Civil society in Turkey, in danger

2023-11-29 19:48:32, Kosova & Bota CNA
Civil society in Turkey, in danger
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Members of civil society in Turkey are worried about their future as international funding dwindles. As Voice of America correspondent Dorian Jones reports, important donors have ended or reduced their contribution, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now further empowered by his re-election, continues to suppress dissident voices.

Emboldened by re-election in May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to crack down on elements of Turkish civil society that he accuses of endangering democracy.

Activists of the organization "SpoD", the Association for the Study of Social Policies, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, say they are facing a financial battle to survive, due to the decline in international support. The decrease in funds is affecting aspects such as dedicated telephone lines for services, as well as legal and psychological support for people who identify as members of the LGBTQ community.

"Since the elections, the percentage of funding is falling. It is impossible to continue all activities based on volunteering. So these financings are important for the survival of organizations", says Ogulcan Yediveren, from the organization "SPOD".

Observers say Mr Erdogan's re-election puts further pressure on dissidents, who say it could only add to donors' questions about how much funding Turkish civil society organizations might be worth.

"There is a decline, a reluctance from international donors for Turkey. And this has increased, especially after the elections", says Sinan Gokcen, from the organization "Defenders of Civil Rights".

Domestic financial support also dwindled after Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala was given a life sentence for trying to overthrow the government. He was found guilty of supporting the nationwide Gezi protests in 2013 against Mr Erdogan's policies. The decision has been criticized by Washington and the European Court of Human Rights.

But President Erdogan has defended Mr. Kavala's sentence and accuses civil society groups, such as those Mr. Kavala supports, of conspiring with donors to undermine his government.

"There is a person who financed the terrorists in the Gezi events. Kavala is now behind bars. And who is behind it? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros," said Mr. Erdogan.

Due to pressure from the Turkish government, Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros has withdrawn from Turkey, after significant support for civil society that lasted until 2018.

Activists warn that another anonymous financier from Europe is expected to withdraw from Turkey by the end of this year.

"Open Society no longer funds programs in Turkey. I think it was about $2 million for civil society and another $2 million for refugee organizations. Another very special organization, the Chrest Foundation from the United States, also stopped funding after being heavily attacked by the pro-government media," says Ekrem Murat Celikkan, Center for Truth, Remembrance and Justice.

Officials of the Chrest Foundation did not respond to VOA's request for comment, while the donors who are moving the funds to other causes, asked not to be identified by name, due to the delicate situation./ VOA

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