Famous Turkish religious authority Diyanet organizes scout camps to reach young Europeans
Turkey’s highly politicized Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) organizes various social and aid activities in Europe to restore its image and reach new youth. More recently, Ali Erbaş, the leader of Diyanet, on Monday opened a scout camp in the Corbeil Essonnes district south of Paris, jointly organized by an affiliate of Diyanet, the French branch of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Business. Sisters (DITIB), and the Turkish Federation of Scouts and Guides.
Diyanet imams working in France and young Franco-Turks studying theology at Turkish universities participated in the scout camp, Nordic Monitor has learned. These students, who receive scholarships from the Diyanet International Theology Program, are expected to work as Diyanet staff in France after graduation.
Erbaş, who said scouting is an important way to preach Islam to young people, thanked the federation officials, adding that Turkish scouting activities have now started to serve in the spiritual field, unlike in the past.
Turkish Consul General in Paris Serdar Belentepe and Turkish Scouting and Guiding Federation President Hasan Subaşı also attended the opening ceremony of the camp, which will host activities for seven days.
Diyanet and the Turkish Scout Federation signed a cooperation protocol in 2021, announcing that young people attending services in mosques would receive Scouting training and the leadership of imams would be improved. However, it was not specified that the protocol covered activities abroad.
The DİTİB in France runs 264 mosques across the country and is responsible for some 200 imams sent from Ankara.
In 2018 the French weekly Le Point discovered through documents he obtained that there is extensive corruption in DİTİB and that the organization is occupied not only with religious matters but also with spying on opponents of the Turkish government.
In a report entitled “The tricks played by Erdoğan’s imams”, in reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Le Point examined hundreds of pages of diplomatic correspondence from DİTİB officials in France as well as from the Turkish attaché to the religious affairs in Paris and revealed how they collect huge sums of money from Turks in France and illegally use a significant part of it for their own purposes.
In the letters, the then religious affairs attache also informed Ankara about opponents of Erdoğan’s regime in France whom he describes as followers of the “parallel structure”, a phrase coined by the Turkish government to point to the Gülen faith-based movement, a group critical of the Erdoğan government.
This was not the first spy case involving Diyanet members in Europe. A document surfaced in 2016 that showed the Diyanet was monitoring members of the Gülen movement in 38 countries including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Austria.
In December 2016, Turkey had to recall Yusuf Acar, the attaché for religious affairs at the Turkish embassy in The Hague after Dutch authorities accused him of gathering intelligence on Gulenists.
Similarly, Belgian authorities rejected the visa applications of 12 Turkish imams seeking to work in the country in 2017.
The government of the central German state of Hesse has ended its cooperation with the DITIB. “Doubts about the fundamental independence of DITIB from the Turkish government could not be removed,” said Culture Minister Alexander Lorz.
Following various types of misconduct in office and violations involving appointed imams from Turkey, European countries began to create bureaucratic hurdles, leading the Diyanet to train Turks in Europe with dual nationality as imams.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that Erdoğan has mobilized his clerics working in foreign countries to solicit the diaspora to bring him votes in an upcoming election in which every vote will be essential for his political survival amid deteriorating prospects for the Turkish economy.
Attachés for religious affairs stationed in Turkish embassies and consulates in Europe were brought to the presidential palace on June 2 for a private audience with Erdoğan. No word on the content of the talks was ever reported by the Turkish press, meaning the presidential communications office shared nothing with the media.
In the 2018 presidential election, 1.3 million voters residing abroad voted. Erdogan got 60% of those votes.
Opponents of Erdoğan often claim that the Diyanet serves to reinforce the perception that government actions are in harmony with Islam and that Erdoğan is a leader in the service of Islam. The president of Diyanet is more visible in the social arena than the base of the party, which had complained of strict secular policies that discriminate against the pious fringe of society before the advent of the Party of Justice and Development (AKP), sees it as a revenge on the laity and provides a link within the party. Government support and implicit criticism of the opposition, notably in sermons in mosques, are frequently criticized by the opposition. Government-appointed imams often suggest in mosques and on social media that supporting the opposition would be a sin and that Muslim gains would be lost.