim, it would split because of the number of Fenerbahce fans within the movement. There is no way the Cemaat would benefit from this.”

Experts agreed that Gulen was treading on thin ice.

“It was a show of force to demonstrate that even the popular chairman of a popular club is not safe,” said Istanbul-based analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners, a New York research firm. “I think it backfired. It was proof that the Gulenists would not stop at ending the military’s influence over Turkish society. Since then they suddenly emerged from the darkness and everyone is discussing the Gulen community and I don’t think he wanted that.”

But the match fixing probe might have already loosened Yildirim’s grip on power. On May 20, Yildirim was reelected as president of Fenerbahce. But four individuals close to the AKP were also elected to the club’s board.

Gulen and the CIA

Meanwhile, Gulen appears to be allied to powerful interests in the US, too.

Considered “an alien of extraordinary ability,” Gulen received a U.S. green card in 2008. Such green cards are given to foreign artists, scholars, athletes and others.

During the ten years Gulen waited for his green card, Turkish authorities were investigating him for allegedly attempting to place followers in government offices. He denied the charges and was acquitted in 2006.

During the investigations, Turkey asked the US to extradite Gulen back home. But former Central Intelligence Agency officials reportedly intervened on his behalf.

“I do not at all consider Gulen a radical or dangerous,” former CIA agent Graham Fuller told the Washington Post after reportedly lobbying for Gulen to be allowed to remain in the US. “Indeed in my view — and I have studied a lot of Islamist movements worldwide — his movement is perhaps 
one of the most encouraging in terms of the evolution of contemporary Islamic political and social thinking.”

The Post story reports that Gulen’s schools might have given cover to CIA agents spying in countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

But his followers depict Gulen’s life in the US as exile. “His stay in US now is basically a personal sacrifice,” said Yesil. “Especially for a person who loves his country very much.”

  • Camel

    Allahsız feto

  • Tolgahantufek

    fenerbahçe yıkılmaz

  • Macaninpapazi

    Fenerbahçe = Modern Turkey ,,, NO POLİTİCS ISLAMIC CLUB ,,, Fenerbahçe is ATATÜRK /SECULER

  • Macaninpapazi

    Fenerbahçe Clear and real Champion BUT Fenerbahçe isnt ISLAMIC CLUB … IMAM GULEN WANT KİLL TO Fenerbahçe and DESTROY …Please Help Us ….

  • Murat Ertürk

    MacaninPapazi, can you tell us what club is ‘Islamic Club’? Beşiktaş? Trabzonspor? Galatasaray? Mersin İdman Yurdu? Don’t be ridiculous. This is nothing to do with Gulen. Even Fenerbahce supported official federation said there is illegal match-fixing and barred some Fenerbahçe officials from sports. And I don’t think Ataturk would like that some criminals using his name. Shame on you guys. Be honest! Be sportive! Be gentlemen! At least here.

    • Oozen75

      what the fuck are you talking about.? You can not tell FENERBAHCE FANS what to do. of couse fucking gülen and his slaves arranged the court which is not suitable Human Rigths. Special Courts(OYM) are totally Out Of Order even the President RTE complaining about them. In turkey Everyboy knows about this scenario. En Büyük FENERBAHÇE !!!

    • Free Yildirim

      Trabzon, besiktas and galatasaray are puppets of the government. They have a lot of connections with Gulen mvt as well. Just let me remind you what the president of Galatasaray said 2 months ago:
      “20 million fans voted for AKP” . I wish you could be a little honest so that you would confess why Yildirim and Fenerbahce are being accused. Are blind and deaf or just dumb?

  • tarikakturk

    Aziz Yildirim and his administrative team has been involved in match fixing scandal badly: no question about it. That is why no Fenerbahce fan would come close to discussing the details of his overstretched arms dealing with blackmailing, bribing, match-fixing, etc. It appears that Justin Vela is spending too much time with some hardcore Fenerbahce fans that he is talking just like them. He ignores what the indicted is accused to do and accuses some people with no single evidence. Basic journalistic ethic requires that some views from the other side of the table are heard but Vela provides not a single opinion from those who don’t believe Gulen has something to do with the match-fixing case. These people are way too many to ignore and even include some big names from the Fenerbahce fans. This article seems to be written in a Kadikoy coffee house attended by some radical Fenerbace fans.

    • Police state of Turkey!

      Yes, I’m here as a Fener fan! Please enlighten us with the details of this so called match fixing scandal! How the hell were Aziz Yildirim and his adm. team involved ‘badly’?

      Are you the prosecutor? Have you read the indictment? Did you hear what Yildirim and others had to say?

      ‘no question about that’???

      An average brain must be capable of understanding that this is a conspiracy UNLESS he’s a enemy of Yildirim or Fenerbahce or a member of cemaat!

      Which one are you?

      • tarikakturk

        I am a Milliyet newspaper reader :)

        Here is a news article detailing why Aziz Yildirim was arrested: http://gundem.milliyet.com.tr/iste-aziz-yildirim-in-tutuklatan-nedenler/gundem/gundemdetay/11.07.2011/1412812/default.htm

        His men conducted match-fixing deals under his guidance and directions. Conversations between Yildirim and his men, and later his men and other parties were all recorded. This is a pretty clear case.

        He was badly involved in match-fixing. Period!

        • Police State of Turkey

          Dear Tariq,

          I have read the indictment and also the additional illegally recorded telephone tapes. It took me 2 weeks to read all some 7000 pages! Do not give me a newspaper as a source who has sympathy to Fethullah and AKP. Milliyet is no different than Sabah or zaman. You know that. You’re just pretending that you don’t know that. We all know Aziz Yildirim is innocent. Stop lying for a second, will you? You and all of the people who blame people for nothing and imprison them soon will be in their spots! I know then you can find people who’ll believe your words. Enjoy your time now… But it shall pass…

          Btw, why don’t you give me a decent -one single- proof that Aziz Yildirim is guilty! Or better! Show us Emenike’s pictures when he was receiving match fixing money…liars! You have no shame!

          • tarikakturk

            Illegally recorded telephone conversations? Are you kidding me? These phone conversations were authorized by the court and went on several months. Justice system in Turkey might have flaws but not to a degree that conversations tapped without warrant are accepted in the court. Aziz Yildirim has just been convicted of match-fixing crime by the court. When the Higher Court of Appeals approves this sentence, you will have to remain silent and accept that Yildirim did many things to fix matches and unfairly influence the results of soccer matches.

            Why are you so emotional calling me liar several times? Are you so stressed out that you now ignore basic rules of civility in discussions? Give me a break, man!

  • tarikakturk

    Here is what Gareth Jenkins, a known critic of Gulen says about the subject:

    Yet accusations by some Fenerbahçe supporters that the match-fixing investigation is part of a plot by the Gülen Movement to take control of the club — in the same way that they believe that it not now only supports but controls Galatasaray – are probably an exaggeration; not least because it is unclear what benefits controlling a soccer club could bring to the movement. Indeed, privately even sources close to Yıldırım – who refute all the accusations of match-fixing – report that they believe the investigation against him is considerably more complex than being solely the product of Gülenist conspiracy, and claim that both other clubs and Yıldırım’s rivals within Fenerbahçe have been scheming to ensure his downfall.

    In light of this, I, for one, expect from the Latitude News to accept that Vela’s piece is nothing but a biased advocacy of Fenerbahce.

    • Nick_Nehamas

      I think that if you read Jenkins’ entire piece then it’s clear the issue is more complex than the above paragraph implies: http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/inside/turkey/2012/120528B.html

      • tarikakturk

        The issue is definitely more complex than any paragraph in Vela’s piece or Jenkin’s piece implies. But, in Vela’s piece, we see no reference to the complexity of the case. A bold claim by Vela as “experts agreed Gulen was treading on thin ice” implies that Gulen was really involved in the scandal. Gulen himself denied any involvement but Vela provides no reference to that. Many prominent Fenerbahce leaders denied any involvement of Gulen in the scandal but Vela doesn’t refer to these denials. Isn’t there some sort of selective approach to the subject here by Vela? Reporting on the Gulen movement may be difficult but fairness and impartiality requires that the big picture is presented with all pertaining facts.

      • tarikakturk

        Since Nick is part of the editorial team at the Lattitude News, let me point out another inaccurate statement in the posting. A photo caption mentions that Fethullah Gulen “bans” use of his photo without permission. First of all, I don’t know if copyrights of any photo of Gulen is owned by himself. If there is one please let me know. His photos are owned by people who took his picture like the Zaman daily photographers, and Wall Street Journal reporter. Secondly, is there any public statement or action by Gulen himself that openly “bans” use of his photo?

        In any case, using a photo of someone without permission is not protected by law. This is what the term “copyright” implies.

  • Justin Vela

    Writing about the allegations surrounding Gulen is always a difficult task. Due to the power the Gulen movement has around the world, it is important to examine some of the allegations surrounding it and this article was meant as an introduction to Gulen for readers of Latitudenews. Most people know few details about Mr Gulen and his movement and this article is meant to give some examples of why he is controversial and attracts “conspiracy” theories. Given Mr Gulen’s extensive web presence, some might also wonder why he is often described as “secretive.” Despite the dedication of his follower’s Mr Gulen does not meet independent journalists or give interviews, preferring to live sequestered in his Pennsylvania-compound. Because he prefers to only rely on what amounts to PR releases from his followers or those sympathetic to him and does not directly answer the questions, he can be considered secretive.

    • tarikakturk

      This “secretive” person gave two interviews to Wall Street Journal and New York Times two rears ago. WSJ interview, scheduled before the flotilla incident happened, caused great controversy In Turkey and he was accused of being a friend of Zionism, which Justin Veal knows what it means in Turkey.

      Refusing interview requests from the media may involve many things including a desire not to be in the front. Gulen doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, which every living human being should have a preference to. He doesn’t like to “take credit” for things done by people in the so-called Gulen movement. He prefers to live a simple and quiet life. I think he, just like you and everybody else, has every right to remain “sequestered” without being called secretive.

    • tarikakturk

      Writing about Gulen movement is a difficult task but you make it more confusing when you link Gulen and the Gulen movement with CIA in a discussion of a Turkish soccer scandal despite the lack of hard evidence. It shows your clear intention to create some cloud of suspicion on Gulen when you include some disproved claims of CIA agents in the Central Asia schools of the movement, which was withdrawn by the Turkish agent, who is the source of claim.

      Graham Fuller’s positive comments are used in support of linkage between CIA and Gulen movement. Graham Fuller has repeatedly said many positive hings about the AKP too. Should we assume that CIA is linked to the AKP? What kind of “linkage” do you think is required to fully link CIA and some group? Should we assume that any thing a former CIA agent does or says is a reason for a CIA connection?

      • Mustafa Kemal Yilmaz

        Look who’s talking about evidence! Why don’t you give ONE single evidence why Yildirim and his friends are in jail? Waiting…

  • Hadiordan

    Atatürk Army : Fenerbahçe > İslamic army : galatasaray