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Response to the USA TODAY

Dear Friends:

You may have read or learned of the disparaging and misleading USA Today headline, “Turkish Sect Funded Congress Travel,” and subsequent article referencing the “Gulen or Hizmet (service) movement” in last weekend’s edition. We believe, by association, it attempts to negatively reflect on the Atlantic Institute and the hundreds of other community-based, non-profit organizations in America and elsewhere.

These organizations, like the Atlantic Institute, refer to themselves as “Gulen inspired” and are civic organizations. The organizations are not “a religious group” or “sect” as implied in the article. Contrary to the claims of the article, the organizations are non-profit 501 (c) 3 entities registered to the IRS.The organizations are formed to promote a peaceful co-existence of different international ‘walks of life’ regardless of ethnicity, faith, color, or culture, and nurture mutual understanding, acceptance and appreciation of each person’s point of view and perspective.

The USA Today article fails to mention Fethullah Gulen’s decades-long commitment to education, community service and interfaith harmony.

In 2013, Time magazine named Gulen to their 100 most influential people list, citing him as “the most potent advocate of moderation in the Muslim world” for preaching a message of tolerance. Fethullah Gulen has been praised by world leaders such as President Bill Clinton, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, Armenian Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan and Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Eliyahu Bakshi Doron — and has received a personal audience by the late Pope John Paul II.
While ignoring these facts, as well as the efforts of the Hizmet movement to set up hospitals, healthcare centers, disaster relief organizations, schools and charitable institutions around the world, the USA Today’s authors simply echo the Turkish President Erdogan’s distrustful allegations. USA Today article references Turkish government’s deceptive claims about the Hizmet movement, but fails to note current Turkish government’s massive media suppression and human rights atrocities, all of which Hizmet movement is critical of. These are being reported on a regular basis in leading editorials and articles in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Financial Times and The Economist, including as recently as this week when the Erdogan government was criticized by U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby, EU spokeswoman Catherine Ray as well as independent watchdogs such as Freedom House and Human Rights Watch.
On October 26, 2015, Reuters reported that the Turkish government led by president Tayyip Erdogan's ally-turned-arch rival, has hired the international law firm, Amsterdam and Partners based in London to investigate the worldwide activities of Fethullah Gulen's Hizmet Movement. Is this perhaps, how the authors became influenced to write the provocative and misleading article?
The article makes numerous allegations regarding the reporting by Gulen-inspired organizations’ expenses relating to travel on cultural dialog missions of members of US Congress to Turkey. Each Congressional office and each Gulen-inspired organization respectively affirms the trips were organized and expenses were reported appropriately. Congressmen and their staff receive approval to travel on such trips in advance from the Ethics Committee. Like all non-profits, the various organizations (each a separately formed US corporation under local governance) report their activities to the IRS.
Mention is made of the Turkish non-governmental and non-profit BAKIAD (Bosphorus-Atlantic Association of Cultural Cooperation and Friendship) in the article. Many of the US organizations hosting (and reporting) the cultural mission trips have agreements with BAKIAD for the coordination of activities inside Turkey. Even the local authorities in Turkey have recognized BAKIAD for its outstanding work in building peaceful relations between Turkey and the world. The article states there are ‘secrets’ about the BAKIAD activities and events. Most, if not all, trips are planned months in advance and distribute descriptive pamphlets detailing the activities and itineraries. How is that ‘secret?’
We remain committed to our mission of seeking and creating opportunities for dialogue between individuals and communities. Contributing to the local and global peace by promoting values such as; respect, acceptance, dialogue, love, richness of faith and culture over centuries of time. It is in that spirit that we will continue to organize dialogue missions for academics, non-profit groups, religious and civic leaders and government officials to Turkey. We remain confident in this mission and are clear in our conscience regarding it.
Meanwhile, we appreciate your continued confidence in our peace-seeking efforts, and your cooperation and understanding. Please contact us if you have any questions.
Thank you for your continued support.