Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 38 Issue 3
The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, known as “Diyanet,” has significantly expanded its influence abroad, with a budget increase from $1.3 billion to $3.18 billion in 2023. Operating as a state structure directly under the President of Turkey, Diyanet manages thousands of mosques domestically and internationally, engaging in educational, charitable, and informational activities. Despite its recognition, Diyanet has been embroiled in scandals in Europe, particularly related to illegal intelligence activities and financial transactions. Its active involvement in the post-Soviet space, notably in Central Asia and Russia, reflects its role as a tool of Turkish “soft power” and an avenue for cultural and humanitarian dialogue.
- Financial Influence. Diyanet’s substantial budget increase makes it one of Turkey’s wealthiest government agencies, surpassing key ministries. This financial clout contributes to its expansive reach and activities, both at home and abroad.
- Scandals in Europe. Diyanet faces allegations of illegal intelligence activities, espionage, and financial misconduct in Europe. The scandals, including the monitoring of Gülenists and visa refusals for Turkish imams, highlight the controversial nature of its overseas operations.
- Global Outreach. Diyanet actively engages in the Turkic-speaking countries of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, fostering educational initiatives and encouraging study in Turkey. In Russia, it collaborates with the Turkish Youth Foundation, promoting language studies, cultural traditions, and IT education, contributing to the broader Russian-Turkish relationship.
Diyanet: Background Information
Diyanet, among the world’s largest religious institutions, manages a vast network of mosques, conducts educational and charitable activities, and operates globally through the Diyanet Foundation. The organisation’s budget increase to $3.18 billion in 2023 underscores its significance and financial prowess.
Established in 1924, it operates under the supervision of the country’s Prime Minister and plays a crucial role in shaping religious policy and regulating religious activities within the nation.
The Turkish Diyanet has several key functions, including:
- Providing religious guidance and education. The Diyanet offers religious education to the public using a range of approaches, including courses held in mosques, educational materials, and online resources.
- Managing religious institutions. The organisation oversees the management of mosques, imam training centres, and other religious institutions throughout Turkey.
- Conducting religious ceremonies. The Diyanet organises and conducts religious events, such as Friday prayers, Ramadan iftar, and Eid
- Issuing fatwas. The Diyanet issues fatwas (religious decrees or rulings), in response to inquiries from the public on various matters related to Islam.
- Supporting interfaith dialogue. The organization works towards promoting religious tolerance and understanding by participating in interfaith dialogues and fostering cooperation with other religious communities in Turkey.
The Turkish President, appointed by the Prime Minister, supervises the Diyanet. The organisation has a hierarchical structure comprising several departments (departments for religious affairs, education, training, publications, and foreign affairs), as well as regional branches throughout Turkey.
The Diyanet is under the supervision of the government and receives funding from the state budget. Although not a political entity, it assumes a crucial role in influencing religious policy and representing the official interpretation of Islam in the nation. Additionally, the organisation has garnered a significant amount of public trust and support because of its reputation as a dependable provider of religious guidance and education.
Diyanet plays a crucial role in Turkey’s geopolitics by aligning strategically with the government’s objectives. Its involvement in education, charity, and information dissemination amplifies Turkey’s influence, projecting power through religious and cultural channels.
The controversies in Europe show a dual nature: while enhancing Turkish influence, Diyanet’s activities raise concerns, straining diplomatic relations.
In the post-Soviet space, Diyanet serves as a conduit for Turkish “soft power,” particularly in Central Asia and Russia.
The collaboration with the Türkiye Gençlik Vakfı (Turkish Youth Foundation – TÜGVA) showcases a multifaceted approach, incorporating language studies, cultural exchange, and technological education.
The memorandum of cooperation with the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia exemplifies Diyanet’s pivotal role in cultivating religious and diplomatic connections.
The risks associated with Diyanet’s activities are multifaceted. In Europe, the organisation faces diplomatic challenges because of allegations of illegal activities. Financial irregularities also pose a risk, with potential implications for Turkey’s international standing. Regionally, the dual nature of its influence in the post-Soviet space may strain diplomatic relations with other nations, potentially affecting Turkey’s geopolitical positioning.
- Continued Influence. Diyanet continues to expand its influence, overcoming controversies and diplomatic challenges. Turkey strengthens its global standing through religious and cultural channels, solidifying its soft power.
- Increased Scrutiny. Growing international scrutiny on Diyanet’s activities leads to tighter regulations and oversight. Turkey faces diplomatic hurdles, necessitating strategic adjustments to maintain influence without compromising global relationships.
- Diplomatic Repercussions. Ongoing controversies result in strained diplomatic relations, affecting Turkey’s geopolitical positioning, particularly within the European Union and the Russian Federation. The potential withdrawal of financial support or diplomatic sanctions could hinder Diyanet’s overseas activities.
Diyanet’s expansive influence presents both opportunities and risks for Turkey. While leveraging its reach for soft power and supporting Ankara’s pan-Turkism, Turkey must address the diplomatic fallout from controversies.
The role of Diyanet in advancing Ankara’s foreign policy is notable, particularly in Central Asia and Russia, where the confluence of Turkic identity and Islam presents an opportunity for Turkey to cultivate local support. This aligns with Turkey’s broader geopolitical objectives.
However, the post-Soviet landscape introduces a complex dynamic, as Diyanet’s initiatives may encounter resistance orchestrated by Moscow. The Kremlin, safeguarding against external interference within its territorial sphere and perceived lebensraum (vital space), is likely to employ counter-strategies to mitigate Turkish influence.
This interplay underscores the intricate geopolitical chessboard in which religious and ethnic factors intertwine with national interests, necessitating a nuanced approach for effective analysis and strategic foresight.
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