Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Chairman Efkan Ala, who runs the Turkish ruling party’s overseas operations, continues to lead party workshops for which diplomatic venues are allocated, while Turkish diplomats treat Ala as a senior state official on official business despite the fact that he has no formal duties. Nordic Monitor has found that party members’ gatherings are deliberately presented by the visiting delegation as if they are public meetings with Turkish citizens living in the host country; however, the Union of International Democrats (UID), the European branch of the AKP, does not hide the fact that the events are party gatherings with NGOs affiliated with the AKP.
Ala tweeted on November 13: “We met with Turkish NGOs in France. We discussed the situation of Muslims living in Europe, their problems and solutions.”
However, the same event was announced by the UID in a tweet including almost the same images: “UID France workshop was kicked off in Strasbourg with the participation AKP Foreign Relations President @efkanala, İstanbul Deputy @SirakayaZafer, AKP head of Political Legal Affairs @omerserdarcomtr and Strasbourg Consul General Muzaffer Rami Şaylıman.” The UID, which had not specified the names of the diplomats who attended a similar meeting in the past, did not hesitate to mention Şaylıman this time.
The workshop was held in a conference room belonging to the controversial Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), which runs hundreds of mosques tied to Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which provides imams. Nordic Monitor has learned that communication tactics and strategies were also discussed, particularly as regards social media in addition to the evaluation of the UID’s recent activities in France. The people UID members can deal with on social media were classified into categories mostly used by political parties: opponent, critic, sympathizer, member, staff, qualified staff and strategic staff (think tank). UID members are urged not to lose time with opponents and critics. UID representatives previously told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in İstanbul last October that they were not successful enough on social media and that government opponents were more effective. Erdoğan suggested they be more aggressive and not use defensive language.
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.
Nordic Monitor previously reported Ala and his team met with party members at Turkish embassies and organized similar events in The Hague and Brussels last month.
In the not-so-distant past, Turkey’s diplomatic missions distanced themselves from domestic politics, and political appointees as ambassadors were the exception rather than the rule. 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.
A former diplomat, İmdat Öner, who lost his job at the foreign ministry along with tens of thousands of civil servants as part of a ruthless witch-hunt following an abortive coup in Turkey in 2016, tweeted about a scandal that involved ruling party members who illegally helped a number of people get service passports that allow visa-free travel to European countries, stating that Turkish diplomatic missions had turned into AKP organizations and that diplomats had voluntarily become party officials without any coercion by the government.