In an official report titled “Strategic Plan,” the Turkish government’s diaspora agency revealed its objective of transforming foreign students who have been educated in Turkey on scholarships into politicians in their home countries who can contribute to Turkey’s foreign policy goals.
The report, which covers the period between 2019 and 2023, highlights the objectives of diaspora agency the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı, YTB). According to the report, the YTB aims to actively involve foreign students in politics once they graduate from schools in Turkey and return to their home countries.
The report emphasizes that the active political participation of these students in their respective countries, along with the expression of their views, which are presumed to be in line with the Turkish government, presents an opportunity for Turkey. It further warns that their absence in the political decision-making process poses a threat to Turkey.
To address this, the report recommends that these students be provided with training through various programs while they are studying in Turkey. It also encourages them to enter politics after leaving the country. Additionally, the report suggests that exchange students be directed towards such opportunities through graduate associations that have been established under the coordination of the YTB.
YTB President Abdullah Eren, whose family has roots in the Turkish diaspora in Greece, signed the report. He said the YTB focused its efforts on achieving goals based on the expectations and recommendations put forward by other government institutions.
Report on Turkish diaspora agency YTB’s strategic goals:YTB_Strategic_PLan_2019_2023
The YTB actively collaborates with Turkish intelligence agency MIT (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı) and serves as a recruitment source for the spy agency from diaspora communities abroad, including exchange students who studied in Turkey on government scholarships.
Moreover, the YTB’s mandate extends beyond the Turkish diaspora and encompasses non-Turkish groups referred to as “related communities,” which include global Islamist networks such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir networks, among others.
According to the report, the agency has established five major objectives with 14 corresponding targets. It has also outlined 45 strategies to accomplish these goals and reach all 14 targets by the end of 2023.
The agency’s work on foreign exchange students from approximately 170 countries is considered a special project and is listed as one of the agency’s three main focus areas. Currently, there are more than 20,000 foreign students studying in Turkey, with the agency closely monitoring their activities. Furthermore, the agency coordinates outreach efforts with over 150,000 graduates who have completed their education in Turkey.
According to the report, this significant number of students, whether they have already completed their programs or are still studying, presents opportunities that the agency prioritizes for exploitation. To oversee the progress towards the goals set, the agency has a dedicated department for exchange students and reports its accomplishments to the Presidential Directorate for Strategy and Budget (Cumhurbaşkanlığı Strateji ve Bütçe Başkanlığı).
The agency’s operations are concealed under various programs such as scholarships, Turkish language courses, academic and cultural exchange programs, workshops and seminars as well as campaigns aimed at raising awareness about combating discrimination and Islamophobia.
According to the report the agency faces several challenges in conducting its operations abroad. These include negative perceptions of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire held by Western countries, increased efforts at assimilation by foreign countries of communities targeted by the YTB, legal restrictions imposed by host countries, rising racism and a lack of awareness regarding rights and freedoms.
To counteract the negative coverage of Turkey, the YTB recommended the development of a special communications strategy involving relevant Turkish institutions under the coordination of the Office of the President.
The rapid devaluation of the Turkish lira imposes constraints on the YTB’s overseas operations. To overcome this challenge, the report suggests tapping into Turkish private firms with an increased presence abroad. It also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that Turkish operations in other countries are self-sufficient and not reliant on financial support from the YTB. Additionally, the report sees nongovernmental Turkish associations engaged in overseas operations as valuable assets that can contribute to the realization of the YTB’s goals.
Operating from a 15-story building in Ankara, the agency has a budget of 666 million Turkish lira, a significant increase of 108 percent compared to the 2019 budget.