Leaked photos from the confidential archives of a Turkish foundation run by the family of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have revealed the foundation’s jihadist boot camps that target young people in Turkey and the Turkish diaspora in Europe and the US.
The photos include young men posing under a jihadist banner, receiving lectures from clerics and making a hand sign with one index finger pointing upwards, similar to that of jihadists in the al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) groups.
The boot camps are organized by the Turkey Youth Foundation (Türkiye Gençlik Vakfı, TÜGVA), led by the president’s 40-year-old son Necmettin Bilal Erdoğan. The foundation works closely with Turkey’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MIT) and the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The pictures were filed under a folder named “Action Camp” (Aksiyon Kampi) and include 12 photos that were archived for internal circulation. They were submitted to the members of the board of directors, which means the activity was approved by the foundation’s top management.
In addition to photos, documents, memos and internal communiqués that were also leaked from the foundation’s archives tell the tale of the ambitions of the Turkish president and his son to train young Islamists to mobilize for political goals in Turkey and abroad. Most of the leaked documents bear the signature of Mahmut Emin Yalçınkaya, the secretary to Ismail Emanet, the then-president of TÜGVA who now serves as a member of the foundation’s High Advisory Board. The authenticity of the documents, memos and other materials were verified by Enes Eminoğlu, the current head of TÜGVA, who admitted that someone from inside had leaked them.
In several pictures, young men were photographed under a banner that quoted a verse from the Quran that is often misinterpreted by armed jihadists as justifying their violent campaign. Verse 78 from Surah al-Hajj says, “Wage jihad for the sake of Allah … He has chosen you.”
Another picture shows young men around a campfire with their fingers pointing up in the air. The ceremony is led by a bearded cleric wearing a prayer cap. One photo shows 30 young men listening to Muslim clerics in an open-air sermon.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that one of the clerics invited to a TÜGVA camp was Nurettin (also Nureddin) Yıldız, a jihadist and anti-Semitic Turkish cleric who has called for armed jihad. Yıldız describes democracy as a system for infidels and says it can only be used as a means of deception to rise to power. He is the man who radicalized the young jihadist police officer who assassinated Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov in December 2016. Yet the government protected him from prosecution for his role as an accessory to murder.
Using the NGO run by his son as well as other aligned groups, President Erdoğan has set out to make an Islamist generation out of the young people in Turkey. The groups run schools and dormitories in Turkey, have contracts with the government to deliver sermons in pubic schools and distribute Islamist books that advocate violence.
TÜGVA not only tries to attract young Turks in Turkey and diaspora communities around the world but also Muslims of non-Turkish origin. The leaked data from the foundation listed the names of many students from non-Turkish backgrounds staying at facilities run by TÜGVA and receiving reimbursement for their expenses.
In the background of the photos, banners indicated that the boot camps are held at a facility owned or operated by Istanbul’s Tuzla Municipality, a stronghold of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The district has been governed by AKP Mayor Şadi Yazıcı since 2009. He personally attended these camps and delivered speeches to the participants.
The leaked documents, memos and communiqués also indicated that the foundation worked closely with Turkish jihadist charity the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), which helped both al-Qaeda and ISIS. In many cases, a reference from the IHH played a significant role in landing government jobs as revealed in the leaked emails of Erdoğan’s son in-law Berat Albayrak in the fall of 2016.
Nordic Monitor previously reported how TÜGVA’s partner IHH networked with Indian extremist and militant Islamist organization the Popular Front of India (PFI) as part of the Turkish government’s outreach to Muslim communities in the Southeast Asia region. Two key leaders of the PFI, E. M. Abdul Rahiman and Prof. P. Koya, members of the National Executive Council of the PFI, were privately hosted in Istanbul by the IHH in October 2018.