Monday, January 14, 2013

The Gulen Movement in Azerbaijan & a quid pro quo?



It requires an ongoing effort to even minimally understand the Gulen movement, the secretive and controversial religious group which operates the largest charter school network in the United States. Details about this group's structure, recruitment and control of members, were recently presented by Fuad Aliyev in “The Gulen Movement in Azerbaijan” (12/27/2012). His article appeared in Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, a publication of the Hudson Institute’s Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World. Aliyev is a Fulbright Scholar at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus, a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia [see maps below]. It has enormous energy reserves, including one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, the Shah Deniz II. Only discovered in 1999, this field will be the origin point for the Nabucco gas pipeline, a project being planned that will bring the first gas ever from the Caspian Sea basin to Europe, via Turkey. Construction has not yet commenced, but if built, the Nabucco pipeline will be one of the largest engineering projects in the world. Some estimates say it will be operational by 2017. The Nabucco will join the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to a Turkish port on the Mediterranean, a project that was first proposed in 1992 and completed in 2005.

The Gulen movement opened its first school in Azerbaijan in 1992. This was first school it opened outside of Turkey (see this article about its 20th anniversary from a Gulenist news source). The movement had expanded into Azerbaijan immediately after independence was attained in 1991 as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As Aliyev wrote, “Since the arrival of the [Gulen movement] in Azerbaijan, it has made a targeted effort to recruit the children of the country’s elite into their education institutions.” It has been reported that the offspring of many influential Azerbaijani officials are attending these schools.

Given the timing and other indicators, something to ponder is if interests in these newish energy sources in which Turkey is an integral player might have some bearing on our government’s unique relationship with Fethullah Gulen and his increasingly powerful group of intensely business-oriented followers. Is this somehow tied to the generous funding continually being provided to the Gulen movement for its charter school expansion? Is it tied to the strange silence from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other members of our government about the fact that a secretive and controversial religious group from a foreign country is operating so many charter schools (none in 1998, two in 1999, and now 135)? Is our government enabling the Gulen charter school expansion as some sort of quid pro quo? There is an enormous amount of information which should be presented to the American public so that this large subject can be opened up for a much wider level of discussion.

Excerpts from “The Gulen Movement in Azerbaijan” (12/27/2012).

Of all the Sunni movements in Azerbaijan, the most influential is the Turkish Nurcular network that is now led by its dominant offshoot known widely as the “Gülen” or “Hizmet” movement. Named for its founder, the Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, the movement is a faith-based educational network that is enormously well-resourced and highly active internationally, especially in the Turkic world that stretches from Turkey into Central Asia...

In Azerbaijan, the Gülen movement has succeeded in reaching out to a diverse population, but especially to urban elites. It is different from other Islamic movements in that it promotes its religious teachings not through outright proselytization, but discreetly through its network of secular educational institutions, social media and business associations...

... According to various experts, what makes the Gülen movement different from other Nurcular movements is its clear hierarchical structure, its strict internal discipline, the secrecy of its laws, its openness to capitalism and avowedly pro-business stance, and its focus on working through media associations and businesses to develop the movement...

In Turkey, the Gülen movement, as with some other Nurcu movements, is a well-structured, hierarchical organization...  Students are recruited and controlled at a local level by Nurcu abis (brothers) and by ablas (sisters). According to former members of this network, the movement possesses its own security service that is tasked with rooting out moles and agents of national intelligence and law enforcement services. The movement keeps a database of all its members, and the training of each new recruit emphasizes the need to exercise discretion in revealing their involvement with the Gülen network. Students are additionally instructed to respect and obey the network’s leadership...

The secrecy surrounding the movement has aroused considerable suspicion about its activities and ultimate goals. According to Mikhail Davidov, the movement’s underground network operates as a sort of intelligence service that collects information on political, economic, confessional and other dynamics in the Turkic-speaking regions and countries where the movement is seeking to spread its influence. Moreover, it has been claimed that the Gülen network works surreptitiously to infiltrate communities and the governments of Turkey and the [Commonwealth of Independent States] and promote its adherents to positions of power and influence. Because of these and connected fears, the movement has been banned in Russia and Uzbekistan by notoriously anti-Islamic authorities who see it as a subversive threat. Other Central Asian regimes have also been extremely wary of the Hizmet presence. Azerbaijan, by contrast, has always been more open to the movement, and it is in this post-Soviet country where the network has arguably had its greatest success and impact to date...

It should be noted that the movement’s media outlets are not explicitly religious. In fact, it is difficult to tell the difference between them and other secular media with an unaided eye...

The network in any given country is usually divided into three tiers or groups. The first group includes people who are closest to Gülen and the immediate circle of his most trusted and loyal followers. The second group includes those who work directly for the movement to achieve its larger objectives. The third group includes mainly sympathizers of the movement and they largely consist of journalists, business people, public officials, alumni of Hizmet schools, and friends. While this third grouping is not always formally a part of the network, the network does often mobilize it to pursue various ends...

Since the arrival of the group in Azerbaijan, it has made a targeted effort to recruit the children of the country’s elite into their education institutions. It has also sought to involve young individuals who are likely to become the country’s future technocratic, business and political elite; they reportedly have enjoyed many successes in doing this...

The secularist Azerbaijani media has fiercely criticized the Nurcu network for brainwashing youth. From time to time, the media will feature the “confessions” of former Gülen members that expose what life is like within the movement. The programs show how young people are recruited, manipulated and then subjected to the strict control of abis or ablas. According to various reports, the movement has tried to bring youngsters studying in their schools into the ishik evi or yurd houses, which are large communal apartments capable of accommodating more than fifteen students and 3 to 4 abis or ablas. In these houses, the elder brothers and sisters teach lessons on the fundamentals of Islam and the works of Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen. Distinguished students get promoted to the level of agabeys, or elder brothers, and they are then expected to recruit other young people. In exchange for their obedience and commitment to the movement, media reports indicate that the students have all their financial and career problems solved. The network pays for their education, provides them with housing, and helps to find them a job in Gülen-affiliated companies or in un-affiliated companies where network members are present...

... In the public’s view, the question of whether the movement seeks integration with Azeri society or to transform from within according to a Turkish-Islamist agenda remains largely unanswered. Given the movement’s historical flexibility and its extensive organizational structure in Azerbaijan, it could at least in principle and for the time being seek both ends.

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Also see "Religiously-inspired bonding: Changing soft power elements in Turkey's relations with Azerbaijan" by Nigar Goksal, Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, 2011. 

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11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great article.

"Is our government enabling the Gulen charter school expansion as some sort of quid pro quo?"

The Gulen Movement proliferation is a two prong pay day for both elite American and Turkish pols and business elites. Turkey is seen as a moderate, more tolerant Muslim country, thus a model for the billions of Muslim potential immigrants to America.

The "quid pro quo" here goes like this: Hey Turks, you wanna come here and set up your version of Turkish Scientology AND get your palms greased, too? No problem! Just give us access to your pipeline construction bids and geo-strategic sea lanes and bases and you can take over our public schools under the pay-to-play "charter" scam model that we are pushing on these stupid American plebs!

The Perimeter Primate said...

Excellent piece by notdeleted about behind-the-scenes maneuvering for a Gulen school on a large piece of property in Germany.

http://notdeleted.net/en-Gulen-from-Kindergarden-to-Highschool-Tudesb-in-Berlin.html

EXCERPT:

In fact the movement seems not really to be welcomed anywhere in the developed world outside Turkey, be it in a part of Amsterdam where they want to establish a primary school, be it in some places in the US where they want their own charter schools, be it in Berlin Spandau. There seems to be no demand for what they have to offer, while it is obviously, that the Cemaat demands from is members to spread and expand their educatonal network with all their energy.

The hesitation, doubts and even open animosity the Gülen movement encounters can not be explained by putting it away as islamophobia, the generalizing term members preferably use to broadly disqualify any criticism.
Most people have no problems with a group of (even very conservative) religious people that want to educate their own kids, and indeed they do not rise 'terrorists'.

The problem is that Gülen-followers pretend to be not religious in their educational activities, while they commonly share a very specific orthodox islamic view and lifestyle, and it is exactly their religion that motivates their engagement in education.

Another problem is (in Europe) that they claim to offer an education of diversity while de facto they do run mono-etnic Turkish schools...

A third aspect that does not cause sympathy is their missionary-like drive to expand. Be there demand or no demand for their institutions, they expand using all the possibilties that the law offers, all the channels to find funding, all the opportunities to get grip on politicians, and all possible means to influence people with one-sided information through a common approach of their organisations, educational institutions and involved persons...

The Perimeter Primate said...

http://turkicamericanconvention.org/about-turkic-convention/

Turkic American Convention
Energy Trade Development
March 12-13, 2013
Washington DC

The Turkic American Alliance proudly announces its Third Annual Turkic American Convention. This year leading policy makers from several countries such as, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will discuss issues focusing on energy, trade and regional development. Our guests will network with dynamic leaders from many diverse backgrounds thus providing attendees with a golden opportunity to build relationships with representatives from various countries. We hope that you and your company will join our convention, building and supporting the political empowerment of the Turkic Americans.

Last year over 700 people attended our convention, which was keynoted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Turkish Finance Minister, Mehmet Simsek. Our guests included 59 Members of Congress, 8 US Senators, and several members of the Turkish Parliament.

The Turkic American Alliance is the largest national Turkic organization in the Unites States, representing six regional federations and over 200 community associations, cultural centers, business associations and education institutions. The Turkic American Alliance also serves as a powerful advocate for dialogue not only between the Turkic-American and American communities, but also between Turkic states and The United States...

The Perimeter Primate said...

Read this excellent piece by CASILIPS about the Gulen Movement wooing US politicians on half of Azerbaijan.

"Is the Turquoise Council the paid lobbying firm of Azerbaijan's government? Tolerance, interfaith dialog, education......and oil"

http://turkishinvitations.weebly.com/is-the-turquoise-council-the-paid-lobbying-firm-of-azerbaijans-government.html

The Perimeter Primate said...

"Michael Rubin on Turkish protests, US-Azerbaijan relations, etc." 6/13/2013

Excerpt:

TURAN's Washington correspondent interviewed Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, whose major research area is the Middle East, with a special focus on Iran, Turkey, Arab politics, Afghanistan and diplomacy...

Q. By the way, the organizers of the Baku event -- Turkish-American Chamber was financed by the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians -- both groups are apparently known to have ties to Fethullah Gulen… What are the direct links between the Azeri government and a moderate Muslim imam who has founded a network of charter schools in the US as well as Caucasus/Central Asia?

A. SOCAR was the main sponsor and several Azerbaijani and American companies contributed to a lesser extent. The Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians did not contribute any funding to the conference. They were hired by the sponsors to organize the conference, however, and take care of the work of inviting those the conference wanted to invite, organizing their travel and hotels, and doing other logistics. That said, the sponsors’ decision to hire the Turquoise Council rather than, for example, the AmCham (The American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan) raises some questions...

The Perimeter Primate said...

"Robert Gibbs, Jim Messina, David Plouffe headline Azerbaijan trip." Politico, 5/30/2013
http://www.politico.com/story/2013/05/robert-gibbs-jim-messina-david-plouffe-azerbaijan-trip-92054.html

Excerpt:

A group of more than 40 high-level former White House officials, members of Congress and state officials traveled this week to Azerbaijan for a convention sponsored by top energy companies.

Former White House deputy chief of staff and Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama senior adviser David Plouffe all gave speeches at the two-day event in Baku, according to the schedule on the conference website.

Vice President Joe Biden’s sister Valerie Biden Owens was also listed as a speaker on women’s rights issues.

A representative of the Turquoise Council of Americans & Eurasians — a Houston-based nonprofit that is listed as the event organizer — did not return multiple requests for comment on whether the speeches were paid. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the speakers all received five-figure checks...

Offices for the sitting members of Congress either declined to comment or did not respond to a request for comment...

State level officials from across the country — including the secretaries of state from California, Wisconsin, and Arkansas — are also on the schedule.

The White House and Vice President Joe Biden’s office declined to comment. Plouffe, Gibbs and Messina did not immediately respond to requests for comment or declined to comment...

The Turquoise Council, an American Turkish nonprofit organization, has previously been tied to a number of Texas nonprofits, companies and charter school operators to the followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic Turkish preacher whose followers have created a movement in his name, according to a 2011 investigative piece by The New York Times.

Kemal Oksuz, the president of the Turquoise Council, is also the co-owner of a major Texas construction firm TDM Contracting that won millions of dollars in public contracts within months of its founding, the Times reported. That firm was tied to a network of Turkish-run Islamic charter schools, operated on the public dime.

The Perimeter Primate said...

"How Azerbaijan Is Like 'The Godfather' : One family controls nearly every major part of the Caucasian nation." The Atlantic, 7/11/2013,
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/07/how-azerbaijan-is-like-em-the-godfather-em/277717/

Few developments speak so well of how far Caucasian dictatorships have come since the grey days of the Soviet Union as the fabulously wealthy and incredibly investment-savvy 15-year-old male heir of Azerbaijan's ruling family.

When he was a mere 11 years old, Heydar Aliyev, the son of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, purchased $44 million in luxury mansions on Palm Jumeirah, the elite artificial archipelago built by Dubai and known for housing both holidaying British soccer players and thieving Russian tax officials. $44 million is, in the words of the Washington Post's Andrew Higgins, who broke the story in 2010, "roughly 10,000 years worth of salary for the average citizen of Azerbaijan."...

The Perimeter Primate said...

"New Research Uncovers More Paid Performances for Dictators by Pop Diva Jennifer Lopez." Human Rights Foundation, 7/12/2013, http://humanrightsfoundation.org/Jennifer-Lopez-HRF-uncovers-more-paid-performances-for-dictators-ignorance-greed-12-07-2013.php

NEW YORK (July 12, 2013)—Research by the Human Rights Foundation reveals that pop singer Jennifer Lopez received in excess of $10 million for serenading crooks and dictators from Eastern Europe and Russia... In September 2012, Lopez was booked by the dictatorship of Azerbaijan to perform at a FIFA soccer tournament. The fee was reportedly $2.5 million. While in the capital city of Baku, Lopez’s representatives met with the dictator’s wife and began negotiating a contract to put together a music festival in Azerbaijan in partnership with Los Angeles-based Creative Artists Agency. The event was initially planned for September 2013 but has been rescheduled to 2014...

The Perimeter Primate said...

Interesting chapter from "Russia and Asia: The Emerging Security Agenda" (1999, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) about the relationship between Turkey and both the USSR and post-1991 Russia; the re-connecting that started to take place between Turkey and the newly independent Turkic republics; the competing interests and strategies to transport gas and oil out of Central Asia, etc.

Chapter 11. Russian-Turkish relations
By Victor Nadein-Raevsky

http://books.sipri.org/files/books/SIPRI99Chu/SIPRI99Chu11.pdf (54.1KB, 9 pgs.)

The Perimeter Primate said...

By Bayram Balci: "Gülen: Top Issue in the Agenda of Erdoğan’s Visit to Azerbaijan." Eurasia Outlook, Carnegie Moscow Center, 4/9/2014
http://carnegie.ru/eurasiaoutlook/?fa=55290

Because of the political turmoil in which Turkey finds itself and because of the general defiance against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government, last week’s local elections turned into a plebiscite vote for Erdoğan. Less than a week after the vote, he paid a visit to Azerbaijan. Whether scheduled or not, it underlines the importance of the Turkish-Azeri relations especially in terms of political, economic and security issues.

Azerbaijan is more than a neighbor to Turkey, but geography and oil contracts make a big part of the bilateral relations. Azerbaijan and Turkey are linked by three major pipelines: Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC), Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE), and in the soon-to-be TANAP & TAP, which have become key routes for the transportation of Caspian energies to Europe. Moreover, the two countries share a similar vision of regional security. Last but not least, Azerbaijan is the most cooperative supporter of Turkey’s initiative to create a “Turkic Union” with all the Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union.

However, it seems that Erdoğan’s visit was also motivated by another question, that is the omnipresence of Fethullah Gülen followers whose activities in the little oil-rich Caucasus country have been massive and successful since the end of the Soviet Union. Erdoğan takes the battle against Gülen’s influence and power beyond the national borders, because that is where the Gülen movement force stems from.

Azerbaijan has always had a tremendous importance for the Gülen movement, partly because that is where they started to expand and where they met success. Further development throughout the Caucasus and post-Soviet Central Asia helped them become one of the most powerful and influential transnational Islamic movement present in more than 130 countries. Still, Azerbaijan is the one place outside Turkey where the movement is the most involved. Indeed, numerous businesses and educational companies managed by Gülen’s disciples and sympathizers operate here. Among them are the highly visible international Qafqaz University, a network of 15 high schools and more than 20 Araz prep schools spread around the country. Besides, some major media, like the newspapers Zaman Azerbaijan, the radio station Burç and a TV channel, are close to the Gülen movement...

The very vindictive Erdoğan went to Azerbaijan to warn his homologues against the potentially harmful activities of the Gülen movement and the threat it poses as a “parallel state” to Azerbaijan’s power and sovereignty. However, although they have been active in Azerbaijan for a long time, the Gülenists are weaker there than they are in Turkey. It explains easily as long as they could count on a strong ally in the person of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the top political level to favor their access to key positions in the police and the judiciary. They never reached such power in Azerbaijan or elsewhere and their influence is often exaggerated. Yet, it is undeniable that in Azerbaijan and as well as in the other countries, Gülenists outstepped the bound of philanthropic and educational activities building bridges between Turkey and he rest of the world. Influence and power are at the heart of their philosophy and action. Humanitarian and religious motivations for peace and interreligious dialogue in the world contributed to them endorsing the role of Turkey’s best ambassadors abroad and ensuring their position and influence. But it seems they slipped on the politicization path, harmed their image, raised suspicion and opposition and impaired their very own survival. The lesson learned should teach them to refocus on their initial core so as to become again the transnational social power of change they once were.

The Perimeter Primate said...

4/23/2014
Azerbaijan deports 8 affiliates of Fethullah Gulen
http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/134491/azerbaijan-deports-8-affiliates-of-fethullah-gulen
World Bulletin / News Desk

Azerbaijan has deported eight Turkish nationals, including the head of a company running schools for Turkey's Hizmet Movement, saying that their visas had expired.

Cag Ogretim CEO Enver Ozeren, Qafgaz University rector Ahmed Sanic and top businessman Bahri Topuz - all senior members of the movement in Azerbaijan - were deported back to Turkey...

Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev ordered an investigation into the movement's operations in his country following the scandals in neighboring Turkey.