A United Nations committee deferred action on recommending Turkey’s Ensar Foundation, caught up in a child sexual abuse scandal in 2016, and the Turkey Diyanet Foundation (Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı , TDV) for special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) during its 2020 regular session.
The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, a standing body of the ECOSOC, is tasked with considering the applications of NGOs for consultative status with the UN and makes recommendations to the ECOSOC, which can accept or decline a recommendation. It reports directly to the ECOSOC, and the two reports of its annual regular session at the end of January and resumed session in May include draft resolutions or decisions on matters calling for action by the council.
The committee deferred action on the application of the Ensar Foundation as the representative of Greece reiterated a request for details on its private sector funding. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan runs Ensar through his son Bilal Erdoğan and its founder Hayrettin Karaman, a leading theologian and chief fatwa (religious edict) giver for Turkey’s repressive regime.
In addition to its public sources, Ensar is funded by companies having close links to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). According to recent Turkish media reports, the Turkish Red Crescent confirmed a donation of $7.925 million to Ensar. Turkish media revealed documents confirming that Başkentgaz, Turkey’s second largest gas distribution company based in Ankara and owned by Torunlar Holding, transferred the amount to the Turkish Red Crescent in December 2017, with consent for the organization to give the funds to the Ensar Foundation.
According to a statement issued by Ensar, the aforementioned donation to the Ensar Foundation from the Red Crescent was sent to the Turken Foundation, founded by Ensar and TÜRGEV (Turkish Youth and Education Service Foundation) in the US for a 21-storey dormitory in Manhattan. Turken, a wealthy, US-based Turkish foundation with ties to President Erdoğan, offers young American Muslims all-expense-paid trips to Turkey. TÜRGEV is also run by Erdoğan’s family members, and his family is represented by Esra Albayrak, Erdoğan’s daughter, on TÜRGEV’s executive board.
In January 2019 Istanbul’s new mayor from Turkey’s main opposition party, Ekrem İmamoğlu, exposed how pro-government foundations were funded by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. He announced the cancellation of a total of 357 million Turkish lira ($60 million) of funding that was allocated to Ensar and other NGOs controlled by Erdoğan and his family members.
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 over its poor handling of and reaction to the case after imposing a broadcast ban a bid to prevent the reporting of it. The foundation was protected by the government instead of being subject to a criminal investigation, and many government officials made statements in defense of Ensar, describing the sexual abuse scandal as an “isolated” one.
The application from the TDV was also criticized by the representative of Greece, and the TDV, a charity associated with Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), was asked for details on education and projects including sanitation and garbage collection.
The TDV was initially established as a small charity organization in 1975 by the Diyanet. Today, the foundation operates a vast number of businesses and has some 1,000 branches across Turkey. The TDV is also in charge of the government’s mosque projects outside the country and has completed projects in Albania, Russia, Germany, England, the United States, the Philippines and beyond. A company called KOMAŞ, which is 99.45 percent owned by the TDV, has built hundreds of religious dormitories and schools, mosques, hospitals and hotels since 1983.
The Diyanet is an ideological and political state apparatus tasked with spreading President Erdoğan’s political Islamist ideology both inside and outside Turkey. Under Erdoğan’s rule, the Diyanet’s remit and range of activities have expanded, and it has become an important tool in Turkish foreign policy. According to official statistics, the Diyanet manages approximately 87,000 mosques and employs around 120,000 staff members, including imams and other religious workers, all of whom are treated as civil servants with regular salaries.
Interestingly, the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (İslam Dünyası Sivil Toplum Kuruluşları Birliği, UNIW), which was founded in Istanbul under an AKP initiative in 2005, was also deferred for recommendation by the committee. UNIW was asked for details on a youth meeting and its outcome by the representative from India.
The UNIW held a conference titled “Global Conference on Israeli Apartheid: Dimensions, Repercussions and Means to Combat It” on November 29-30 2019 in Istanbul. Among other speakers, the then-chief military advisor to President Erdoğan and retired Gen. Adnan Tanriverdi delivered a speech during the opening session of the event. Tanrıverdi owns controversial military contractor SADAT, which many believe is a de facto paramilitary force loyal to Erdoğan.
Speaking to the Turkish government’s anti-Semitic, anti-Christian mouthpiece Akit TV on December 23, 2019 following a session of the International Islamic Union Congress, organized by the Strategic Research Center for Defenders of Justice (ASSAM), Tanrıverdi said Islamic countries should produce their own defense materiel and weapons among themselves, claiming one cannot defy others with the weapons of others and adding that his organization has been working to pave the way for the long-awaited mahdi (prophesied redeemer of Islam), for whom the entire Muslim world is waiting. He also expressed his conviction that a union of Muslim states would no doubt become a reality one day.
ASSAM, of which Tanrıverdi is chairman of the board, has scheduled seven annual congresses to work through the specific problems in the formation and governance of an “Islamic union.”
According to ECOSOC Resolution 31 adopted in 1996, the Committee on Non-governmental Organizations vets applications submitted by NGOs, recommending general, special or roster status on the basis of such criteria as the applicant’s mandate, governance and financial sources. Organizations enjoying general and special status can attend council meetings and issue statements, while those with general status can also speak during meetings and propose agenda items. Organizations with roster status can only attend meetings.
The committee has 19 members elected on the basis of equitable geographical representation. For the 2019-2022 period, members of the NGO committee are Bahrain, Brazil, Burundi, China, Cuba, Estonia, Eswatini (also known as Swaziland), Greece, India, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Sudan, Turkey and the United States.