Global Policy Forum

Does Foreign Funding Make NGOs into Puppets?


By Irazca Geray

New Anatolian
October 11, 2006

Criticism of a publication by an academic group on Turkey's security sector is turning into a fierce debate on the foreign funding received by some non-governmental organizations. The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation's (TESEV) recent "Almanac Turkey: Security Sector and Democratic Oversight," the target of criticism from the General staff, continues to face fire from various sectors. This time what's at stake is a potential clash among NGOs and the notion of foreign funding.

Social Transparency Movement Association (TSHD) Director Ercis Kurtulus this week gave an interview to Vatan daily harshly criticizing TESEV and a number of other NGOs that receive funding from billionaire philanthropist George Soros. In the interview titled "Turkey is under siege," Kurtulus agreed that the military should withdraw from politics yet stressed that he agrees with Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit's criticisms of the TESEV report.

In his recent speech at the opening of the academic year of the Turkish War Academies Command, Buyukanit openly stated that there is Islamist fundamentalism in Turkey and criticized TESEV's report on the grounds that it purposefully damages the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) by using false data and misinformation.

'TESEV gets funds and orders from abroad'

In the interview, Kurtulus explained that the TSHD was established in 1996 as part of Transparency International (TI). "The director of TI's Turkey branch at first thought the association could work as a sub-institution of TESEV, but a group including myself wanted to be independent from TESEV which is not a NGO, but an institution that receives funds and orders from abroad," he said.

Kurtulus charged that by using Soros' money, TESEV gets two or three people from the Court of Accounts (Sayistay) and the Treasury as speakers at their conferences and so attracts press coverage. Kurtulus claimed that there are 150 people and institutions under the influence of Soros in Turkey. "TESEV is controlled by a network that is influential across the world; this network includes Soros, the World Bank, the European Union and the Endowment for Democracy, which is controlled by the CIA," he claimed. Kurtulus also said that the TI has a dark face which are its chapters in the former Soviet bloc countries where they act as Soros' "frontier police stations" working to bring pro-American governments to power.

'Foreign funding should be banned'

He said that the Soros-founded transparency organizations to fight corruption in these countries are just glossy front groups. "Soros carried out his will in Ukraine and Georgia by using these NGOs," he said and added, "I am concerned because Soros wants to come to Turkey as well, so I share Buyukanit's helplessness." Noting that some Soros initiatives have been banned in Turkmenistan and Russia, Kurtulus said, "Last year Russia passed a special law prohibiting NGOs from taking money from foreigners. I think this should be banned in Turkey as well."

Kurtulus stated that he is not against the publication of the almanac, saying, "I am against the fact that it was published with the backing and control of secret powers, so I agree with Buyukanit's reaction which is a protest against the current state of siege."

'There are no secret powers backing the report'

TESEV's press advisor Ayse Yircali, who is also the administrative coordinator of the organization, told TNA that they refuse to give a reply to Kurtulus' remarks. Denying that there are "secret powers" at work, Yircali explained, "All the information about our finances, including the amount and source of our funds, are available on our website, which is open for everyone to see." She also said, "We won't react to the remarks published in the interview. Let the public decide for itself." Yircali added that they have no institutional relation with Kurtulus' association.

'We didn't expect the backlash to the report'

Noting that they already issued a statement on the debate that followed the report's release, Yircali said that TESEV will not make any more statements. She explained that this almanac is only one of the many studies and work that TESEV does. Asked by TNA whether they expected as much negative reaction to the almanac, Yircali said no. "We didn't expect it to be included in the chief of General Staff's speech, and that it was included in this speech led to more criticism."

TESEV is not the only NGO that Kurtulus accuses of functioning in the control of a global network. He said that Soros organizations in Turkey include the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, Turkish History Foundation and Economic Policy Research Institute (TEPAV).

TNA spoke to the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA) representatives who confirmed that they had received funds from some of these groups and that this information is no secret. "These organizations can't give funds under the table; they announce the kind of programs they will support and declare which institutions have been given how much as part of this support," said an HCA representative. "This data is openly stated on the websites of the funder and the fund-receiving organizations. Also in line with the new law on foundations, all activities, including the amount and source of the fund, must be transparent, and must be approved by the City Directorate of Associations that report to the Interior Ministry."

It has also been noted that Soros already has a representation in Turkey, namely the Open Society Institute (OSI). HCA Executive Board member Umit Firat told TNA that until now he had been unaware of the TSHD, and said, "They put on this farce in order to attract attention."

'We don't buy arms with Soros funds'

Firat said, "We don't receive money from Soros to buy arms, we're not an underground organization, everything is out in the open and these organizations can't give money under the table. All activities continue before the very eyes of the law."

Regarding Kurtulus' comments on banning foreign funding, Firat said, "We don't have the notion of the 'foreign.' In the '60s the people of my generation went to Palestine to fight on the side of the people there. People from around the world gave their support to the people in the Greek civil war. During the foundation of the Turkish Republic, India sent gold to be used for the cause."

Firat commented on Kurtulus' example of Russia, where foreign-funded NGOs have been banned, saying, "How can they cite Russia as an example? Let alone foreign funding, they are emerging from a regime where no one could move a finger without the approval of the police. Turkey is done for if it's to be compared to Russia, where people used to be scared of their own shadows."

Republic also receives foreign funding

Receiving funds to execute a certain program doesn't necessarily mean the organization is controlled and manipulated by the funding institution, said Firat. "In order to run many of its programs, the state of Turkey receives support from international funds," he pointed out. "There's nothing secret about this. For instance, in order to carry out the Return to Villages program, Turkey gets funding from the EU and other international sources. Are we supposed to say 'Don't take money from abroad or else they'll place spies into these villages'? If I get a retirement pension from the state, does that mean I accept everything that the state does? See Greenpeace, for instance, they work for the environment in Turkey, but do they get salaries from the state of Turkey, no."

More Information on NGOs
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More Information on the Credibility and Legitimacy of NGOs
More Information on NGOs and States


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