A board member of the jihadist-linked Maarif Foundation, a Turkish-government-funded entity, was elected to a Council of Europe body, Nordic Monitor has learned.
Aşkın Asan, a politician close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family and a member of several organizations conducting projects in line with the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) political Islamist ideology, was elected to the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) in April 2019.
GREVIO is an independent expert body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). In cases where action is required to prevent a serious, massive or persistent pattern of any act of violence covered by the convention, GREVIO can initiate special inquiry procedures.
Asan is currently an executive board member of the Maarif Foundation, which is owned by the government and serves as the Erdoğan regime’s arm abroad in providing educational services. She is responsible for its initiatives in North and South America and attends ceremonies at schools affiliated with the organization as a representative of the Turkish government. Furthermore, Asan, who studied theology in Saudi Arabia and taught religious education models in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, contributes to the Kadem Foundation, founded by President Erdogan’s daughter Sumeyye Erdoğan. According to the school’s webpage, she still serves as the principal of a public religious school known as an imam-hatip named after the president’s mother, Tenzile Erdoğan.
After the announcement of her candidacy for the CoE expert group, 19 pro-Erdoğan organizations including the Maarif Foundation, Kadem and Ensar published a joint declaration on February 19 supporting her nomination. In 2016 Turkey was shocked by the news that a teacher in Karaman province had sexually abused 45 children. The incident was claimed to have taken place when the boys were staying at a dormitory operated by the Ensar Foundation. Ensar provides religious education, scholarships and accommodations for students across Turkey.
GREVIO member Asan is also an active social media user and tweets in English (@AsanAskin) and Turkish (@Askinasan) via separate Twitter accounts. While her posts in English focus on GREVIO-related issues in a formal tone of voice, tweets in Turkish are embellished with Islamist and nationalist rhetoric.
According to Rule 2 of Resolution CM (2014)43, members of GREVIO shall be chosen from among persons of “high moral character, known for their recognised competence in the fields of human rights, gender equality, violence against women and domestic violence, assistance to and protection of victims.” Moreover, Rule 3 underlines that members “shall sit in their individual capacity and be independent and impartial in the exercise of their functions and shall take no instructions from any government, organisation or person on how to perform their duties.” It is clear that states which are party to the convention failed to consider her links to the Erdoğan regime as threats to her independence and objectivity despite the aforementioned rules.
In addition to building mosques and launching cultural centers and development offices that have no real purpose other than aiding in the proselytizing efforts of Turkish Islamists, Erdoğan has created a giant educational foundation called Maarif with a special law he pushed through parliament in June 2016. Funds and resources were generously provided from the Treasury at the expense of taxpayers, while diplomatic clout was wielded by the foundation’s chief executives, who apparently have close connections to controversial Islamist groups in Turkey. The management structure of the foundation is entirely controlled by Erdoğan.
İsmet Yılmaz, the education minister in 2016, described the initiative as proof of the Turkish state’s ambition to project greater power in the world and maintained that Turkey follows in British and American footsteps in that sense. He said the foundation would operate in places from “the Balkans to Eastern Turkistan [China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] and from Somalia to Canada.” The Erdoğan government has been trying to pressure foreign governments to hand over schools affiliated with Erdogan’s arch-foe, Fethullah Gülen, to the Maarif Foundation.
Asan serves on the academic council of Kadem, which is attempting to construct a new gender discourse, one that rejects feminism and gender equality. The organization’s president Saliha Okur Gümrükçüoğlu previously said the term “gender equality” is not understood properly in Turkey and that Kadem prefers the term “gender justice” since gender equality “failed to reflect the wealth of differences between women and men.” Kadem targets organizations working on gender equality and accuses them of “promoting homosexuality.”
Political Islamists recently launched a campaign against the Istanbul Convention and a domestic law (no 6284) combating violence against women, saying they empower LGBTI groups and aim to destroy the institution of the family. In this regard Erdoğan said in a meeting in June 2019 that the Istanbul Convention was not binding, according to the Turkish press.
GREVIO published its first report on Turkey in 2018, which raised serious concerns related to the persistence of deep-seated, restrictive and stereotyped views of women’s roles that continue to pervade Turkish society, including at the highest political and public levels, and which foment violence against women.
Other elected members of GREVIO are Iris Luarasi (Albanian), Françoise Brie (French), Helena Leitao (Portuguese), Biljana Brankovic (Serbian), Simona Lanzoni (Italian), Marie-Claude Hofner (Suiss), Ivo Holc (Slovenian), Maria Andriani Kostopoulou (Greek) and Marceline Naudi (Maltese). The mandate of new experts group started in June 2019.
Maarif is run by Islamist figures who have been specially selected by Erdoğan. The deputy chairman of the board of trustees, Orman Nuri Kabaktepe, is a long-time Islamist politician who helped groom the younger generation in Turkey in political Islamist ideology. He is effectively running the organization, although he is the number two at Maarif on paper. He was head of the youth branches in the religious Felicity (Saadet) Party, the Turkish equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood that was established by the late Necmettin Erbakan, the founding father of political Islam in Turkey.
He is aligned with an NGO called the Social Fabric Foundation (Sosyal Doku Vakfı), which is run by jihadist cleric Nureddin (or Nurettin) Yıldız, a radical imam who is close to the Turkish president. Nureddin openly advocates armed jihad, describes democracy as a system for infidels and says it can only be used as a means of deception to rise to power. Yıldız is the man who radicalized the young al-Nusra-affiliated police officer who assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey in December 2016.
Another organization that Kabaktepe works closely with is Turkey’s highly controversial charity group, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), a pro-government Islamist organization that was accused of smuggling arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria and Libya and acts as a revolving door for installing religious fanatics and zealots in government jobs with the help of the Turkish president’s family enterprise. The IHH works with the Turkish intelligence agency and is a tool in the hands of the Erdoğan government.