Turkish soccer team head blames Gulenists for jail term

Aziz Yildirim, the popular president of soccer giant Fenerbahce, has pointed to the Gulen movement as being behind his conviction of game-fixing.

al-monitor Fenerbahce Chairman Aziz Yildirim (L) and the team's then-captain Alex de Souza (R) pose with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, April 19, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Fenerbahce Sports Club/Handout.

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turkey, soccer, recep tayyip erdogan, gulen movement, football, fethullah gulen

Jan 29, 2014

Earlier this month, Turkey’s highest court upheld the jail sentence of Aziz Yildirim, president of Fenerbahce, one of Turkey’s two top sports clubs, and a pronounced critic of the Fethullah Gulen movement. Yildirim will soon return to prison to serve a 26-month sentence.

In the wake of the court ruling, Yildirim argued that the match-fixing case in which he was convicted was a political trial with a political conclusion. He claims he was convicted by Gulenist-controlled police and special courts because of his anti-Gulen views.

Here are highlights from Yildirim’s recent statements:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in his statement on Dec. 17, said that a parallel state exists. This parallel state is run by Gulen and his community. All those prosecutors, judges and policemen were removed from office because they are Gulenists. … So, it means that all those operations in the past, including the one against us, were the work of the Gulen community. I cannot be sure now whether the Appeals Court judges [who upheld my sentence] are in the service of the parallel state or the Republic of Turkey. The justice minister should make a statement to shed light on the situation.

“Our club’s members and fans, we are all followers of [Kemal] Ataturk. Besides, Fenerbahce is the driving force of Turkish sports. They actually intended to implicate me in the Ergenekon case, but failed to do so at first. They had no evidence, no documents. Then, they planted some people from the Ergenekon case into the match-fixing case, arguing that I was close to them and thus planned to link me to Ergenekon in this fashion.”

And here is how Yildirim’s lawyers describe the role of the "parallel state" in the match-fixing trial:

Attorney Yasemin Mercil: “Through the objections we filed during the proceedings, we have already shown that the trial was unlawful. In our petitions to the court, we repeatedly stated that the wiretapping orders were unlawful and that their transcripts alone cannot serve as evidence. But none of those objections were taken into consideration. There is no question that [the process] was unlawful. That’s what [Yildirim] meant when he spoke of unlawfulness. We’ve been through that from the very beginning.”

Attorney Koksal Bayraktar: “The unlawful practices we faced throughout the July 3 process is a very long story that naturally requires a very long explanation. We’ve been repeating one thing from the start: that respect for the law is our only demand. We are asking not for a pardon, but for a fair trial. The legal process was marred by unlawful practices.”

Faik Isik, another member of Yildirim’s defense team and a former lawyer for Erdogan, described the match-fixing case as a plot hatched by the Gulen community. “If the case had been only about soccer and sports, it would have been handled by sports tribunals,” he said. “Certain people in the police and judiciary, hunkering down behind the state’s authority and offices, have come to abuse the 'gang' and 'illegal organization' concepts.”

Victims of arbitrary practices

Isik recalled the match-fixing and betting scandal in Germany, in which the German police and judiciary uncovered a large international network and convicted scores of suspects, among them four Turks. He said, “About 90 Turks were then put on trial in the Turkish leg of the case. The German judiciary did not tag the case — known as the 'Bochum Trial' — as a 'gang' case. They handled it as a criminal case with multiple perpetrators and suspects, making a judgment accordingly. But in Turkey, specially connected people within the police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy have labeled the chief of general staff and high-ranking officers as 'an armed gang.' [These soldiers] are the victim of the arbitrary practices of a group which is clearly guided by Gulen’s sermons and advice.”

Light-hearted jokes

Isik underlined that both high- and low-ranking policemen of the same Gulenist team, in collaboration with prosecutors and judges, have formed “armed gangs” recklessly committing crimes in the judicial system. “This team, using its members’ capacity as judges and prosecutors, made possible the arrests and the pre-detention orders for technical surveillance and wiretapping,” he says. “They were able to sustain the string of legal violations throughout the trials, protected by their extensions in the HSYK [Higher Board of Judges and Prosecutors].”

Isik claimed that on one occasion, the officials reportedly joked to each other about “who will arrest the highest-ranking commander” while playing a board game. “With its more than 20 million supporters, Fenerbahce is a community of much deeper traditions than the Gulen community to which those people belong,” Isik says. “The person who launched the probe against Yildirim had even invited him to inaugurate a kebab shop. Many prosecutors and judges in this group are eager to socialize with prominent people. No one is asking how they are able to pay monthly membership fees of $5,000. But there are certainly people who would ascertain how those individuals gained favors at foreign consulate receptions and various trips and activities. Complaints submitted on this issue have all been blocked at the HSYK.”

Isik, whom I contacted personally for this article, believes that the problem goes far beyond the Yildirim affair. In his view, the Turkish state has been invaded by the Gulen movement, an argument many liberal analysts share. The Gulenists, the argument goes, are seeking to encage both political and business quarters, using their clout in the police, the judiciary and the HSYK. Hundreds of millions of dollars are said to have been transferred as donations to the Gulen network in this fashion. Isik pointed out that businesspeople who refuse to kowtow to the Gulen community face investigations and trials that disqualify them from public tenders. Drawing attention to the timing of the Appeals Court ruling, he said, “Their tactics are not new; that’s their method of pressuring the government. They have already used this tactic in the Fenerbahce case. As soon as it became obvious that amendments would be made in Law No. 6222, which had led to Yildirim’s unfair arrest, they instantly came up with the charge sheet.”

Speaking at Fenerbahce’s Higher Council Board Jan. 26, Yildirim stressed that Turkey had only one government — that of the Republic of Turkey — and that no other state or parallel state could be allowed to exist. He said, “Now that even the prime minister has spoken of being 'set up,' any further talk is meaningless. I’m not bidding farewell; I’m here. I was not going to make a speech, but I’d like to tell you this: You’ll all see it — we didn’t fix any matches. We are in the grips of a political affair. We see today the point this political affair has reached. Aziz Yildirim stands out because he upholds the republic.”

Yildirim stressed he had kept the club off-limits to politics over the past 16 years. “Our only guilt is to be followers of Ataturk; we have committed no other crime. A struggle is underway, a struggle between the parallel state and the regular state. The Republic of Turkey government is Turkey’s only government. No other state or parallel state can be allowed to exist, or this state will collapse. No one should let this happen,” he said. “To speak of what they did to us is futile at the current stage. Now that the prime minister himself has spoken of a setup after all we have been through for three years, any further talk is meaningless.”

Those who claim to be the victims of the Gulenist-controlled Turkish justice system have become a  majority in recent days. The public’s prevailing belief is that the judiciary is dominated by a gang that fabricates evidence to throw people in jail. The alarm bells are ringing for Turkey.

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