Fenerbahçe and the Fethullah Gülen community

Fenerbahçe and the Fethullah Gülen community

Writing a column entitled “Fenerbahçe and the Fethullah Gülen Community” is inevitably difficult. Thankfully, daily Star columnist Ergun Babahan considerably eased my task with his tweets following Galatasaray’s championship. “This trophy should go to America,” Babahan wrote, with a tint of censure in his message, which he later erased.

His reference, of course, was not to President Obama, but to Fethullah Gülen who has been living in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania for a long time, often denoted as “Beyond the Atlantic.”
That being the case, Bülent Keneş, the chief editor of Today’s Zaman - which is one of the Gülen communities’ media outlets - also announced through Twitter that his paper was no longer going to feature Babahan’s columns, which used to appear twice a week. 

We were already aware that Babahan viewed the investigation into the match-fixing scandal - which reached its climax with the arrest of Fenerbahçe chairman Aziz Yıldırım on July 3 last year - as a conspiracy against the team he supported. However, we had never witnessed him directly accusing the Gülen community so blatantly (and coarsely) for this conspiracy.

Cengiz Çandar, an ardent Fenerbahçe fan, was the first one to come out before Babahan. Çandar had described the match-fixing probe as a conspiracy devised by “an autonomous structure within the police and the judiciary,” a concept he borrowed from Ali Bayramoğlu, in many of the columns he penned and television programs he appeared in. Çandar thus gave voice to the sentiments of a section of Fenerbahçe fans on the one hand, while contributing to the proliferation of this sentiment on the other.

This is a crucial point: writers like Çandar and Babahan had to a large extent lent their support to other investigations ran by the same police and prosecutors, criticizing the irregularities and injustices that came about during these processes only in muted voices so as not to overshadow these probes. Yet another crucial point is that despite their change of heart along with the emergence of the match-fixing probe, these figures have nonetheless sustained their relationship to the Gülen community. It represents a point of extreme peril for this movement, which aspires to embrace the whole of Turkey, that Fenerbahçe fans – who have also staged demonstrations for various other reasons - have directly targeted Fethullah Gülen and his community. 

It is especially significant that while the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) caused quite a stir by touching on many critical issues in its public announcement on April 5, such as the crisis over the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the events pertaining to the arrest of journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, it made no mention of the allegations over the match-fixing investigation. Daily Zaman’s Chief Editor Ekrem Dumanlı, however, had to treat this matter at length a month later on May 7.

“A narrow clique that has been trying to influence the club since the start of the match-fixing probe has accused Prime Minister Erdoğan and the ‘community.’ This marginal group, which set its sights on the ‘community’ in recent times, is now resorting to propaganda that ‘the community is trying to take over Fenerbahçe,’ in an effort to impress Fenerbahçe supporters,” Dumanlı said. 

“This is a claim that true Fenerbahçe fans (and everyone else who is well-acquainted with football) would laugh away,” he concluded.

We see, however, that this claim has grown only more vigorous when we observe the reaction coming from Fenerbahçe fans in the wake of Galatasaray’s championship. 

The essential question thus follows: Are the people who believe in these allegations merely a handful of “White Turks” living in big cities, who already harbor antagonistic sentiments toward the Gülen community - a “narrow clique” as Dumanlı has suggested? Or do these claims hold any sway among Fenerbahçe supporters living in Anatolia and/or who sympathize with the Gülen community under normal circumstances?
“This constitutes an entirely absurd and irrational thesis for those who know the community. Why would the ‘community’ want to take over a sports club? And even if it did, what can it do with a club? What purpose of the community will it serve? When the community leans toward one club, will that not alienate the supporters of the other clubs?” Dumanlı wrote.

These arguments are undoubtedly quite forceful. Even then, however, the feeling that “The community wants to take over our club” is growing in strength with each passing day among Fenerbahçe fans, according to what I observe. Clearly, a serious problem is in the works here, and I see no way that it could be resolved without Aziz Yıldırım’s release from jail. 

Last minute note

I learned after sending in this column that Ergun Babahan apologized to Fethullah Gülen and his movement. His statements verify what I have written. It remains to be seen whether Babahan will apologize to Galatasaray and her fans in the same urbane fashion.