The Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) has announced a training program called the “US-Canada Diaspora Advocacy Academy” that will take place in the US state of Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C., between September 25 and 29.
According to the presidency, the Diaspora Advocacy Academy aims “to increase the awareness of successful Turkish youth about the US and Canadian democracies so that they become more cognisant of their rights and learn how to convey their concerns, aspirations, and expectations to their local, regional, and national leaders.”
Nordic Monitor previously reported that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) recruited spies from diaspora communities in Europe, using nongovernmental organizations to reach out to candidates. According to a well-placed government insider, MIT planted operatives in several key government agencies that deal with Turks and non-Turkish Muslim communities abroad to run the vetting and recruitment program.
A whistleblower also told Nordic Monitor that the regulations were designed to bypass the standard recruitment process for employment in government jobs for such candidates. “We saw some people hired on a temporary contract basis by the YTB and TİKA [Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency], but they were later shipped to the spy agency,” the source said.
The YTB’s training program will include a number of seminars on the political institutions of the US and Canada, their foreign and domestic policy formation processes and matters concerning the Turkish-American and Turkish-Canadian communities. The participants are also expected to visit the White House, the US Congress, the World Bank, the IMF and the US Department of State according to the official announcement on the presidency’s website.
Nordic Monitor has learned that 30 people will be admitted to the program, which was widely announced by pro-Turkish government media outlets in the US.
Turkish or dual citizens who were born between January 1, 1992 and December 31, 2002 can apply to the program, and applicants must be graduate or undergraduate students who are resident in US or Canada.
The success of the candidate in the fields of education, culture or technology and the active participation of the candidate in civil society activities are also an advantage.
Candidates admitted to the program will pay their own transportation expenses to Washington, D.C., but accommodation and meals will be covered by the YTB. Interestingly, candidates will not be able to stay anywhere other than the place indicated by the YTB.
The training program will be held at the Diyanet Center of America, which was launched in 2016 by the Turkish government at a cost of $110 million. The center is run by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) and has hosted many US Muslim figures including controversial members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The program will cover “Contemporary Issues in Turkish Foreign Policy, The 1915 Events and the Turkish-Armenian Conflict, USA and Canada Congress Structure and Decision Making Processes, Pressure Groups, and Lobbying.” In addition, workshops will be held on “Raising Turkish Diaspora Awareness and Media, Politics and Hate Speech.”
In 2019 Nordic Monitor published official documents showing that the YTB had engaged in clandestine operations. According to auditing reports dated September 2018 the agency was found to be in violation of several Turkish laws when auditors determined non-compliance with the rules in the use of a special budget item in the amount of TL 9.6 million spent by the YTB in 2017. Defending the violation, the YTB claimed the operations financed by the special budget item were deemed sensitive and urgent and that the relevant documents were kept in a secure room, preventing the auditors from verifying compliance.
The YTB is run by 38-year-old Abdullah Eren, who used to be the deputy chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) İstanbul youth branch. Eren was appointed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as part of his plans to turn the agency into a branch of his party.
The AKP Istanbul youth branch has for years functioned as a special operations hub for Erdoğan to network with Muslim and Turkish diaspora groups all over the world. Eren was a key operative in building alliances and finding people who might be helpful to the Erdoğan regime in promoting his brand among diaspora communities.
Incidentally, Eren’s brother, İbrahim Eren, is a close friend of Erdoğan’s son Bilal; the two have known each other since high school. The Turkish president brought Ibrahim in to head Turkey’s state-owned TRT network. Ibrahim is now a board member of state-owned satellite operator Türksat. Abdullah Eren had also worked at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a government propaganda think tank charged with the task of whitewashing what Erdoğan does. SETA is known to function as an entry point for government jobs.
According to the leaked emails of Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law, the YTB was overwhelmingly staffed by Islamists. An email sent to Albayrak on November 29, 2013 by Mithat Cansız, general manager of the state-owned Turkish Petroleum International Company (TPIC) and Albayrak’s friend, revealed that 70 percent of staff members of the YTB came from a political Islamist background and had some connection in the past with the Islamist Felicity Party (SP). That was before a massive purge in the Turkish government that resulted in the dismissal of over 130,000 civil servants. It would appear that the unlawful purge on fabricated charges left the YTB completely in the hands of Islamists.
During a meeting of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee on April 7 Abdullah Eren said they had taken measures to prevent the assets of citizens living abroad from being detected by the countries in which they live. European countries demand that information on assets, income and bank deposits belonging to Turkish citizens living in Europe be accessible for them to prevent tax evasion and unfairly benefiting from social assistance.