Balkan media is reporting that the Maarif Foundation, a Turkish government international education foundation, has had its budget tripled for 2021. According to the Balkan Insight report:
February 5, 2021 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered a 300-per-cent increase in the budget of the Maarif Foundation, which was set up in part to replace the schools and colleges linked to his exiled arch-enemy, Fethullah Gulen. The presidential decree hiking the Maarif Foundation budget was published in the Official Gazette on Thursday. Its annual budget is now 1.23 billion lira, or about 140 million euros. This money will come from the general budget of the Education Ministry, MEB. The Maarif Foundation was opened in 2016 – a month before the failed coup attempt which Erdogan has blamed on Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-exile in the US since 1999. The huge increase in funding has drawn criticism in Turkey, with some calling a waste of money at a time when Turkey’s domestic educational system is suffering from the effects of the pandemic and economic hardship.
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The Turkish government founded the Maarif Foundation (Türkiye Maarif Vakfı) ostensibly to provide education, dormitories, and scholarships abroad, from pre-school to higher education, and raise a “Turkey-friendly youth.” It was also intended to take over schools run by supporters of Fethullah Gülen, which Turkey blames for its 2016 coup. Zafer Sırakaya, Istanbul AKP MP and AKP Deputy Chairman of Foreign Relations has identified the Maarif Foundation as an element of Turkey’s soft power and as a means to reduce assimilation among the Turkish diaspora. The Maarif Foundation operates in over 100 countries globally, including the EU, USA, and Australia. Its board members include many AKP officials, as well as:
- Selim Cerrah, a co-founder and vice president of Cihannüma, an association that has hosted Hamas leaders, including Khaled Meshaal.
- Osman Nuri Kabaktepe (Vice President of the Maarif Foundation) was a vice president of Cihannüma and a member of the high advisory board of the International Muslim Scholars Association, which has called itself the Turkish branch of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.
- Ayşen Gürcan has been a Chief Advisor to President Erdoğan.
All three of the above are also part of the high advisory board of the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA) alongside President Erdoğans’s son Bilal. As GIOR recently reported, the TÜGVA has started a “media literacy project” to teach youth in the European diaspora about recognizing “fake news and disinformation” against Turkey.