Friday, July 16, 2010

Sponsor of Flotilla Tied to Elite of Turkey

The New York Times has just published a good investigative report on the IHH - the Turkish charity behind the Gaza flotilla that included the Mavi Marmara - Sponsor of Flotilla Tied to Elite of Turkey.

Apparently the IHH and the ruling party in Turkey, the AK (Justice and Development Party) are very close, and the Turkish government was closely following events on the flotilla. The Turkish government could have ordered the flotilla not to go to Gaza, but did not.
ISTANBUL — The Turkish charity that led the flotilla involved in a deadly Israeli raid has extensive connections with Turkey’s political elite, and the group’s efforts to challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza received support at the top levels of the governing party, Turkish diplomats and government officials said.

The charity, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, often called I.H.H., has come under attack in Israel and the West for offering financial support to groups accused of terrorism. But in Turkey the group has helped Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan shore up support from conservative Muslims ahead of critical elections next year and improve Turkey’s standing and influence in the Arab world.

According to a senior Turkish official close to the government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the issue, as many as 10 Parliament members from Mr. Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party were considering boarding the Mavi Marmara, the ship where the deadly raid occurred, but were warned off at the last minute by senior Foreign Ministry officials concerned that their presence might escalate tensions too much.

When leaders of the charity returned home after nine Turks died in the Israeli raid, they were warmly embraced by top Turkish officials, said Huseyin Oruc, deputy director of the charity, who was aboard the flotilla.

“When we flew back to Turkey, I was afraid we would be in trouble for what happened, but the first thing we saw when the plane’s door opened in Istanbul was Bulent Arinc, the deputy prime minister, in tears,” he said in an interview. “We have good coordination with Mr. Erdogan,” he added. “But I am not sure he is happy with us now.”

The raid has caused a rupture between Turkey and Israel, and heightened alarm in the United States and Europe that Turkey, a large Muslim country and a major NATO member, is shifting allegiance toward the Arab world. Turkey has warned that its cooperative ties to Israel could be irreparably damaged unless the Israelis apologize and accept an international investigation, steps Israel has so far refused to take.

The charity’s mission, political analysts said, has advanced Mr. Erdogan’s aim of shifting Turkey’s focus to the Muslim east when its prospects for joining the European Union are dim.

The government “could have stopped the ship if it wanted to, but the mission to Gaza served both the I.H.H. and the government by making both heroes at home and in the Arab world,” said Ercan Citlioglu, a terrorism expert at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul....
“How can such a large country as Turkey, with interests in four continents, and with an export- and investment-driven economy requiring extra caution all around the globe, be dragged to the brink of war by a nongovernmental organization?” asked Semih Idiz, a columnist for the Hurriyet Daily News in Turkey, in a June 7 editorial. The answer, he added, is that the charity is a “GNGO” — a “governmental-nongovernmental-organization.”
Many of the 21 people listed on the charity’s board have or had close links to the AK Party. In January, Murat Mercan, chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and a senior party official, joined an overland aid convoy to Gaza organized by the charity that tried to force its way through the Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza.
A trustee of the charity, Ali Yandir, is a senior manager at the Istanbul City Municipality Transportation Corporation. The corporation controls Istanbul Fast Ferries, which sold the Mavi Marmara, with a capacity for 1,090 passengers, to the charity for about $1.8 million. In 2004, Mr. Yandir was an AK Party candidate for the mayor’s office in Istanbul’s Esenler District.
The charity’s board includes Zeyid Aslan, an AK Party member of Parliament and the acting head of the Turkey-Palestine Interparliamentary Friendship Group; Ahmet Faruk Unsal, an AK Party member of Parliament from 2002 to 2007; and Mehmet Emin Sen, a former AK Party mayor in the central Anatolian township of Mihalgazi.
Those ties partly reflect the common agenda of the party and the charity. Both are involved in relief work among the poor and are bound by a common Islamic ideology. Many of the 60,000 people the charity claims as members come from the religious merchant class that helped Mr. Erdogan sweep to power....

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