Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist foundations are benefiting from the subsidiary organs of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), located in Turkey, to create additional funds and conduct projects aimed at raising a new generation loyal to the Turkish president and his radical Islamist policies.
Ensar, one of the foundations controlled by Erdoğan’s associates and his party circles, organizes the international internship programm of the OIC (OICIntern) with the support of the organization’s subsidiary and partner institutions such as the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Center (SESRIC) and the Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum (ICYF). The logo of the internship website is also very similar to the emblem of the OIC, which is the second largest intergovernmental organization after the UN with a membership of 57 states spread over four continents.
The Ensar Foundation was involved in a child abuse scandal in 2016 when a teacher at the foundation was charged with the sexual abuse of 45 young children who had been staying on the foundation’s premises in Karaman province. The Turkish government received harsh criticism from all parties over its poor handling of and reaction to the case after imposing a broadcast ban on the incident in a bid to prevent the reporting of it. It was protected by the government instead of being subject to a criminal investigation, and many government officials made statements in defense of the Ensar Foundation, describing the incident as an “isolated” one. The then-Family and Social Policies Minister Sema Ramazanoğlu said just because such an incident of child abuse happened once, the Ensar Foundation cannot be defamed because it is a foundation offering many important social services.
The Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), a diaspora agency, and the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), the leading chambers union, also contribute to the OICIntern program, which provides training and internship alternatives to students from OIC member countries. The latest steering committee meeting of the program was hosted by the Ensar Foundation, the main stakeholder of the project, in July 2019 and attended by representatives from SESRIC, ICYF, TOBB and YTB.
According to its official web page, the site was originally a capacity-building and development program for young people and connects youth from the OIC geography with a network of employers. Applications of students for the fall semester were accepted on its web page from September 2-15 September, 2019.
The first stakeholder of the programme SESRIC, operating in Ankara, is a subsidiary organ of the OIC and conducts research to develop cooperation for the socio-economic development of member countries, organizes training programs and builds statistical databases. Turkey also hosts the ICYF, the other partner of OICIntern, in İstanbul. The ICYF implements “important initiatives based on the understanding that Muslim youth should embrace the roots of the rich legacy of Islamic tradition.” The OICIntern program revealed the influence of Erdoğan on OIC institutions located in Turkey and his role on OIC projects implemented by these organizations. It is clear that Ensar, previously embroiled in a major child abuse scandal, has been upgraded to a partner organization of the OIC with the support of the Turkish government and OIC institutions controlled by the Turkish president.
In addition to international projects Ensar has become more active in education projects at the national level in recent years despite the massive child abuse scandal in 2016. A protocol was signed between the Ministry of Education and the Ensar Foundation in 2017, according to which the foundation is granted the responsibility to organize several seminars, projects and competitions aimed at supporting the educational, cultural and social development of students in 1,000 centers throughout the country. According to the protocol, members of the foundation are paid by the ministry.
The Turkish education system is gradually being taken over by radical Islamist ideology through the groups appointed and foundations run by people close to Erdoğan, serving as hubs for future political elites and creating a network within Turkey’s Islamic community. An important criterion for the new generation has become their loyalty to Erdogan’s rule, and other religious groups that are disloyal to Erdoğan’s government are accused of criminal activity.
President Erdoğan rules the Ensar Foundation through his son Bilal Erdoğan and its founder Hayrettin Karaman, a leading theologian and chief fatwa (religious edict) giver for Turkey’s repressive regime.
İsmail Cenk Dilberoğlu, the president of Ensar, and Bilal Erdoğan are buddies from when the two attended an imam-hatip religious school. Bilal Erdoğan is a frequent visitor and keynote speaker at Ensar events and once he said the person he talks to the most after his wife is Dilberoğlu.
Karaman promoted Erdogan as the caliph of the Muslim ummah, and he has pushed the idea of absolute obedience to the Erdoğan regime for Muslims. He argued that “the presidential system is like the Islamic caliphate system in which the people elect the president, then all pledge allegiance to him,” and wrote that voting “yes,” meaning approval of the new system, was a religious obligation (farz) for all Muslims. Erdoğan banked on Karaman’s support to fight major corruption investigations in 2013. He wrote that corruption is not stealing and warned religious people to be cautious because they will be held responsible in the afterlife for every word spoken. Perhaps the most provocative statement he made as a cleric was when he was perceived as approving of extrajudicial killings that amounted to eliminating Erdoğan’s political rivals. Karaman is in fact a Turkish version of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who endorsed suicide bombings and armed rebellion in Syria.
Nureddin Yıldız, Abdülmetin Balkanlıoğlu and İhsan Şenocak are some other jihadist clerics who have been close to the Ensar Foundation. Yıldız 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.
Ensar itself and radical Turkish clerics who endorse Erdoğan help fuel hostility in Turkey against the president’s critics and opponents, justifying the torture and ill treatment of innocent people who are merely exercising their right to dissent in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. At a rally held in front of Erdoğan’s house in Istanbul, Balkanlıoğlu publicly said that the assets seized from the Gülen movement, a civic group that has been active in education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and charity work in many countries, were spoils of war for Muslims to enjoy. Balkanlıoğlu, who died in 2018, had links to jihadist groups in Syria and advocated the view that Muslims in Syria were battling the US, Russia and China and urged them to martyr themselves as part of the jihad. Furthermore, Şenocak issued a “fatwa” on July 21, four days after the coup attempt, via Twitter and urged security authorities to “behead traitors.”
Due to their fatwas, the Turkish regime’s Islamist police did not hesitate to torture tens of thousands of people in detention centers, while Islamist judges ruled for the plunder of assets belonging to Erdoğan critics. After the coup attempt, the assets of the Gülen movement such as schools, universities, media outlets, companies and apartment buildings were confiscated or stolen by Ensar and other foundations controlled by Erdoğan.