Turkish organisation linked to Erdoğan’s daughter answers criticism for Soros funding

The president of Women and Democracy Organisation (Kadem), an initiative whose vice president is the daughter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said on Thursday that the organisation had never received funding from any international organisation, including billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros's charity.

The recent controversy over Kadem was sparked by a comment from Yusuf Kaplan, a columnist of the pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper, who on Twitter called on the Turkish government to end the projects of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Family, and Kadem for supporting gender equality.

“The protection of the family has become a national security issue,” the columnist said, tagging Sümeyye Erdoğan’s husband Selçuk Bayraktar in the tweet.

Kaplan said projects on gender equality funded by Soros’ Open Society Foundation were leading to the collapse of the family institution.

Open Society Foundation’s Turkey branch ended its activities in Turkey in November, after Erdoğan denounced the "famous Hungarian Jew Soros", accusing the billionaire philanthropist of supporting the 2013 anti-government Gezi protests in order to divide Turkey.

The American-Hungarian financier is also the centre of the Gezi trial, in which prosecutors demand a total of 47,520 years in prison on for 16 suspects, including Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala. 

The prosecutors say the suspects attempted to violently overthrow the government by organising the Gezi Park protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the country's Islamist ruling party came to power in 2002.

But critics have called the charges baseless, and some have noted how names like Soros's have often been invoked to smear anyone whose views differ from the ruling party's. Elif Çakır, a columnist for the Islamist daily Karar, described the shock of seeing the same charges levelled at Erdoğan's daughter.

“In the last five years, anyone who thinks slightly differently from or is critical of the AKP government … has been labelled a ‘Sorosist’, a ‘traitor’, a collaborator with foreign powers,” Çakır said.

"Who would have thought the day would come when they'd label Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar's association as 'Sorosist'. Calling Kadem 'Sorosist' is the same as calling Sümeyye Erdoğan Sorosist", she said.

Bayraktar was the first to respond to Kaplan. He said on Twitter that Kadem supported the integrity of the family and called the allegations of links to Soros defamatory.

Sümeyye Bayraktar on Thursday joined a press conference organised by Kadem. The organisation’s president, Saliha Okur Gümrükçüoğlu, said that the term “gender equality” was not understood properly in Turkey. She said her organisation preferred the term “gender justice”, as gender equality “failed to reflect the wealth of differences between women and men”.

Turkey’s pro-government outlets in recent years have targeted organisations working on gender equality, accusing them of “promoting homosexuality”. 

“Homosexuality and similar trends contradict creation, they are perverse tendencies. Everybody has human rights and those rights should be protected, but those types of perverse tendencies totally contradict our beliefs and cultural values,” Gümrükçüoğlu said. 

“Kadem has never received any funding from an international foundation, and it has never made such an application” she said, adding that she counted the accusations against her organisation of links to Soros as slander.

Kadem’s president said the organisation had only used financial assistance from the European Union, managed by the Directorate of the European Union under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She said their projects aimed to increase women’s participation in politics and to integrate refugee women to society.