The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, deplores the fact that although the European publication Modern Diplomacy describes itself as “a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia,” its editorial standards are apparently so low that it has published an article, “How Fethullah Gulen’s Followers Interfere in Church Affairs,” by the Ukrainian journalist Nadia Bazuk, that is a transparent piece of propaganda, and a prime example of Russian collusion with Turkish nationalists to discredit the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The article offers an elaborate, detailed and false scenario claiming that the Fethullah Gulen organization, which the Erdogan government in Turkey classifies as a terrorist group, is collaborating with, and simultaneously manipulating, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in order to expand its own influence in Ukraine — a prospect that would be of grave concern to Russian officials. There are, it says, “close ties between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church in Turkey and Fethullah Gulen,” and claims that the Gulenist organization has a role in discussions on the possibility of granting autocephaly (independence) to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was a focus of the April 9 meeting at the Phanar between His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
“In case Patriarch Bartholomew bestows autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church,” Bazuk writes, “Gulenists will preserve and expand their influence in Ukraine through the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s structures and the newly-created Single Orthodox Church. The religious organization will require staff, and it’s a perfect moment to promote their own candidates.” This claim makes no sense, as the Fethullah Gulen organization is Islamic, and so its members would never seek to staff the offices of a Christian Church; nor would the Gulenists put forth candidates for those offices.
The idea that Gulenists and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are scheming together to expand their influence in Ukraine has all the marks of a conspiracy theory invented in Russia in order to aid its ally, the Erdogan government, against two of its longtime targets, and to further the Russian and Turkish nationalists campaign to undermine the dignity and reputation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
These efforts have been going on for years. In 2016, the Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol wrote in Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News about an earlier attempt to do this, in words that apply all the more now. Akyol described the false charges as “Russian propaganda” and wrote that one of the intentions of these charges “seems to be demonizing the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” which would have the effect of making its life in Turkey “more difficult.” Akyol further noted: “I also sense an intra-Orthodox tension here, as it is no secret that the Russian Orthodox Church has a longtime grudge against the Patriarchate of Constantinople.”
The Order calls upon Modern Diplomacy to withdraw and repudiate this specious article, and to publish a correction including this statement. A reputable publication should not stoop to retailing propaganda that furthers Russian machinations against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and we look forward to this wrong being rectified. The claim of “ties” between the Gulenists and the Ecumenical Patriarchate is patently false, as none exists or ever existed.
Anthony J. Limberakis, MD