by Ahmet S. Yayla
Yayla, director of the Center for Homeland Security at DeSales University, discusses Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two-pronged strategy for manipulating U.S. public opinion to benefit the interests of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP): use Turkish diaspora groups and Muslim-American nonprofits. They work in close consultation with the Turkish state to deny the Armenian genocide, support pan-Islamic goals, undermine Israel, and seek the extradition of Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen. The author pieces together news reports, leaked emails, government tax data, and first-person accounts for an inside look at these groups and individuals. He describes how “well-established American Muslim groups” began interacting with both existing Turkish establishments based in the United States and newly-founded Turkish nationalist institutions.
Erdoğan’s long term “investment” in the United States was procured through the establishment of Turkish-American nongovernmental organizations. Hacked emails tell the story of how Erdoğan’s Turkish proxies first pitched the idea of infiltrating “Capitol Hill and the U.S. security establishment through front organizations and lobbyists under the guise of journalism.”
Soon after, the Turkish Heritage Organization was born, a nonprofit funded by AKP business interests, which acts as an “unregistered wing of the Turkish government and its ruling political party,” controlled with military efficiency by the president’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. The nonprofit is used “as a shell organization to cover spy-like or espionage activities” targeting the Turkish government’s critics.
Yayla describes how prominent American Islamist groups once loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood have turned to Erdoğan for support. In return, these institutions echo regime talking points and carry water for the Turkish president.
The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, an umbrella of Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups and South Asian extremists, has praised Erdoğan as the “true leader of Ummah” and is “the main support and lobbying group for Erdoğan among U.S. Muslims.”
While Yayla does a commendable job describing Erdoğan’s reach, he fails to note that, so far, the Turkish president’s grasp has mostly failed. Gülen continues to live comfortably in Pennsylvania; President Biden and the U.S. Congress have acknowledged the Armenian genocide, and Turkey will not be upgrading its air force with F-35 fighters any time soon.
However, this is small comfort. The AKP has in place a lobbying infrastructure—a veritable army of Islamist think tanks, charities, and civil advocacy groups—and is winning new backers to realize its neo-Ottoman agenda with American help.