Diyanet: Er­do­gan’s Is­lamic ve­hi­cle to the Balkans

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - MARKETS -

A bill­board at a con­struc­tion site, with a photo of an Ot­toman-style mosque with four minarets and the flag of Tur­key, was erected re­cently in the cen­ter of Pristina, the cap­i­tal of Kosovo. With less than 2 mil­lion peo­ple, Kosovo, which de­clared its in­de­pen­dence from Ser­bia in 2008, is the home of over 800 mosques. Now the Is­lamic Com­mu­nity of Kosovo is build­ing the “Cen­tral Mosque” at an es­ti­mated cost of $35-40 mil­lion. Tur­key’s Di­rec­torate of Re­li­gious Af­fairs (Diyanet) is fi­nanc­ing the project.

The Diyanet also fi­nanced the build­ing of a sim­i­lar mosque on a 10,000-square-me­tre par­cel of land on Ge­orge W. Bush Street in Ti­rana, Al­ba­nia, the largest mosque in the Balkans, along with dozens of other mosques across neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. Tur­key’s pres­i­dent Er­do­gan has put in the field two state or­gan­i­sa­tions, Diyanet and the Turk­ish Devel­op­ment Agency (TIKA), as ve­hi­cles through which Tur­key could en­hance its Is­lamic in­flu­ence in the Balkans.

Diyanet is the of­fi­cial state in­sti­tu­tion whose role is “to ex­e­cute the works con­cern­ing the be­liefs, wor­ship, and ethics of Is­lam, en­lighten the pub­lic about their re­li­gion, and ad­min­is­ter the sa­cred wor­ship­ing places.” Diyanet is also re­spon­si­ble for the re­li­gious af­fairs of the Turk­ish di­as­pora. In Ger­many alone, it ad­min­is­ters 970 mosques with imams trained by the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Aus­tria was the first coun­try to re­alise that the mosques built with Er­do­gan’s money are used for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses to pro­mote his Is­lamic agenda. In June 2018, Chan­cel­lor Se­bas­tian Kurz or­dered the clos­ing of seven mosques built by Diyanet, and de­ported 60 imams and their fam­i­lies with ties to Tur­key as part of the ‘fight against po­lit­i­cal Is­lam.’

In Fe­bru­ary 2016, Ger­man law en­force­ment re­vealed that cler­ics from the or­gan­i­sa­tion were in­volved in es­pi­onage against Gulen’s fol­low­ers. Two years ago, Cumhuriyet, an in­de­pen­dent Turk­ish news­pa­per, re­ported that Diyanet was very ac­tive in col­lect­ing in­tel­li­gence, specif­i­cally on the ac­tiv­i­ties of Gulen sym­pa­this­ers in 38 coun­tries across Europe, in­clud­ing Ger­many and the Balkans. Ac­cu­sa­tions of es­pi­onage by the or­gan­i­sa­tion have ex­isted since the 1990s, but these rev­e­la­tions pointed to far more ex­ten­sive op­er­a­tions than were pre­vi­ously thought.

Mean­while, Diyanet has ex­tended its re­li­gious pro­gramme to coun­tries whose con­nec­tion to Ot­toman his­tory is ten­u­ous by build­ing over 100 mosques out­side Tur­key. The pres­i­dent of Diyanet, Ali Er­bas, said that they have ex­tremely ex­pe­ri­enced in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter from Mace­do­nia.

In the coun­tries with ma­jor­ity Chris­tian pop­u­la­tions in the Balkans, such as Ser­bia, Mace­do­nia and Croa­tia, Tur­key is in­vest­ing in ma­jor devel­op­ment projects, while in Al­ba­nia the in­vest­ments are geared mainly to­ward build­ing Is­lamic re­li­gious in­sti­tutes. “It has been shown that the most pow­er­ful and sus­tain­able in­flu­ence in this re­gion, es­pe­cially among Al­ba­ni­ans, is made pre­cisely through the in­stru­men­tal­i­sa­tion of the re­li­gion”, says Neziri.

To be sure, any­one who even scarcely fol­lows Er­do­gan’s am­bi­tions in the Balkans can­not es­cape the con­clu­sion that the Turk­ish leader had a spe­cific, well-ar­tic­u­lated Is­lamic agenda which he is de­ter­mined to en­trench in the psy­che of the Balkan peo­ple by build­ing mosques and ap­point­ing imams that fol­low his doc­trine. It is part and par­cel of Er­do­gan’s vi­sion to re­store el­e­ments of the Ot­toman Empire un­der his lead­er­ship.

Er­do­gan him­self and many other Turk­ish of­fi­cials have openly spoke about their dream that by 2023, the cen­te­nary of modern Tur­key, the coun­try will en­joy as much sway and in­flu­ence that was once en­joyed by the Ot­tomans. Er­do­gan uses Diyanet as one of his main ve­hi­cles to that end.

For the Balkan states, this will cer­tainly turn out to be night­mar­ish un­less they pre­vent Er­do­gan from ex­ploit­ing them in the name of Al­lah, while de­bas­ing Is­lam to serve his long-term men­ac­ing plot. Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Cen­ter for Global Af­fairs at NYU. He teaches cour­ses on in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tion and Mid­dle East­ern stud­ies. Ar­bana Xharra au­thored a se­ries of in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports on re­li­gious ex­trem­ists and Tur­key’s Is­lamic agenda op­er­at­ing in the Balkans. She has won nu­mer­ous awards for her re­port­ing, and was a 2015 re­cip­i­ent of the In­ter­na­tional Women of Courage Award from the US State De­part­ment. alon@alon­ www.alon­

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