The Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), run by the family of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and funded by the Turkish government, instructs young graduates and university students who intend to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a training program called the “Young Diplomat Academy.”
According to TÜGVA’s website, the Young Diplomat Academy is a series of seminars and activities for undergraduate or postgraduate students who are between the ages of 18 and 28. Candidates who are interested in politics and diplomacy and aiming to specialize in these subjects and have a career in these fields are welcome. Those who seek to participate in the program go through an online interview and must be affiliated with TÜGVA.
Academics, ambassadors and pro-government bureaucrats will give lectures during the training program. Participants are expected to join in hands-on activities with case studies. At the end of the training, which will be held on weekends for six weeks, participants who successfully complete the program will be taken to visit the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Ankara.
TÜGVA claims to have trained a new generation of diplomats “in the Century of Turkey,” which is a campaign slogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Moreover, the title of lectures during the training program also coincide with the AKP’s propaganda slogans. For instance, “Turkey as a Stabilizing Power” was probably inspired by a book by Fahrettin Altun, the presidency’s director of communications whom the opposition likens to Joseph Goebbels, the infamous propaganda minister of the Nazi era. Again, “The National Technology Move,” another lecture title, is a term that the AKP uses frequently in party activities.
In addition to learning the structure of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its career opportunities, participants will also be informed about Turkish-American, Turkish-Chinese and Turkish-Russian relations.
Nordic Monitor previously published a secret report submitted to Erdoğan by TÜGVA which said the Islamist group had developed a plan to train experts with a special focus on China, Russia and India. According to the report, dated September 29, 2016, TÜGVA’s strategic coordination department drafted a plan to train experts who would work in the field abroad with a special emphasis on those three countries. Their expertise would cover a range of areas from politics to history and from sociology to the societal dynamics of the countries that were targeted, the report said.
In October 2021 journalist Metin Yücel, who goes by the name of Metin Cihan on Twitter and is currently living in exile, revealed, citing a document sent to him by a former member of TÜGVA, that some executives and members of the foundation were appointed to posts in the Turkish military, police force and judiciary in what appeared to be favoritism.
Yücel posted an image of an e-mail sent by the former TÜGVA member to him that reveals the system the pro-government foundation uses to get their members into government institutions, which is based on a special software program.
Initially claiming that the documents were fabrications, TÜGVA’s then-chairman Enes Eminoğlu later confirmed the authenticity of the documents in an interview with the Turkish media.
The training program, which will start on January 28, is being held for the eighth time. In a study conducted by Nordic Monitor, there were a number of people who previously attended this seminar and took the ministry’s entrance exam. In 2017 the ministry stopped announcing the names of those who had passed the exam following harsh criticism on social media that supporters of the ruling party and ambassadors’ relatives were favored in the recruitment process. Only candidates who take the exam are notified whether they have passed or not.
Apart from TÜGVA’s efforts, the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a government propaganda think tank, functions as an entry point for government jobs, and the AKP’s youth organizations continue to place pro-government candidates in state institutions. Nordic Monitor has identified a few candidates who have entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with connections to the ruling party in recent years.
One of them is Selçuk Erdem Tama. After his success as a Russian delegate at a foreign relations program modeling the United Nations and organized by the AKP youth branch in 2017, Tama was rewarded with a trip to Jerusalem, a symbolic destination for political Islamists in Turkey. He started to work in the ministry in 2019. Tama currently serves in the ministry’s permanent delegation to NATO in Brussels. Tama was a summer intern at SETA.
Ozan Can Gümüş, who is currently a second secretary at the Turkish Embassy in The Hague, was one of the participants in career programs organized by TÜGVA. Gümüş had previously worked at the Maarif Foundation, a Turkish government-funded entity run by jihadists to export political Islam abroad, and in Altun’s office. There are a number of Islamist posts and insults of opposition leaders on Gümüş’s Twitter account.
The ideological underpinnings of TÜGVA are rooted in political Islamist activism coupled with jihadist motivations. When examined as to who drives the ideological basis of the foundation, two controversial names come to the fore. One is Hayrettin Karaman, also known as the chief fatwa (religious edict) giver for Erdoğan, whom he effectively declared caliph. Karaman openly advocated the view that all Muslims are obligated under Islam to support Erdoğan.
Another ideologue is Nureddin Yıldız, a radical cleric who is close to the Turkish president. Yıldız openly advocates armed jihad, describes democracy as a system for infidels and says it can only be used as a means of deception to rise to power.
In 2021 a leaked TÜGVA internal memo revealed the foundation’s clandestine intelligence-gathering plans in close coordination with Turkey’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MIT).
The three-page memo, obtained by Nordic Monitor, contains recommendations issued by the foundation led by the president’s son Bilal Erdoğan. It lists not only policy actions but also practical work the foundation and associated entities must take to help support Erdoğan’s oppressive government. The proposals include intelligence gathering and surveillance in foreign countries by TÜGVA and aligned associations that work under the cover of nongovernmental organizations.