Date posted: February 16, 2014
YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN, İSTANBUL
“Media professionals, businesspeople, other professionals from all levels of the society feel the same way, some type of oppression, in this time period. We are all in the same boat. We are, of course, in a difficult position because of our visibility and links to the Hizmet movement, which has been subject to black propaganda,” said İsmail Cingöz, president of Kimse Yok Mu” (Is Anybody There?), a charity based on the Hizmet movement inspired by prominent scholar Fethullah Gülen.
What has made Kimse Yok Mu even more visible in these days were the allegations by the Sabah daily on Feb. 10 claiming that Kimse Yok Mu never sent any aid packages to camp number seven located in Mogadishu — the camp that was closed down by the United Nations seven months ago due to security reasons.
This claim was denied by Somali officials, including the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the person in charge of the camp, Ibrahim Abdinur Muhammed. He said the organization had helped 450 families living in the camp and that it continues to send assistance to the camps in six other locations in Somali in the form of health and food supplies and clothing as well as education tools.
Cingöz says that this defamatory activity is being conducted by some pro-government media outlets against the Hizmet movement.
“Even though I expected publications to discredit us, the surprising thing for me was that our Somali campaign was attacked, because since the day of our foundation, Somali is one of the two areas that we have a focus on,” Cingöz said adding that the Dec. 17 events must have had a negative effect on the government, but there is an easy way out:
“The allegations against the government are tough, but the easiest way out is to reveal the truth. If there are people who are involved in any wrongdoings, they must be dealt within the limits of the state of rule of law.”
On Dec. 17 last year, an investigation operation of corruption and bribery had started involving many high level officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
Answering our questions, Cingöz told us about their ongoing campaign regarding displaced Syrians in Turkey, and more.
Kimse Yok Mu is known mostly by its activities abroad, but there is a lot done in Turkey by the organization. Would you tell us how much of your work is inside and outside of Turkey?
We are glad to be known by our activities in countries other than Turkey; however, we have most of our activities inside Turkey. Kimse Yok Mu was designated a nongovernmental organization in March 2002. It had started its work following a devastating earthquake in Turkey in August 1999. Kimse Yok Mu now reaches out to different regions of the world affected by catastrophes. It is officially recognized by Turkey as an association that works for “public interest.” We are also a member of the UN Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC. We are a transparent organization that also received a “top quality service award” from Parliament. We are active in 103 countries. A total of 310,000 families in Turkey applied to our organization to seek help. We reach out to 190,000 families in Turkey. We hope to reach the remaining families by the end of 2014. Except for very special campaigns — like the ones for Syrian refugees, and Somali — 70 percent of the organization’s income is used in Turkey and the rest, 30 percent, is used in 103 countries.
With this domestic and international recognition, did you expect the most recent negative publication about your association?
First of all, Sabah and Takvim newspapers printed a story and then it was distributed in the Internet. Was it surprising? No, because our association has been linked to a certain group, the Hizmet movement, and sooner or later, I expected either personal or more general accusations toward us. Even though I expected publications to disrepute us, the surprising thing for me was that our Somali campaign was attacked, because since the day of our foundation, Somali is one of the two areas that we have a focus on — the other area that we focus is displaced Syrians. I’ve been also relieved because there was nothing that we could not prove. We of course denied the allegations and went to court with lawsuits against the newspapers.
No, they did not. Moreover, some reporters called from the newspaper and asked our opinion about the Somalia news story; this is hours after the false news story was on the paper and in the social media. We, of course, did not answer their calls.
A European Parliament (EP) committee discussed on Wednesday a proposal, calling on the Hizmet movement to increase transparency. This is a call backed by the movement. What is your evaluation of this call as transparency is important for credibility of organizations such as, Kimse Yok Mu?
Transparency is a vague term if it is not well defined. There should be rules and criteria supporting transparency of organizations. Otherwise, even if you open the doors of your bedroom to people, it would not be enough. Since transparency is not well defined, the Hizmet movement faces some accusations. When it comes to our organization, it is an organization with domestic and international recognition. Moreover, it has been inspected by both its donors and volunteers. Its budget is open to the public. It is absurd to question its transparency.
Do you believe that the Turkish judicial system will deliver results that will be satisfactory for your organization?
If you cannot trust the judicial system in a country, that means that country is almost finished because anarchy and terror prevails in such an environment. Decisions of the judiciary can be criticized but we have no choice other than to Are such allegations hurting the organizations at the leave that donors start to be suspicious about where their donations are going?
Such allegations hurt people’s trust. Sometimes, an opposite effect occurs; volunteers and donors ask themselves: How can this organization — which I know how it operates and spends its money — be involved in corruption? And then those people come back to the organization positively and supportively.
Can you measure this? Is there an increase or decrease in donations?
In the past three years, donations in form of cash and other support — we receive no second-hand items; we only receive cash support and unused goods from companies with invoices — value TL 560 million, about TL 200 million a year since 2011. This January, we had TL 25 million worth of donations. This might be partly due to the campaign for the displaced Syrians we have, but we also have some increased support from our donors due to the negative propaganda attacks on our movement. In addition, more than three million individuals donated to our organization once or more than once.
What is your volunteer capacity? How do you compare your volunteer capacity with the capacities of other associations abroad?
We have 51,000 systematic volunteers registered in our system. They are not only on paper but active volunteers; each of them takes part in at least one of our activities every year. They are also donors who control what we do. In short, they donate and they follow where their donations go to. We also have unregistered volunteers. We are active in 103 countries of the world. These are not 103 spots that we work; in each country there are many geographical locations that we work. We work where there is need, and often, these are areas of deprivation and disasters. If we add our unregistered volunteers during our campaigns and various activities in various countries, we can say that the number of volunteers in a year would exceed 200,000. Foreign researchers, journalists or inquirers tell us that our biggest strength is our volunteers because if we did not have this many volunteers, then we would have to have administrative costs to cover many of our expenses. We greatly minimize our administrative costs. This is also the reason behind we have a joint project with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] to provide monetary
Especially in Western societies, volunteerism is encouraged and it is widespread; people, young or old, are engaged in volunteer work. How is the situation in Turkey?
There are a lot of people who are willing to volunteer and donate in Turkey, and this type of action is culturally valued. However, wanting something is different than putting it into act. What we lack is enough of an organizational capability to motivate people to volunteer and to put them into action. It is not easy to get organized and if you can do that, you can reach out people. I can say that we achieve that greatly.
Is there a personal story behind your own volunteer work?
I am from İzmir since I grew up in İzmir as a result of my family’s domestic migration to İzmir. I had a chance to meet and know honorable Fethullah Gülen, and I think he had a chance to know me. I have had a lot of lessons from Gülen’s teachings, and whatever time I have left from my professional life, I donate it to volunteering. I lived in Europe for a long time and I did the same there, too. When I donate my time to volunteer work, I feel more peaceful.
Do you feel like you are the chair of the organization in a difficult time?
Yes, I do but we all live in this difficult time period. Media professionals, businesspeople, other professionals from all levels of the society feel the same way, some type of oppression, in this time period. We are all in the same boat. We are, of course, in a difficult position because of our visibility and links to the Well, what has changed in the last one year or so that this has become a special time period?
The Dec. 17 events must have had a negative effect on the government; they have evaluated this as an unfair attack. The allegations against the government are tough, but the easiest way out is to reveal the truth. If there are people who are involved in any wrongdoings, they must be dealt within the limits of the state of rule of law.
Would you tell us about your most recent and visible campaign to help Syrians living in Turkey?
There are more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and 116,000 of them are registered with us, and they are helped by us. We try to address both their financial and psychological needs. With our recent campaign, which will conclude by the end of February, we have been able to reach out to 17,000 people from 2,900 families. Kimse Yok Mu staff and volunteers visited each family to personally deliver pre-paid debit cards to the refugees. Rather than only handing out debit cards, our goal was to minimize the negative impact of the war on families. What is most important is to help Syrian refugees stand on their own feet.
You help them with monetary funds. How does it happen?
All the funds for the project were provided by the UNHCR and via pledged donations via SMS as in other Kimse Yok Mu projects. Every member of each family will be given TL 200. The project is conducted in the provinces of Kilis, Reyhanlı, Yayladağı, Gaziantep and Nizip because these areas have the largest Syrian populations outside refugee camps. And only those who live outside of refugee camps are able to take advantage of this help. We are grateful for the UNHCR for their support for this campaign. They provided the funds and we helped with the organizational issues to provide this help.
Can people who live outside Turkey donate to this campaign?
Yes, they can transfer money through banks since phone message system would not work outside of Turkey. We had many calls for help from the Netherlands and the Great Britain. Our people from our organization in those countries helped to mobilize those people’s desire to help.
We see a lot of helpless Syrian refugees on the streets of İstanbul. Would you give us an idea how many Syrian refugees might be in Istanbul?
Their numbers exceed 100,000 in Istanbul and we reach about 16,000 of them.
We talk about Syrians here as “refugees,” but unfortunately they are not officially under the status of “refugee.” What hardships does this status entail?
There are many difficulties. They are not under protection of the refugee status. They are officially our “guests.” This problem should be solved as soon as possible because they are easy prey for human traffickers and other ill-willed people. They are not under protection of law. They are vulnerable.
Since May 4 last year, he has been the president of Kimse Yok Mu, in which he has been a member and volunteer for many years. He was born in Konya and lived in Europe for a long time because of professional reasons. He has been active in civil society activities. Some organizations that he held presidency in the past are: the PHÖNİX Educational Institute (Austria), FEDACTİO Active Associations Federation (Belgium), HOGİAF Businessmen Federation (The Netherlands) and UNİTEE Europe Turkish Business World Confederation (Belgium).
Source: Todays Zaman , February 16, 2014