Jihadist foundation run by Erdogan family employs Turkish intelligence to monitor whistleblower

Levent Kenez/Stockholm

Leaks in 2021 revealed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s family foundation, TÜGVA (Türkiye Gençlik Vakfı, Turkey Youth Foundation), had been crafting lists to determine who would be employed in state institutions. The leaks also exposed how the assets of foundations that were seized by the government following a controversial coup attempt in 2016 were distributed among various other foundations linked to the Erdogan family. A journalist-in-exile and a former foundation employee stood trial in connection with these leaks, with the former employee convicted and sentenced to prison. Documents presented to the court revealed that the foundation employee had been monitored by Turkish intelligence at the request of the foundation itself.

The Turkish president’s son Bilal Erdogan runs TÜGVA.

Former TÜGVA executive Ramazan Aydoğdu, who was accused of leaking the documents, revealed in court that TÜGVA executives had connections to the Security Directorate General (Emniyet) and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Aydoğdu presented evidence to the court suggesting that TÜGVA executives, with the assistance of the police and intelligence agency, had obtained the identity and address information of certain social media users who had posted messages against TÜGVA.

In the documents obtained by journalist Ismail Arı of the Bugün daily is information indicating that TÜGVA executives had Aydoğdu monitored by MİT.

In his defense, Aydoğdu also provided information from a WhatsApp group where Okan Özer, the then-deputy chairman of TÜGVA, informed executives of the leak. The shared message from Özer stated, “We have been having Aydoğdu monitored by intelligence for a long time. When the intelligence agency, Istanbul police and counterterrorism units all obtained certain information, they informed us.”

Ramazan Aydoğdu

Former TÜGVA President Enes Eminoğlu admitted in an interview with Turkish media that the leaked documents were indeed authentic, but he claimed that their foundation had been targeted in a setup. Eminoğlu was appointed deputy minister of youth and sports after the May elections. Aydoğdu, who who had been in pretrial detention between October 2021 and May 2022, was sentenced to two years. However, due to the time already served, he won’t return to prison to serve out his sentence.

In 2021 another leaked TÜGVA internal memo revealed the foundation’s clandestine intelligence-gathering plans in close coordination with Turkey’s spy agency MIT.

The three-page memo contains recommendations issued by the foundation led by the president’s son Bilal Erdogan. It lists not only policy actions but also practical work the foundation and associated entities must take to help support Erdogan’s authoritarian government. The proposals include intelligence gathering and surveillance in foreign countries by TÜGVA and aligned associations that work under the cover of nongovernmental organizations.

TÜGVA not only maintains close relations with intelligence and the police but also with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nordic Monitor previously reported that Turkey’s foreign ministry assisted two individuals connected to TÜGVA in obtaining Schengen visas from the Belgian Consulate in Istanbul through diplomatic channels, utilizing an official communiqué for urgent approval.

The leaked documents revealed that on May 19, 2017 the foreign ministry sent a diplomatic note marked “most urgent” to the Belgian Embassy in Ankara, requesting assistance in obtaining a Schengen visa from the Belgian Consulate in Istanbul for two TÜGVA officials. In the diplomatic communiqué, the foreign ministry’s Directorate General for Protocol provided an endorsement for Ismail Emanet, the head of TÜGVA, and his deputy Seçkin Koç, asserting that their visit to Brussels was related to a NATO summit. Both operatives were integrated into President Erdogan’s official delegation as he was scheduled to participate in the summit in Belgium on May 25.


TÜGVA in January 2023 initiated a special course designed for people aspiring to become diplomats. The course was featured on their website, and it was mentioned that individuals interested in participating would be accepted after a private interview.

Again in 2021 leaked images retrieved from TÜGVA’s confidential archives exposed the existence of  the foundation’s jihadist boot camps in Turkey that target young people there as well as in the Turkish diaspora in Europe and the US.

The revealing images depict young men posing beneath a jihadist banner, attending lectures by religious figures and making a distinctive hand gesture with a single index finger pointing upwards, reminiscent of the gestures often associated with groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Clerics give speeches to participants of the boot camp.

The ideological underpinnings of TÜGVA are rooted in political Islamist activism coupled with jihadist motivations. When examined as to who drives the ideological basis of the foundation, two controversial names come to the fore. One is Hayrettin Karaman, also known as the chief fatwa (religious edict) giver for Erdogan, whom he effectively declared caliph. Karaman openly advocated the view that all Muslims are obligated under Islam to support Erdogan.

Another ideologue is Nureddin Yıldız, a radical cleric who is close to the Turkish president. Yıldız openly advocates armed jihad, describes democracy as a system for infidels and says it can only be used as a means of deception to rise to power.  

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