Tikkun Leil Shavuot, also known as “A Night of Jewish Learning,” is an opportunity to show that participants are ready to receive the Torah. Throughout the night, people will gather to study the sacred text, and facilitate a deeper connection with their faith. By staying awake during the anniversary of the Revelation, followers signal to the heavens that they are ready to receive blessings from above. In the morning, many share a Suhoor Meal to precede their Ramadan fast.
The Rumi Forum prides itself on its interfaith collaborations. We find it increasingly important to celebrate events in conjunction with the faith-based communities. There is no better way to connect with another by sharing the joy your faith brings. Often times, the prevailing commonalities which can bridge neighborhoods, are overshadowed by unfounded assumptions. Celebrate common points that everyone, regardless of race, gender, and sexuality can enjoy. By inspiring community dialogue, we hope to take another step forward in creating a peaceful, tolerant, environment for all to enjoy.
Please take into consideration the length of our event. Leil Shavu’ot starts at 7:30 on May 19th and continues to May 20th. Feel free to come early on the 19th, or stay later on May 20th and join the Leik Shovu’ot celebrations!
Join the Rumi Forum on April 21st, 2018 for an interfaith conversation on the environment from the perspectives of the three Abrahamic religions. (more…)
The Rumi Forum has organized a study trip opportunity to Europe for the Fall of 2017.
On June 15th, 2017 in partnership with the American Turkish Friendship Association the Rumi Forum held their annual signature iftar dinner to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. (more…)
On June 20th, 2017 the Rumi Forum brought the traditions of Ramadan to the National Cathedral for what was the highest iftar in Washington, D.C. (more…)
On March 23rd, 2016, Dr. Robert P. Jones discussed how the United State’s demographical trends in religion and other demographics, such as race, are changing.
Turkish Models of Development and Dialogue
Jennifer A. Cate
On a recent trip to Turkey, organized by the Rumi Forum, I sought to explore how Turkey is handling domestic development issues as well as dialogue with other countries, two issues that my employing organization tackles in other parts of the Middle East. However, sitting in the offices of Kimse Yok Mu, a Turkish Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) providing international development assistance, on a recent summer afternoon, it became clear that Turkey has moved from focusing solely on issues of domestic development to becoming a major player in the field of international development.
This paper will explore Turkey’s role as a rising actor in international aid, particularly through its civil society, most notably the Gulen movement. It will also investigate the ways that Turkey—particularly through Gulen-affiliated organizations—is building bridges between Turkey and other parts of the world.
Turkey’s growth as a global player in international development springs from the country’s economic expansion. Turkey has consistently been one of the 20 largest economies in the world since 2004. According to the October 2015 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranking by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it currently ranks as the world’s 18th largest economy. While Turkey still struggles with poverty, with an estimated 22.4% of the population under the poverty line (Dogan, 2015), overall economic growth has enabled the country to turn part of its attention outward both in terms of policy and support of other nations’ development needs.
Turkey’s role in international development
It is almost impossible not to have noticed Turkey’s increasingly prominent role in international affairs, including in its contribution to foreign aid. As of 2012, it had advanced to the fourth largest humanitarian donor country (Binder, 2013, p. 9). In 2013, the country gave $1.6 Billion for humanitarian emergencies, making it the third largest governmental donor for such causes, according to a Global Humanitarian Assistance report. As a reflection of its emerging leadership in international development, in 2016, Turkey is to host the first ever World Humanitarian Summit.
Although Turkey continues to be a net recipient of Official Development Assistance (ODA)—mostly in support of its efforts to join the European Union—it has bypassed many other countries, including Belgium and Spain in its amount of spending on international humanitarian efforts.
The Turkish government began to invest in international aid in 1985. These efforts were institutionalized with the establishment of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) in 1992. TIKA, which was initially housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but has reported directly to the Prime Ministry since 1999, provides technical assistance in building institutional capacity and human resources in its 23 partner countries and beyond, sharing Turkey’s own recent experience in socioeconomic development. It provides financing for capacity building, infrastructure projects and humanitarian assistance.
Although TIKA is the government agency tasked with international development efforts, it in fact only distributes 15% of Turkish ODA, with much of the rest of it coming from other parts of the government, including the Housing Development Administration, the police, and the Ministry of Health. (Hausmann, 2014, p. 21) According to TIKA’s most recently published annual report (2013), much of their role is in coordinating the international work of other agencies.
Helping with humanitarian assistance in times of international crisis is the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Local embassies respond to emergency calls from their host countries, at which point AFAD can engage Turkish relief or development resources. However, only two staff have been appointed to handle international coordination in AFAD, somewhat limiting the organization’s effectiveness (Binder and Erten, 2013, p. 5).
There is a tendency for the Turks to lump together domestic and international aid and even peace-building into humanitarian assistance. While they report them separately to international agencies, public discourse treats these flows as one issue (Binder and Erten, 2013, p. 7). This, of course, makes analysis somewhat challenging.
Turkey hosted the Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in 2011, leading to the Istanbul Declaration and more specific Istanbul Programme of Action, which details specific goals to be achieved in LDCs by 2020. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey pledged to begin investing $200 million annually in LDCs, especially in the areas of technical cooperation programs and scholarships. It aims to increase the level of direct investment, particularly from the private sector, to $5 Billion by 2015 and to $10 Billion by 2020.
Turkey’s role in humanitarian crises has been highlighted by its willingness to stay in countries that other donor nations are fleeing, a trait that was especially evidenced in Somalia. Even after six Turkish diplomats were killed by Al Shabab, the nation kept its staff there and continued to provide aid, earning it international respect (Binder and Erten, 2013, p.1).
Turkey’s decisions about where to invest its international aid are made somewhat strategically, based on foreign policy priorities. At the beginning of Turkey’s foray into international development in the 1980s and 90s, the focus was on state building and economic transformation in the newly independent states of Central Asia and the Caucuses, with which Turkey shares religious, historic, ethnic and linguistic ties. A sense of Pan-Turkism and desire to in some way reunify the Ottoman Empire at least socially directed much of the country’s development initiatives in these early years (Binder and Erten, 2013, p. 2). Securing new export markets in these countries was a policy priority as was expanding Turkey’s model of a secular state within a Muslim society, a parliamentary democracy and a free market economy (Hausmann, 2014, p. 25).
As with Central Asia, a majority of the countries in which Turkey chooses to invest are predominately Muslim and often ones that have been neglected by Western humanitarian involvement. These include Kashmir after the earthquake, the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar, as well as Bosnia, Somalia and Syria. Within a given conflict or catastrophe, however, there does not seem to be evidence that Turkish assistance is given only to the Muslim population (Binder and Erten, 2013, p.11).
In recent years, the countries of Africa have also received increased attention. The possibility for opening up new markets in Africa, cooperating in international forums and mobilizing support for Turkey’s bid to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2009-10 may have driven the nation’s development assistance there. Turkey’s extensive work in the Horn of Africa may be influenced more by proximity, shared religion and ties from the Ottoman Empire (Hausmann, 2014, p. 27-28.)
There has been some criticism of the Turkish government’s ability or willingness to coordinate with other countries on humanitarian assistance unless Turks are in key leadership positions in the relevant international organizations. In 2012, for example, less than 4.4% of Turkey’s ODA was given multilaterally (Hausmann, 2014, p. 16.) Officials have offered several reasons for this: the time and funding it takes to both deliver and discuss aid, prioritizing delivery over deliberation, as well as the fact that many Turkish aid workers do not speak English and are, therefore, unable to participate effectively in coordinated efforts (Binder and Erten, 2013, p.12.)
Of course operating bilaterally increases Turkey’s visibility as a donor and, thus, supports their public diplomacy efforts in strategic countries. However, their standing with other donor countries would be improved if they participated more actively in international efforts.
The future of Turkish international development aid is uncertain. The government’s ability to continue this high level of international assistance depends on three factors, not totally in its control: the agreement of the public and businesses to finance its assistance efforts, the continued rule of the current ruling party and the good relations with the Muslim business community and religious civil society (Binder and Erten, 2013, p. 13). Recent rifts between Erdogan’s government and elements of civil society, including the Gulen movement are cause for concern. In September 2015, the government raided the Izmet office of Kimse Yok Mu and, earlier this summer, the organization claimed their plans for an aid campaign in Palestine had been rejected. Such tensions will not help Turkey continue to emerge as a world leader in international development.
Opportunities for the Turkish government in international aid
The Turkish decision to focus on Central Asia and other countries of the former Ottoman Empire seems a wise strategic decision. As long as the nation continues to aid those in need regardless of race or religion and is active in some non-Muslim majority countries, especially in cases of disaster-relief, their decision to focus on their borders and fellow Turkic peoples makes economic and political sense. Hopefully, elements of Turkey’s fairly successful transition to democracy will be replicated in these countries in which it is investing resources.
However, as Turkey becomes a major player in international aid, the need for both overarching and country specific strategies will increase. While disaster response efforts can of course be directed wherever a disaster strikes, long-term development efforts will create more systemic change if planned and implemented more strategically.
It will also be important for the Turkish government to consider the limitations of providing technical assistance from its various government agencies as the main form of development assistance. While this is a unique and cost-effective way of contributing to the capacity building of relevant agencies in developing countries, the quality of the employees sent has frequently been cited as a concern along with the inherent limitations to relying so heavily on technical assistance (Hausmann, 2014, p. 21).
Turkey will also continue to strengthen its position as a leader in the world of international aid if it hones its willingness and ability to work multi-laterally. Prioritizing cooperation on this front by ensuring that Turkish development workers attend international meetings and that there are enough English speakers to send to such events will further raise Turkey’s ability to contribute to international efforts. Turkey’s “fresh” experience with particular development issues make it a valuable partner to more established donor countries (Hausmann, 2014, p. 2.)
Another opportunity would be for the Turkish government to work more closely with Turkish NGOs.
Turkish Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)
Alongside government efforts, Turkey’s NGO community—much of which is composed of faith-based organizations—is also increasingly active in international development and humanitarian aid. Of nearly 100,000 not-for-profit organizations that have sprung up in Turkey, many of them since the 1999 earthquake, it is estimated that about 50 are involved with international work (Hausmann, 2014, p. 34).
The relationship of the Turkish NGO community with the government leaves much room for growth. In the past, the Turkish cabinet had to approve all Turkish NGO activities internationally. Although the law changed in 2004, organizations are still required to inform the government of any grants received from abroad (International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, 2015).
Some sources claim that nonprofit organizations—both those working domestically and internationally—do not trust or engage in dialogue with the government. Since organizing was for many years equated with terrorism in the government’s eyes, civil society, citizens and the government don’t often come together in dialogue (Ertukel, interview, May 26, 2015).
Other observers of Turkish NGO-government relations have indicated that while the government may be beginning to respond to NGO influence in its foreign policy stances, most NGO practitioners feel that they have limited ability to influence the government. Part of this may be because of limited mechanisms for dialogue between the two (Hausman, 2014, p. 35).
It would seem that TIKA would want to make use of these emerging NGOs in helping to fulfill Turkish government priorities in developing countries. However, few organizations have been successful in cooperating with the government yet, in part because the mechanisms to do so do not yet exist. Turkish NGOs can submit project proposals to TIKA and ask for funding of them, but TIKA only provides in-kind support, such as logistical help, human resources, the use of state-owned ships for sending relief supplies, and the loan of government-appointed doctors (Hausmann, 2014, p. 36).
While some active NGOs are secular, most Turkish NGOs are faith-based. Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) is one of the largest of the faith-based organizations. The Gulen movement, discussed below, has several development arms, including Kimse Yok Mu (based in Turkey) and Deniz Feniri (based in Germany).
Faith-based NGO’s in both domestic and international social service
The increased importance of faith-based organizations, not only in Turkey but around the world, began in the 1980s. In the US, then President Reagan’s administration showed a preference in partnering with them over secular organizations to provide social welfare (Gocmen 2014, p. 92). In Turkey, where issues of poverty had traditionally been dealt with by “informal mechanisms of support from the state, family and other networks of social solidarity” (Gocmen 2014, p. 95), the coup of 1980 brought with it economic liberalization and the rise of political Islam, two factors that led to an increased opening for faith-based organizations in the country.
On the economic front, while export rates and the gross national product boomed, deregulation and privatization of state-owned enterprises led to higher rates of unemployment. This was compounded by migration from rural to urban areas. Social security mechanisms only protected the families of those who had been formally employed, neglecting the new urban unemployed or those who were working in the informal sector (Gocmen 2014, p. 96).
At the same time, the growth of pro-Islamic parties created space for religious groups to be more actively involved in social services. As the government began to increase spending on social welfare because of the growing demand, they found that new religiously motivated associations were springing up and were able to provide the necessary aid. (Gocmen, 2014, p. 97). The success of faith-based organizations in Turkey seems to stem from their ties to existing religious communities and political parties, which allow them to access more resources (Gocmen, b, p. 18).
A later legal development in the early 2000s, which cemented the role of faith-based organizations in Turkish society, was the creation of the Association for Public Interest status, which could be granted by the Turkish Council of Ministers to certain nonprofit associations, giving them significant rights, including tax exemptions (Gocmen, 2014, p. 98). Both Deniz Feneri and Kimse Yok Mu were given this status in the mid 2000s.
Ipek Gocmen, a researcher from Bogazici University, divides these faith-based nonprofit organizations into ones founded before or after the 1990s. The new associations tend to have an activity scale that is both national and international, while the “vintage” ones tend to work more locally. Newer organizations are also more secular and professional than their older counterparts. They draw from people with university education and professional backgrounds rather than those with only religious education. Another difference between older and newer organizations is their funding sources. The newer ones raise funds primarily through TV shows, international campaigns and advertisements, while the older groups rely mostly on personal community connections. Another interesting difference is their attitude towards the state. While older organizations tend to see themselves as trying to correct the failures of the state, the more recently founded organizations view the state as more of a partner and often see themselves implementing the priorities of the state. In fact, some of these newer organizations have been given the status of Association for the Public Interest. (Gocmen, b, p. 5)
The Gulen movement in domestic and international social service
One of the most widespread religious communities invested in domestic and international humanitarian assistance is the Gulen movement (sometimes called the Hizmet movement, using the Turkish word for “service.”). Named after Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim spiritual leader currently in self-imposed exile in the U.S., the movement combines Islamic practice with such progressive values as tolerance, democracy, education and service.
Gulen is said to have based some of his teachings on those of Said Nursi, a Turkish thinker who taught that ignorance, poverty and disunity were the main threats to society. However, while Nursi’s teaching stressed study as a means of combating the ills of society, Gulen has emphasized service. (Michel, 2008, p. 2) Movement members generally contribute five to ten percent of their incomes to charity and are active in volunteering, mostly in movement-related service projects.
The Gulen Movement’s dialogue efforts are not without their critics—from all sides of the political and religious spectra. Such criticism ranges from being seen as an American attempt to control the Muslim world through a democratic form of Islam (Yucel, 2013, p. 203) to being thought to be a Muslim attempt to overtake American charter schools and channel money from American taxpayers back to the movement (Cook, 2014). However, one cannot help but be impressed with the work the movement has done throughout the world.
Gulen’s followers began by fighting ignorance—the first ill of society noted by Nursi—through the establishment of schools, universities and other educational initiatives. Within Turkey, the movement has established reading rooms and tutoring centers, which offer free educational help to students, utilizing a network of volunteers. Courses to prepare students for state exams are also widespread in Turkey as are Gulen-run schools, universities and dormitories. Internationally, Turkish schools have been started in 140 countries, including 130 of them in the U.S. Scholarships are liberally offered for students who cannot afford the tuition. In addition to these schools, the movement has also built of a network of newspapers, a TV channel and journals.
By the 1990’s, the Gulen movement began to combat the second ill of society, disunity, through dialogue, establishing dialogue centers and institutes both domestically and internationally. Fetullah Gulen has emphasized the importance to tolerance and openness to other faiths and ideologies while maintaining one’s own beliefs. Within Turkey, the Writers and Journalists Foundation is the flagship organization, creating space for discussion between differing schools of thought. These efforts have also expanded internationally, with more than 50 such organizations founded in the U.S. alone.
Gulen’s flagship international development initiative
In the 2000s, the third of Nursi’s societal ills—poverty—began to be more seriously addressed by Gulen’s followers. (Michel, 2008, p. 2) Emerging from this third wave of Gulen-affiliated organizations, Kimse Yok Mu (KYM) is the largest of the Gulen-associated aid organizations. It has 31 branches in Turkey, provides relief in 113 countries and has over 180,000 volunteers.
The name of the organization, which translates to “Is anybody there?” in Turkish, derives from the phrase both rescuers and victims trapped under the rubble of the 1999 earthquake in Turkey called out to each other during the search efforts. The organization’s original focus was on emergency relief to disaster victims, primarily in Turkey, rather than on development.
However, a transition from a national to international focus began around 2006, as the organization responded to the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, raising funds, delivering clothing, food and medicine to refugees and providing chemicals to clean the drinking water. The group also paid for repairs to houses and schools. Another early international intervention was the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. This was followed by the provision of humanitarian aid to victims during the conflict between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.
KYM has since expanded to over 113 countries. Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa receive particular attention, seeming to follow the Turkish government’s decisions on geographic areas in which to invest.
One particularly impressive aspect of KYM’s work is their low level of overhead. According to Turkish law, at least 60% of funds raised should be spent on programming, but KYM far surpasses this, spending 92-93% on direct aid. This 7-8% overhead rate is attributed to the high degree of volunteer mobilization (Genis, interview, May 28, 2015).
KYM has a wide variety of areas of intervention. One focus is on providing opportunities for orphaned children. For example, they recently provided clothing, food, stationary, medical and educational support to over 40,000 African orphans. They have also been involved with building or renovating 21 orphanages. In Gaza, they provide food and clothing for 5,000 orphans and, last year, began a vocational training school called the Palestine Orphans Arts Boarding School. In 2016, KYM plans to begin the West Bank School for Orphans.
Another area of intervention is clean-water access. So far, KYM has opened 1,260 wells in 13 African countries, meeting the water needs of two million people. In Gaza, in 2009, they built four wells, installed a water supply network and repaired three others.
In keeping with the Gulen movement’s focus on education, investing in schools and students is a high priority for KYM. They have founded many schools in Africa and continue to work on renovations of schools there. KYM also provides scholarships, both for students in their own countries and for study abroad opportunities in Turkey. In the 2013-14 academic year, they provided scholarships to 381 students in Africa. During this same period of time, they gave scholarships to 1,800 students within Turkey, 632 Africans studying in Turkey, Sudan and Egypt, 21 Haitians, 30 Bangladeshis, 5 Palestinians and 1,500 Syrians. They also covered the transportation and health costs of the Haitian and East African students.
As part of their education initiatives, vocational training courses have also been started in such fields as pasta-making, sewing, carpet weaving, flower-making and foreign languages. These courses are targeted at orphans, people with disabilities and needy women, particularly in Kenya, Somalia, Pakistan, Palestine, Albania, Kosovo and Sudan Darfur.
KYM also has made significant contributions in the field of healthcare. In addition to building the Jericho Medical Center in Palestine, they have built hospitals in Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Haiti. Polyclinics and dialysis units are among other healthcare institutions they have supported. Through these health units as well as through mobile health teams, KYM also conducts health screenings and training of local medical officials. Examples of specific recent interventions include supplying medical supplies to besieged Gaza in 2014 and helping 335 children to have needed operations as well as combating Ebola in Guinea through supplying medical and disinfectant materials. Cataract operations have also received special attention by KYM, which has helped more than 33,000 patients in 13 countries regain their sight.
Begun as a relief organization, KYM continues this tradition with its ASYA department, focused on disaster response. Teams of medical professionals have been deployed after the earthquake in Haiti, the floods in Bosnia Herzegovina, the earthquake in Van and the typhoon in the Philippines. Of its current 365 members, an impressive 359 of them are volunteers. These individuals commit to trainings twice a month, which include such skills as jumping out of helicopters (Genis, interview, May 28, 2015).
KYM has the flexibility to provide various other forms of humanitarian aid. A major activity has been providing food for underserved families during Muslim feasts. During Ramadan in 2014, KYM donated fast-breaking meals to over 406,000 people in 81 countries. Related to food aid, of the $4.5 Billion raised for Palestine so far, 75 percent has been spent on food donations. One particularly interesting program is the Sister Family program, which matches middle-class families with underserved families, empowering the better-off family to help meet the financial needs of the needier one.
Opportunities for KYM
KYM’s programmatic focus is quite diverse. Although its breadth is impressive, the communities in which they work might be better served by more strategic engagement. This could take the form of comprehensive community development in which staff engage with particular communities to identify all the areas of desired development (education, agriculture, water, healthcare, etc.) and then build the capacity of the community to improve each of these areas, enabling KYM to gradually disengage from the community after 7 to 10 years, leaving them to manage the systems that have been put in place.
Alternately, KYM might choose to focus on just one or two efforts (perhaps education in keeping with Gulen’s basic priorities) and set goals of bringing these services to as many people as possible within the designated geographic areas. Another option would be to further develop one of their current areas of expertise, focusing the organization’s work on one type of beneficiary such as orphans, youth, or women.
Turkish efforts at international dialogue
As Turkey, both through official means and civil society, is establishing itself as a major actor in international development and humanitarian assistance, it is also very active in intercultural dialogue with other nations. Much of this is led by civil society, particularly the Gulen movement. Whether acknowledged by the state or not, the movement plays a role in increasing Turkey’s soft power in the world (Yilmaz, 2010, p. 120.)
As previously mentioned, one of the challenges to society noted by Nursi was disunity, something the Gulen community began seriously tackling in the 1990s through the establishment of dialogue centers. Fethullah Gulen’s focus on tolerance began domestically as he sought to build bridges between feuding elements of Turkish society. He urged his followers “to engage in dialogue with people from all the diverse segments of Turkish society, from the left to the right wing, and the secular to the agnostic or atheist.” (Yucel, 2008, p. 199.)
In Turkey, one of the main institutions that emerged from this mandate was the Journalists and Writers Foundation, a think tank and foundation that brings together intellectuals of various political and religious persuasions in conferences and panels to explore a variety of issues. It has also sponsored Peace Projects, a program that offered a competitive grant program to people and organizations with innovative ideas for bringing peace to their communities.
After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Gulen used this experience with domestic dialogue to expand his movement’s attention to the health of East-West relations and understanding. He does not view the West as antithetical to Islam but rather sees potential for the two to “work together in harmonious fashion” (Yilmaz, 2010, p.121). Gulen encourages his followers to engage with the world and with other religions as long as no central tenets of the faith are compromised.
Two defining characteristics of Gulen (as well as Nursi)-inspired dialogue are the need to institutionalize it and the necessity of joint projects (Yucel, 2008, p. 201). Both of these elements draw the broader attention that is necessary to expand such work. It is estimated that over 100 dialogue centers have been established by Gulen’s followers in North America, Europe and Australia. These centers often engage in joint projects with other faith-based organizations.
In western countries, where other Muslim organizations have worked to educate the public about Islam, Gulen-inspired organizations have instead created a model that incorporates sponsored trips to Turkey, interfaith dialogue, schools, and cultural events (Gallagher, 2009, p. 22). As a recent participant in such a trip, organized by the Rumi Forum, a Gulen-inspired organization in Washington DC, I can attest to the power of spending a week meeting with Turks from across the political, cultural and professional spectra in deepening my appreciation of the culture and religion.
A participant in a similar trip, organized by a California-based group called Pacifica, writes of the influence of such intercultural and interfaith initiatives: “I suggest that . . . . the impact can be assessed less globally and more locally.” (Gallagher, 2009, p. 30) Ideally for the Gulen movement, with so many of these organizations springing up across the Western world, the local impact may soon become more global as Westerners gradually become more knowledgeable about and appreciative of Turkish culture and religion.
Opportunities for Gulen-inspired dialogue initiatives
While the impact of this diverse array of dialogue organizations is potentially significant, creating a more unified system could help the movement more strategically impact the Western World with its message. The Gulen movement prides itself on locally initiated and sponsored projects, which has indeed led to high levels of local investment of time, resources and creativity. However, providing some kind of suggested framework (such as a list of possible topics to be discussed, a suggested set of questions to be asked at all events, or a unified format) could help the movement hone its message and make a broader impact through the local community initiatives. Another possibility would be bringing together Turkish and non-Turkish members of these intercultural dialogues in international conferences to network with others from around the world who have been influenced by Gulen activities.
As Turkey continues to expand its already impressive international involvement, both in the fields of dialogue and development, there are several areas of opportunity for both the government and civil society.
One overarching areas of potential is in refining strategic focus. The Turkish government as well as NGOs like KYM could consider being more selective about the regions, countries and modalities of their humanitarian interventions, deepening their impact on the selected communities. Similarly for intercultural exchange and dialogue, formulating strategic goals or at least suggested formats for accomplishing those could lead to more intentional change.
Also, particularly with the field of development, there is still room for more multilateral engagement. While this might not boost the visibility of the Turkish aid groups in the selected communities where they invest, it would win them more respect within the international aid community, ultimately increasing the country’s global influence.
Finally, improved relationships between the government and NGOs would open doors for greater levels of Turkish influence internationally. The unfortunate clashes between the current regime and Gulen-inspired NGOs, in particular, will affect not only domestic development (as schools close and other beneficiaries suffer) but also international efforts as development initiatives are hampered. Beyond the current crisis, however, the government would benefit from establishing mechanisms through which TIKA—which ideally should be managing more of the government’s international development portfolio—could give grants to Turkish NGOs to implement its desired objectives. A forum for these NGOs to also meet with government officials and advise on policy would also be beneficial to decreasing tensions and increasing the overall quality of international intervention.
Turkey’s recent rapid rise to the level of a major player in global affairs has been inspiring to watch. The maturing of government and civil society initiatives in the coming years provides much opportunity for hope that the country will persist in its steady growth in global influence.
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Gallagher, N. (2009). The Impact of Pacifica Institute’s Intercultural Dialogue Trips. Paper delivered at East and West Encounters: The Gulen Movement conference, December 4-6, 2009.
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Osman Genis, Media Relations Officer, Kimse Yok Mu, conducted on May 28, 2015.
Ayse Dilek Ertukel, Director, Turkey office, National Democratic Institute (NDI), conducted on May 26, 2015.
Rumi Forum strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Istanbul on January 12, 2016 that left ten people dead and several others wounded. This terrorist act is not only against Turkish society or the foreign nationals visiting Turkey but it is a crime against the whole of humanity. We share the pain of families of the victims while praying and hoping that the perpetrators of this heinous act are brought to justice.