A foundation run by the family of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan secretly drafted a plan in 2017 to lure German-born Turks to Turkish government jobs amid a heated row with Berlin after German authorities banned rallies planned by Turkish ministers, citing security concerns.
According to a recently leaked document from the archives of the Turkey Youth Foundation (Türkiye Gençlik Vakfı, TÜGVA), led by the president’s son Bilal Erdoğan, the group discussed ideas on how to respond to the German government, which had restricted Erdoğan’s divisive political campaign that targeted the diaspora in Germany.
“Highlighting the crisis with Germany in the ‘YES’ campaign” was listed in the document as one of the agenda points that were discussed at a TÜGVA board meeting on March 7, 2017. At the time Erdoğan and his associates were asking voters in Turkey and diaspora communities to approve the adoption of a constitutional referendum that changed Turkey’s system of governance from a parliamentary system to an “imperial” presidency, giving Erdoğan unchecked presidential powers.
At the time Erdoğan publicly called German leaders Nazis and fascists and asked Turks and Muslims in Germany not to vote for German Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming elections. Turkish media, which is under the control of the Erdoğan government, ran anti-German headlines and published a photo of Merkel portrayed as Hitler with a fake mustache.
“The recruitment of those [Turks] who completed their education in Germany and other countries for employment in Turkey through special courses, interviews, exams and other means” was another agenda item. It added that those who had completed undergraduate or graduate studies in Germany in particular must be placed in the government and private institutions in Turkey.
Leaked document listing the agenda items for the board meeting in 2017:Turgev_Germany
The goal appears to have been an influence operation by TÜGVA, which wanted to lure Germans of Turkish descent to Turkey and expand its clandestine operations in German territory including intelligence gathering and surveillance activities. Some of the candidates would probably be placed in the intelligence branches of the Turkish government for easy access and infiltration into German society.
Nordic Monitor previously reported on a leaked secret TÜGVA memo that revealed the foundation’s intelligence-gathering plans in close coordination with Turkey’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MIT).
The three-page memo listed not only policy actions but also practical work the foundation and associated entities must undertake to help support Erdoğan’s oppressive government. The proposals included intelligence gathering and surveillance in foreign countries by TÜGVA and aligned associations that work under the cover of nongovernmental organizations.
The agenda also included an item about TÜGVA’s relations with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by President Erdoğan, confirming that it was coordinating its actions with the ruling party.
An item listed as the 24th discussion point mentioned a communiqué from BİMER (Prime Ministry Communications Center), which functioned as a hub for often anonymous complaints filed against government critics, opponents and dissidents. Many people in Turkey were prosecuted, tried and convicted because of anonymous letters sent to BİMER by partisans and Erdoğan supporters. The Turkish government encouraged its base to file anonymous complaints and inform on critics using the BİMER system. It was replaced by CİMER (Presidential Communications Center, or Cumhurbaşkanlığı İletişim Merkezi in Turkish) after the 2017 referendum.
At the time the document was prepared, İsmail Emanet, a close friend of Erdoğan’s son Bilal, was the president of TÜGVA. He now serves as a member of the foundation’s High Advisory Board along with Bilal. The Word document was prepared by Mahmut Emin Yalçınkaya, Emanet’s secretary.
The authenticity of the document was verified by Enes Eminoğlu, the current head of TÜGVA, who admitted that someone from inside had leaked the document.
The Erdoğan government’s intelligence gathering and profiling of critics and their organizations in Germany, which was unprecedented in scale and intensity, irritated the German government.
In 2015 Germany’s federal attorney general charged Muhammet Taha Gergerlioğlu, a close advisor of Erdoğan and a MIT operative, with espionage because he and two of his associates collected information on people of Turkish origin living in Germany who were critical of the Turkish government. Gergerlioğlu was later released as part of a political bargain between Turkey and Germany.
In 2017 an investigative report by German police linked Ankara to a boxing gang in Germany accused of going after opponents of the Turkish government. According to the investigation former lawmaker and Erdoğan’s long-time friend Metin Külünk provided money to the boxing gang, Osmanen Germania, in Germany to buy weapons, organize protests and target critics of the Erdoğan government, German media reported.
Police investigations also suggested Osmanen Germania had contact with the Cologne-based Union of International Democrats (UID, formerly UETD), an organization that functions as a foreign interest group on behalf of the Erdoğan government abroad.