Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Today's Zaman 



Is Turkey supporting radical Islamists?

I announced in my previous column that the Culture, Education and Training Association (AKEA) and 16 other foundations and associations in Kosovo which the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) supported were shut down because of allegations that they were affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Nusra. I continue to receive reactions from Islamists in Turkey to this column and I will respond to these reactions in my next column. But allow me to first elaborate further on the connection between TİKA and AKEA based on new information. TİKA's official report for 2009 confirms it equipped the main headquarters of AKEA and contributed to the renovation of the building. TİKA's support for AKEA is not limited to this, but I believe this example is sufficient to prove support.

So why does TİKA support institutions that are kept under constant surveillance because of their radical Islamist orientation and why does it put Turkey under the spotlight as if there are no other humanitarian relief organizations? The answer to this question lies in the intelligence reports prepared by Kosovo and Turkish and Western agencies. The reports basically say: The image that Kosovo imports jihadists disturbs the people particularly because of its detrimental effect on its cause to gain further legitimacy in the international arena. Kosovar authorities took action because the number of Kosovars in ISIL exceeds 160 and some of them serve as heads and leaders in the organization despite the fact that there is little inclination towards and interest in political Islam in the country (the two political Islamist parties receive only 3 percent of the vote).

In addition, both the opposition and the government are acting jointly in this case because a Kosovar ISIL militant, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, was shown on his Facebook account beheading an “infidel,” another Kosovar killed Turkish troops whom he referred to as infidels and the son of Naim Ternava, the head of the Kosovar Islamic Union, called for support to the jihad in Syria.
As I noted in my previous column, the institutions shut down by the Kosovar authorities include AKEA and the Kosovo branch of the Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi Foundation. AKEA, formerly known as Urtesia (Wisdom) Culture and Solidarity Association, is an institution unofficially founded by Husamedin Abazi in 1997 while he was a student of Islamic studies in Riyadh; the association was then formally instituted in 1999 in Kosovo. Abazi was an ardent member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Riyadh who was authorized to establish a branch in Kosovo.

Contrary to the allegations coming from Islamists in Turkey, AKEA is an institution which was expelled by the Kosovar UN administration in the aftermath of 9/11 because it was an al-Qaeda affiliate and received support from Saudi authorities. In other words, al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have supported AKEA since the beginning. In Turkey, on the other hand, it has been supported by the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH). The Turkish government reportedly first interacted with AKEA members in 1999. A group of 33 who constituted the core of AKEA flew from İstanbul to Macedonia in March 1999 to join the war in Kosovo. The group was barred entry by the Macedonian authorities and had to return to İstanbul. They were settled by the Turkish authorities as refugees in the Kırklareli Gaziosmanpaşa Guest House. The group, supported by İHH, reorganized itself; it even seized control of the camp administration. The group was frequently visited by its leader, Abazi, and visitors from Egypt.

The gendarmerie also followed the activities of the group; it confiscated equipment belonging to the group, including computers, in a raid. They were taken to Albania under the coordination of a civil society group which is still influential in shaping the foreign policy of the current Turkish government without being deported as they held the status of refugees. Owing to financial aid by the same civil society group, they established a publishing house, FOCUS-A, after the war. They sponsored joint activities with LOGOS, a sister organization administered by Adnan Ismaili in Macedonia, and organized youth camps. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the currently prime minister of Turkey, paid visits to the camps in 1999, 2000 and 2001. On one of these visits, Abazi, in a sermon, referred to Sufi orders and religious communities in Turkey as the mother of distorted and perverted ideas; the current prime minister remained silent on this allegation.

AKEA translated Davutoğlu's “Stratejik Derinlik” (Strategic Depth) into Albanian; it was published by FOCUS-A. Davutoğlu, of course, extended his support. First a new building was constructed in Arberia/Dragodan, an upscale neighborhood of Prishtine under TİKA sponsorship. Kürşat Mamat, who currently serves like a project coordinator of İHH but is actually the TİKA coordinator in Palestine and was TİKA Kosovo coordinator at the time, took care of this project; he never took seriously warnings by Kosovar intelligence and the Turkish police and military authorities. AKEA's projects were later supported in different forms.

In 2012, Davutoğlu, the Turkish foreign minister at the time, expressed strong support in Kosovo when he joined a ceremony marking the opening of the Yunus Emre Foundation; it was Ramadan; the official program included an iftar with the participation of Kosovar and Turkish authorities; but he broke his fast at the AKEA office while the guests were waiting in another place for the official program. Rumors have it AKEA received $1.5 million in financial support from Murat Ülker to open a madrasah in Kosovo with the support of Bilal Erdoğan in early 2013. However, despite intense efforts, Prime Minister Hashim Thaqi considered warnings by Kosovar and Western intelligence agencies and so the madrasah was not opened.

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