Nordic Monitor has learned that Turkey’s ruling party officials met with party members at Turkish diplomatic missions in Europe and that ambassadors organized gatherings with pro-government NGOs in an example of Turkey’s transformation into a “party-state.”
On October 13 ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Chairman Efkan Ala, who runs the party’s overseas operations, announced on Twitter that he had met with the Turkish press at the Turkish Embassy in The Hague. It was not specified why Ala, who has no official duties, held this meeting at a diplomatic mission.
However, a detail that Ala omitted in his tweet was put on the AKP’s official website, which states that Ala actually met with representatives of the Union of International Democrats (UID), the European organization of the AKP. The fact that Ala failed to mention was that he had a meeting with the party members at the embassy.
Moreover, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed UID officials via Ala’s phone. Ambassador Saban Dişli also attended the party meeting but preferred not to take part in post-meeting photo ops. Dişli, a non-career diplomat and a former politician and banker, was Erdoğan’s political appointee to the Netherlands in 2018 after secret bank accounts and investments in the country allegedly belonging to the families of President Erdoğan and former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım were exposed.
After meeting with party members, Ala hosted another meeting at the embassy, announcing that he met with Turkish NGOs. However, they were in fact organizations close to the AKP. The UID was also involved in this meeting. The embassy’s social media accounts did not include any of Ala’s activities at the embassy.
Similarly, Ala had met with mostly pro-government NGO representatives at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels on October 12. Needless to say, the UID was also present at this meeting. The embassy did not issue an official statement about the gathering.
The UID is often described as the long arm of President Erdoğan in Europe for mobilizing the Turkish and Muslim diasporas for the goals of political Islamists back in Turkey. Turkish government agencies, particularly the Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency (TİKA) and the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), are mobilizing their resources to support the UID. In addition, religious associations funded by Turkey including the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), which is run by the Erdoğan family, have close relations with the UID. In documents that were exposed by journalist Metin Cihan last month, TÜGVA’s operations abroad using state facilities were revealed. The foundation is believed to be involved in intelligence operations abroad.
Erdoğan last month hosted a delegation from the UID at Dolmabahçe Palace in İstanbul. He instructed UID members to be more aggressive and active, telling them, “Don’t defend, attack, explain our cause!” Erdoğan also promised that Turkish state institutions would provide them increased assistance.
It would be unrealistic to expect diplomatic missions would provide equal service to all Turkish citizens abroad given the fact that state institutions have already turned into ruling party organizations at home. In the not-so-distant past Turkey’s diplomatic missions distanced themselves from domestic politics, and political appointees as ambassadors were the exception. It was uncommon for ambassadors to work as party representatives. An important note is that diplomats who started working for the Turkish Foreign Ministry long before the AKP came to power and are known for their staunchly secular world views now work in harmony with the Islamist AKP in order to be promoted and not be appointed to desk jobs. They feel no discomfort acting like party officials to benefit politicians.