The Ismail-Aga community is considered to be one of the largest orthodox Sunni communities in Turkey. It preaches against laicism, i.e. the separation of state and religion, on which Turkish raison d’état is originally based. The female members must cover themselves, the male wear beards. The Ismail-Aga community maintains its own Quran schools and dormitories. It was founded in 1980 by Imam Mahmut Ustaosmanoglu, who then ran it for 42 years. When he died, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several ministers of the AKP attended his funeral, women were expressly forbidden to attend.
In Istanbul, a leading functionary of the organization was even on trial: the daughter of the founder of the Hiranur Foundation, which belongs to Ismail-Aga, has reported her father because he is said to have forced her into marriage to an imam of the sect in 2002 when she was six and thus subjected her to sexual abuse. It was about a so-called imam marriage, which is not officially recognized but not unusual. Although the complaint was made in 2020, Yusuf Z. and the now ex-husband were arrested after a newspaper critical of the government made the case public. The reluctance of the judiciary may have to do with the sect’s close relationship to power.
And their influence is also noticeable beyond Turkey’s borders: German security authorities keep an eye on the Ismail-Aga community, and security agencies accuse them of “propagating the comprehensive validity of the Sharia.” German constitutional protection officers have been warning of this global organization for a long time: the Turkish Ismail-Aga community is propagating the introduction of Sharia, considers democracy to be a thing for “infidels” and rejects equal rights for women.
A particularly influential Islamist group was the Gülen movement. How great their social power actually was only became public knowledge after the failed military coup in 2016, so to speak via a detour: because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed his former close confidant Fethullah Gülen and his supporters for the attempted coup, he let them out of everyone remove offices. In the ministries, bureaucracy and the judiciary, more than 100,000 employees were then missing.
Observers claim that these gaps were partly filled with members of the Ismail-Aga community. In fact, many people who were educated in the Ismail Aga community now work in the Turkish judiciary, police, armed forces and ministry of education.
At the beginning of the year it became known that EU money was flowing to the Islamist organization from Turkey. The EU Commission awarded the Ismail-Aga youth organization “Yavuz Sultan Selim” 31,455 euros from the “Erasmus+” program last year. This funded workshops on discrimination against Muslims that ran until May 2023.
The Brussels authorities did not take their own rules seriously. Because these stipulate that recipients of EU funds must comply with the values enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. After hearing about the EU funding from civil society, members of the EU Parliament asked the responsible EU Commission on what grounds such an organization, which violates the principles of fundamental rights, could receive funds from Brussels.
In the Commission’s response, available to MENA Research Center, it “places great importance on beneficiaries of EU funds respecting EU values as set out in the Treaty on European Union and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.” Apparently, Brussels has violated its obligation to check which organizations receive public funds. The Commission did not even ask what the sphere of activity of the institution that received the funding is. According to the Commission, “the Turkish National Agency has selected the project carried out by ‘Yavuz Sultan Selim’ according to the procedures of the Erasmus+ program and its guide; the Commission has delegated the implementation of the budget to the National Agencies, which then are responsible for conducting a fair and transparent selection process for the beneficiaries in their respective countries (indirect management) The project received a grant of EUR 31,455 under Erasmus+ youth activities to give young people the opportunity to meet, cultural and get to know civic action. In the course of the project, workshops for young women and men were organized on the topic “Discrimination of Muslims on the Internet”. The activities ended on May 31, 2023.”
As a result of public pressure, also thanks to the EU Parliament, the funds already paid out are now being reclaimed from the recipient. “The Commission has already suspended funding for this project and initiated procedures to recover funds that have been paid out,” said the Brussels authority.
In the past, the European Union, too, has violated EU regulations by awarding third-party funds via organizations in the partner country. For example, the so-called “Islamophobia Report” was co-financed by the EU for years, although the project publisher is an institution close to the Turkish AKP under President Erdogan. Here, too, the reaction was only to pressure from the EU Parliament and civil society, and project funding for the editor of the report, the controversial political scientist Fared Hafez, was stopped.
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