Analysis: a mosque, Gülenists and the influence of Ankara – Exit


On Monday January 17, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated the newly renovated Et’hem Bey Mosque on the edge of Skanderbeg Square in Tirana. The event brought together Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, government ministers and representatives of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA). The Albanian Muslim Community (KMSH), however, was noticeably absent.

The restoration of the historic mosque was financed by TIKA. The KMSHs, who own and manage it, have been largely excluded from the completion celebration ceremony.

Imam Bujar Spahiu, head of KMSH, told the media they did not receive an official invitation from the event organizers or the Albanian government.

“There is nothing to say about our absence at the inauguration of the Et’hem Bey mosque. We just didn’t have an invitation,” he said.

It was alleged in the media that their absence was due to claims that the KSHM was led by sympathizers of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric and Erdogan’s most vocal opponent. Erdogan blames Gulen and his supporters for the failed 2016 coup and has waged a major crackdown against them since, purging them from public life.

This has even extended beyond Turkey’s borders, where several countries have signed secret agreements to engage in ‘extraterritorial abductions’ and ‘enforced disappearances’ of Turkish citizens returned to Turkey without following due process. .

Spahiu, however, denies any connection to the Gulen movement, which Erdogan calls “FETO”.

“We have nothing to do with FETO. We are Albanians,” he said.

Attempts to get further comment from the KSHM failed, as the representatives and Spahiu were unwilling to elaborate.

In addition, it is reported that the KSHM held an emergency meeting with imams, muftis and leaders from across the country. The topic on the table would have been whether they should have an official and public statement on the comments made by Erdogan during his visit.

As of this writing, they told media, “we don’t have an opinion at this time.”

During Erdogan’s extraordinary speech to the Albanian parliament on the same day, he said that the ‘FETO’ organization had infiltrated multiple aspects of Albanian life. These include “education, health care and religion”.

This is not the first time that Albania has been asked to crack down on alleged Gülenists.

What is the Gülen Movement?

Otherwise known as Hizmet, the Gulenists are the supporters of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s main rival. Gulen established himself in Turkey in the 1960s as a religious preacher, proclaiming a moderate and tolerant Islam. His followers say his teachings promote selflessness, work and education. Once an ally of Erdogan, the latter has started to see him as a threat because of his network among successful businessmen and his influence on educational institutions.

Following the failed July 15, 2016 coup in which more than 2,000 people were killed, Erdogan branded Gulen supporters as terrorists and arrested them by the thousands, jailing teachers, journalists, activists and members of the public service. Many others have lost their jobs due to alleged links to the organization.

Only a handful of countries consider the Gulenists a terrorist organization, including Pakistan and occupied northern Cyprus which is under Ankara’s control.

What does Hizmet do?

Hizmet has funded countless schools, media and NGOs and is operational in some 150 countries. This includes Albania which has five schools believed to be linked to the movement. One of the schools, allegedly linked to Gulen, is owned by a Dutch company and the administrators say they are not part of the organization.

The Maarif Foundation, also present in Albania, has started opening its own educational institutions in an attempt to get Hizmet out of the game. They have a network of universities, kindergartens and schools across the country. Maarif is directly funded by the Turkish government.

The Albanian government has already cracked down on several schools, allegedly run by Gülenists, including sending police to raid several campuses while children were present and without a warrant. One of the schools in question, Turgut Ozal, owned by a Dutch company, filed a criminal complaint against the State Police for raiding their premises during school hours and seizing school records without a warrant.

In February Last year, the court ordered that the records be returned to the school.

Others report pressure to close, including continuous and unwarranted audits, legal and administrative harassment and various other measures which they have interpreted as a means of forcing them to close and leave Albania.

Extraterritorial abduction

During Erdogan’s speech, he said that Albania must withdraw the Gulenists from Albania if it wants to maintain a friendly relationship with Turkey. During his next visit to Albania, Erdogan said the situation should be resolved “definitively”.

In 2018, former foreign minister Ditmir Bushati said he would not hand over members of the Gülen movement to Turkey, but in practice the opposite has happened.

Government violated all relevant laws by deporting suspected Gülenist to Turkey, Albanian mediator concludes

In 2020, Turkish citizen Harun Celik was deported in a decision described by the Albanian ombudsman as a violation of national law and international conventions. Celik entered Albania with a fake passport and attempted to seek asylum. He was refused, detained for five months and then deported without the possibility of appealing the decision. Furthermore, he was deported without a court request for deportation or a prosecutor’s order.

Under Albanian law, the government must notify the border police of a deportation 24 hours in advance, but did not do so. In addition, Albanian law also stipulates that an individual has the right to leave the country on their own, within a certain period of time.

The EU and various MEPs condemned the decision and called on the government to ensure respect for the Geneva Convention on refugees.

Selami Simsek, who entered the country with Celik, was also to be deported in the same way. He was refused asylum by the Directorate of Asylum and Citizenship on March 9, 2020 and September 10, 2020. He asked that the institutions be obliged to accept his request but lost at first instance. The Administrative Court of Appeal then ruled against the government and prevented it from being expelled.

The Court found that the Home Office broke the law and circumvented UNRC recommendations by attempting to deport him.

The Albanian Interior Ministry broke the law by trying to deport Turkish national Selami Simsek

According to a report by UN rapporteurs.

The rapporteurs indicated that more than 100 Turkish citizens had been forcibly transferred and that 40 of them had been subjected to “enforced disappearances”, sometimes with their families and children.

Dated May 2020, the report draws attention to reports they have received which appear to show a systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions. The individuals in question are suspected of being involved in the Gülen movement which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of being a terrorist organization.

Albania, along with Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Gabon, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Pakistan, have been named as having entered into a written agreement with the Turkish government on these issues.

Members of the Turkish government are accused of sending updated lists of suspected terrorists to their foreign counterparts, demanding their immediate expulsion. These citizens then often have their passports canceled and their citizenship revoked.

The report says the Turkish government has not only admitted to perpetrating or encouraging kidnappings and illegal transfers, but has pledged to do more in the future. It is reported that in November 2018, the Turkish Foreign Minister informed the Parliament that 452 extradition requests had been sent to a total of 83 countries.

He also took note of the July 2019 visit to Albania by the Turkish Interior Minister. During his visit, he reiterated his demand for the closure of all Gulen-affiliated schools in the country and the expulsion of their staff. The Minister is said to have presented a document containing all the names and passport numbers of the Turkish nationals of Albanian residence whom he wished to deport.

The report revealed that the Turkish authorities had set up a special task force to carry out and encourage operations in other countries.

UN report: Albania complicit in extraterritorial abductions and enforced disappearances of Turkish nationals

Later comments by Freedom House research director Nate Schenkkan claimed that Turkey is the world leader in illegal repatriations, mainly from countries that depend on Ankara for financial, political or humanitarian support.

He made the comments during an interview with the FinancialTimes for an article lifting the veil on Turkish secret service abductions and deportations, which followed little or no due process. These incidents took place with suspected members of the Gulen movement, which only Turkey considers a terrorist organization.

The Turkish state has been accused of systematically pressuring countries to engage in extraterritorial abductions and forced returns to Turkey.

According to Schenkkan, these repairs “will never end. Not while Erdogan is in power…it is such a priority for them that they will sacrifice other foreign policy goals. The message is that Turkey is making its own rules…”

Some Turkish citizens who have lived in Tirana for more than 15 years, who spoke to Exit on condition of anonymity, explained how their passports expired and they cannot renew them at the Turkish embassy. After applying for Albanian citizenship, after meeting the requirements and even being married to Albanian citizens, they were repeatedly refused and told it was because of their alleged Hizmet ties. Some are now in a situation where they risk becoming stateless because they cannot renew their passports and cannot obtain Albanian citizenship.

Meanwhile, a survey by Nordic monitor claimed that the Turkish Embassy in Albania was engaging in a campaign of intelligence gathering and profiling of Erdogan’s critics, as well as so-called Gulenists. They cite information contained in documents used as evidence in an Ankara court against individuals accused of terrorism.

They reported that former Ambassador Hidayet Bayraktar and current envoy Murat Ahmet Yoruk may have overseen the compilation of files on as many as 61 people and then sent them to the Foreign Ministry in Turkey.

Meanwhile, following Erdogan’s demands in parliament earlier this week, Prime Minister Edi Rama responded by saying “we owe no debt” to Turkey and Erdogan.

“We owe no debt to the President of Turkey and Turkey, like the president of Turkey and the Republic of Turkey owes us nothing because there is no debt between friends and a brotherly friendship.


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