May 5, 2015

Police raids against education and charity groups in Manisa draw public ire

The police chief in charge of what is believed to be the resumption of government-led operations targeting institutions deemed to have an affiliation with the Gülen movement -- a faith-based initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen -- has been strongly criticized by a number of international students receiving bursaries from those institutions.

After obtaining a search warrant from the Manisa First Criminal Court of Peace, police raided six associations in Manisa province on Tuesday, following on from an initial operation last week. The Manisa branch of the Turkish aid organization Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anyone There?) was targeted in addition to other civil society organizations (CSOs) such as the Feza Educational and Cultural Foundation and the Health and Education Association, the Social Aid Association, the Moris Şinasi International Children's Health Association, Manisa Public Education And Teaching, Health and Social Assistance Association and the Aviation Community Sports Association.

Manisa Police Chief Tayfur Erdal Ceren justified the initial raid last week. “Those who provide financial assistance to these CSOs must understand that they are providing assistance to terrorist groups,” Ceren told the press. However, Ceren's remarks have attracted criticism due to the complete absence of evidence that the Gülen movement has links with terrorists.

However, Maksat Saido -- a graduate of a Turkish school in Turkmenistan who attends Celal Bayar University in Manisa -- criticized Ceren, telling Today's Zaman, “How will people who hold guns in their hands in the mountains be classified if people who only held pens in their hands are called terrorists?” Saido added: “May God be pleased with our teachers [in Turkmenistan] who directed us in this direction. We are studying with bursaries obtained from these associations. May God be pleased with the people who opened these associations and help us [students].”

Underlining that Ceren's statements had saddened international students studying in Manisa, Saido said: “Slandering those who help others with the crime of terrorism is shameful. You can call people in the mountains with guns in their hands terrorists, but accusing people who help students by giving them bursaries and serve their country of terrorism is a very saddening issue.”

“We are very saddened by the events. In our country [Turkmenistan], those who help [people obtain] education are not called terrorists,” he added.

Kurban Haşmiri, a student from Azerbaijan who was also a recipient of a bursary from one of the associations, told Today's Zaman: “If we are terrorists then everyone outside is also a terrorist. This is how I see it. We are no different from other people. We do everything for our country, our nation, our education. If they call us a terrorist for holding pens, then what do they call those holding guns?”

He continued: “When I finish [my education], hopefully I will also be one of these people and help [others] as much as I can. I've never seen them set a foot wrong. We study with the bursaries obtained from these people.”

In another operation, five CSOs -- the Manisa Workers Association (MAÇAD), the Manisa Education Volunteers Association (MEGDER), the Manisa Active Educators Association (AKED), the Manisa Millennium Public Servants Association and the Association of Industrialists and Businessmen of Manisa (MASİAD) -- were raided by dozens of police officers early on Thursday morning based on “reasonable suspicion” that they had committed crimes.

The associations are accused of being affiliated with the Hizmet movement, which came under attack from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his associates within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) after they accused it of instigating a corruption probe that went public in Dec. 17, 2013. The graft probe incriminated four former Cabinet ministers, businessmen with close ties to the government, senior bureaucrats, and family members of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan.

Fifty-nine-year-old Zeynep Çıman, a charity sales organizer in Manisa who helps raise funds for the bursaries of international students, criticized statements from Ceren asking those who “regretted helping the associations” to come forward with information: “The police chief says ‘Those who are regretful.' We're not regretful. We will stay on this path until the day we pass away.”

İsmail Cingöz, the president of Kimse Yok Mu, showed his exasperation with the operations on his Twitter account, writing: “Even the word disgrace is insufficient…!” He also published pictures of the arrest warrant issued by the Manisa First Criminal Court of Peace.

Published on Today's Zaman, 05 May 2015, Tuesday