Chairman Akgün: Maarif Foundation works in framework of Turkey’s strategic priorities abroad

Birol Akgün, the chairman of the controversial Maarif Foundation, has stated in an interview to the state-run Anadolu news agency on Saturday that the foundation has been working abroad in the framework of Turkey’s strategic priorities by consulting with Turkey’s related ministries and other state institutions.

Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan created the Maarif Foundation in September 2016 as a giant educational foundation, which has been financed by public money, to promote his political Islamist ideology abroad through educational institutions which have been seized from the members of the Gülen movement.

Saying that they have opened representative offices in 33 countries and seized 32 schools in Somalia, Ginea, Niger, Sudan and Congo which were affiliated with the Gülen movement so far, Akgün has added that “Being an educational institution under the control of the (Turkish) state has given confidence in numerous countries.”

Maarif Foundation’s Chairman Akgün has also confessed that “In the framework of the duties given by our law we act as if we are educational agent of Turkey abroad. We follow the developments and trends in the field of education abroad and we prepare reports about educational system of all countries where we have activities.”

Akgün has also confessed that they has provided teachers for the schools opened by some pro-government Turkish (Islamist) civil society organisations which protect Turkey’s local and national sensitivities.

In an interview with state-run Anadolu news agency on Tuesday, Hasan Yavuz, a member of the board of directors of Maarif Foundation, has also said that the foundation has tackled the global powers through the schools they have seized from the members of the Gülen movement.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, led by overly ambitious and self-aggrandizing President Erdoğan, has spent millions of dollars in aggressively promoting the AKP’s political Islamist ideology abroad and spreading the “Erdoğan brand,” which is extremist, rigid, bigoted, divisive and hostile.

In one of his articles, Abdullah Bozkurt, the President of Stockholm Centre for Freedom (SCF), has stated that “In addition to building mosques and launching cultural centers and development offices that have no real purpose other than the proselytizing efforts of Turkish Islamists, Erdoğan has created a giant educational foundation called Maarif with a special law he pushed through Parliament in June 2016. The funds and resources were generously provided from the Treasury at the expense of taxpayers, while full diplomatic clout was bestowed on the foundation’s chief executives, who apparently have close connections to controversial Islamist groups in Turkey.”

“Erdoğan posits himself to be the caliph, the leader of all Muslims in the world, and sees the Maarif Foundation as a tool in his investment efforts to reach out to non-Turkish Muslim groups. He hopes that he can raise a generation of loyalists on foreign soil in his endeavor to enlist new recruits. Just like he has diverted billions of dollars that were earmarked for secular public education to religious public and private schools in Turkey, Erdoğan tries to achieve the same abroad by investing heavily in schools, mosques and cultural centers in foreign countries. He personally lobbies for that when he goes abroad during state visits or when he receives heads of government or state at his lavish palace in Ankara.

Bozkurt has added that “Defending the bill on the Maarif Foundation in Parliament on June 16, 2016, İsmet Yılmaz, the education minister, emphasized that the foundation was owned by the state and would serve as his ministry’s arm abroad in providing educational services. He described the initiative as proof of the Turkish state’s ambition to project greater power in the world and maintained that Turkey follows in British and American footsteps in that sense. He said the foundation would operate in places from ‘the Balkans to Eastern Turkistan [China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] and from Somalia to Canada.'”

The management structure of Maarif is entirely controlled by President Erdoğan, who has the power to appoint four members of the 12-member board of trustees, the executive decision-making body of Maarif, directly, and three members thorough the Cabinet, which he chairs. These seven members are considered to be standing members while the rest were described as representatives who will be selected from the ministries of foreign affairs and finance as well as the Higher Educational Board (YÖK). In other words, Erdoğan not only appoints key members to the board but also reduces the profile of bureaucrats who will represent relevant public institutions on the board. The seven members also form the board of directors, which manages the daily business of the foundation.

Article 4 of the law on Maarif also granted administrators of the foundation the right to carry diplomatic passports and provided them with rights and privileges equivalent to a diplomatic attaché. Since they can serve until the age of 72, these Islamist operatives can freely travel all over the world under diplomatic cover. The teachers and school principals employed by Maarif will be treated as government officials who are tasked with overseas assignments and will benefit from all privileges awarded to such officials under Turkish passport law.

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