September 29, 2014

UN-affiliated aid organization becomes new witch hunt target

As the largest volunteer and global aid organization based in Turkey, Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There), which holds official UN consultative status, has become the target of a smear campaign carried out through the government-controlled media, while Kimse Yok Mu officials have said all their activities are transparent and that not a single flaw has been discovered at the end of months of government auditing.

On Monday, the Taraf daily ran a story arguing that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government planned to remove Kimse Yok Mu's public interest status, which would prevent it from collecting donations. The report argued that the proposal is now pending with the Cabinet, expecting it to take effect before the Eid al-Adha holiday, which will start on Saturday.

Kimse Yok Mu gave an official statement on Monday, harshly criticizing such a removal of their status, as there are no legal grounds for the decision. "We do not want to believe that the government would be part of such a plot against our organization," the group said in its statement.

Prior to this statement, Kimse Yok Mu had also held a press conference on Monday morning. Kimse Yok Mu Secretary General Savaş Metin said the government's new aim is to remove “public interest status,” which allows groups to collect moment without asking government permission, from the association, a politically motivated move. The organization is a humanitarian NGO and strictly apolitical.

Kimse Yok Mu is the only aid organization in Turkey that holds UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) special consultative status, and it has developed internationally recognized relief programs in partnership with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in 2013. It was also granted the Turkish Grand National Assembly Outstanding Service Award in 2013, under AK Party rule. However, a smear campaign against the organization has been launched since Dec. 17, with the breaking of a corruption investigation into leading AK Party figures. Due to a government grudge against the grassroots Hizmet movement, as it holds the movement responsible for the corruption investigation, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was previously prime minister and AK Party chairman, Kimse Yok Mu, which is influenced by the Hizmet movement, has become a target.

After summarizing the globally acclaimed activities of Kimse Yok Mu, Metin said that although they have been inspected by three different groups of inspectors since last year, who have searched through their documents for months, they have not been sent any notice of the removal of their public interest status. While emphasizing that there is no excuse to remove this status from Kimse Yok Mu, which has not engaged in illegal activity or misuse of funds, he said that if there is such an attempt, they will apply to all the domestic and international courts to defend their rights. If this status is removed, Kimse Yok Mu will have to apply to the interior minister for permission to carry out each aid campaign.

In addition to the unusual, extensive inspections of Kimse Yok Mu in recent months, the government-controlled media have run inaccurate stories about Kime Yok Mu's aid to Somalia, trying to defame the association, which is active in 113 countries. Kimse Yok Mu President İsmail Cingöz has denied the baseless newspaper reports in Turkey several times, challenging anyone to inspect their documents. Metin also once again told the press that they had shared all their documents with government officials whenever they were asked, but not a single case of fraud had been found. With over 100,000 volunteers, Kimse Yok Mu has funded cataract surgery for over 27,000 in Africa in the last decade. Delivering food parcels and blankets to disaster zones around the world, digging wells in Africa and providing financial help to families in need in Turkey are among some of Kimse Yok Mu's activities.

“We are not a part of the political discussion,” Metin said, underlining that lifting their public interest status and right to collect donations would only hurt people who receive help from the organization.

Prior to the press conference, Cingöz reacted to the smear campaign against the global aid organization, which was founded by the people of Anatolia, saying that those who attempt to hinder Kimse Yok Mu could not bear the weight of hurting a humanitarian cause. He said that if Kimse Yok Mu is not allowed to collect donations with public interest status, hardly any other organization could be entitled to such a right, given Kimse Yok Mu's extensive campaigns.

In response to a question on whether this months-long smear campaign against Kimse Yok Mu is noticed abroad and whether it had affected their activities internationally, Metin says their foreign partners are fully aware of the situation, as Kimse Yok Mu has not done anything illegal. “We represent the UN,” Metin noted, referring to their international dimension.

Although based in Turkey, Kimse Yok Mu officials say that they extend help to everyone, regardless of religion or ethnicity. In response to a question on aid to the Kurdish population that is under threat from the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Iraq and Syria, Turgut Karamehmet, who is in charge of Kimse Yok Mu's international affairs, said they are involved in aid activities in the refugee camps established by the UNHCR in Erbil. Along with the Barzani Foundation, Kimse Yok Mu delivered food packages to Kurds and Turkmens.

Metin said Kimse Yok Mu's advantage lies in its local connections. According to him, collecting money is not enough without experience. He says Kimse Yok Mu attempts to cooperate with local administrations around the world. He said this is why Kimse Yok Mu was not involved in the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010, despite great pressure to do so, because there was no agreement with the local authorities in Gaza.

With the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha around the corner, Kimse Yok Mu is also stepping up its efforts to collect donated animals to deliver meat to people all around the world, especially in poverty-stricken parts of Africa.

Published on Today's Zaman, 29 September 2014, Monday