MUSLIM CIVIL SOCIETY
Muslim civil society has organically emerged as a key player along the Syrian-Turkish border, representing a counter-narrative to extremist factions as well as instituting a structure for refugee livelihood in light of the Syrian Crisis. Where government and international NGOs did not have the capability or access, Muslim NGOs developed from the ground up, allowing these grassroot networks to expand and accommodate according to the conditions developing in Syria and the region at large.
Students developing content in this project focus on profiling active organizations and mapping out networks of faith-based civil society. By observing the role of the community in a time of violence and insecurity, Muslim NGOs become pivotal in managing the crisis as well as incentivizing long term perspective in short term policy making. These profiles and maps of networks will be used in a case-study development of best practices in crisis situations concerning refugee policy, with the hope of transcending the temporal context of the Syrian crisis to become potential civil society solutions for future policy makers.
Sonia Kikeri discusses the student project which studies the role of civil society in conflict zones and observes effective practices of local leaders.
Turkish Organization Profiles
Syrian Islamic Council
Since its founding in 2014, the Syrian Islamic Council (SIC) has sought to coordinate Syrian religious scholars and authorities (ulama) in order to serve the religious needs of the diverse Syrian landscape.
In the past year, the umbrella organization has grown to include 40 Islamic institutions and 160 members of a general assembly, who together help provide religious guidance in the struggle against the Assad regime as well as extremist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. The council also provides advocacy and education resources for Syrians in residing in Turkey and is recognized as their representative religious authority.
For a critique on the ideological origins of the SIC, here is an overview written by Hassan Hassan, a Middle East analyst based in Abu Dhabi who focuses on Islamic groups and regional politics.
Projects include the creating of advocacy centers with ulama, the preparation of chaplain and preachers, and the continual proliferation of a moderate Islam against extremism and militancy.
Principles guiding the execution of these actions include the necessity of moderation, recognition of the rights of minorities, and political pluralism. The latter refers to ensuring of the rights of citizenship for all Syrians, who are equal partners in the revolution for a free Syrian state regardless of religion, ethnicity, and sect.
Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi Vakfı
Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi Vakfı was established in 1985 with the aim of helping the poor. It is based around compassion and helping others. The foundation is rooted in responsibility for all human beings, regardless of class or religions. We as human beings are responsible for one another. It is now one of the top humanitarian organization providing aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey. The organization provides essentials to families such as food and cleaning supplies. One of the biggest problem facing the Syrian refugees is shelter. The Aziz Mahmud foundation provides the refugees with money for apartments, facilitating the transition process. The organization is built around the idea of brotherhood between the Turks and the Syrians. It is the idea of unconditionally helping one another. The organization references the Hijrat from Mecca to Medina of the prophet Muhammed and his followers in order to motivate and encourage people to help each other. Religion is a way to defuse tension between cultures, reminding people to be kind, and inspiring compassion and trust.
IHH is a humanitarian relief organization based in Turkey that works as first responders in conflict regions, impoverished regions, and areas hit by natural disasters. Beginning with Bosnia in the early 90s, IHH has provided refugees with basic needs as well as worked to maintain the dignity and rights of people regardless of race, religion or gender. IHH's mission statement relates to the fulfillment of humanitarian needs, to advocate for the people, and to provide humanitarian diplomacy. They are unique in this case, as NGOs rarely target all three of these goals.
In regards to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, IHH has been involved since the very beginning. Apart from distributing packages across the border, IHH also provides amenities and shelter though field offices on the Turkish side of the border.Although IHH is an emergency-response organization, they have started to make long-term plans for Syria regarding education, shelter and economic stability.In order to combat the growing threat of a “lost generation” of education for Syrians, IHH recently built a boarding college for 1,500 students in Reyhanli, Turkey.
John Barlow Interviews IHH deputy president Hüseyin Oruç regarding the organization's mission and vision. Listen to find out more about IHH (self-described as an NGO from the Islamic world) and their objectives to provide humanitarian aid to people in desperate need all over the world.
Kim Se Yok Mu
Kim Se Yok Mu is a faith-based non-profit organization housed in Istanbul, Turkey. Their name comes from the Turkish phrase that literally translates to “Is anyone there?”—Inspired from what a distressed person would say when in need of help. This organization was established in 2002 and since then has had over 3 million donors. Their international aid efforts include immediate disaster relief, food provision, water well development, and cataract surgery. In response to a questioner asking why they did cataract surgery for those in need, a representative of Kim Se Yok Mu said, “they are waiting in a dark place (in blindness)...you open their windows (vision) and their minds.” This organization has also established five hospitals in different nations. Kim Se Yok Mu is a Hizmet- affiliated non-profit.
International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation
The International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation (IRB) was established in 2000 with the intention of alleviating poverty, hunger, and illiteracy by providing humanitarian relief, education, and healthcare to populations affected by disasters both human and manmade. Originally established in response to the plight of refugees from Kosovo, the IBC has most recently expanded its efforts to provide for the humanitarian and educational needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey, with offices in Kilis, Gaziantep, and Urfa. The IBC currently provides for over 2.500 Syrian children in its educational programs, which provide schooling for children ages 6-18 in accordance with their regular Syrian curriculum. Additionally, the IBC provides vocational training to adult refugees in their offices in Kilis and Gaziantep in areas such as computer skills and translation, which are geared towards preparing them for participation in the job market. The IBC also employs over 100 doctors and nurses in its healthcare program, which has field locations in Turkey as well as five locations within the Syrian borders stretching as far as Aleppo.
Deniz Feneri is a Turkish non-governmental organization that provides international multi-faceted aid programs in response to natural disasters, poverty-stricken communities and social crises. Deniz Feneri serves the poor, while offering those who wish to make a difference the opportunity to donate and volunteer. This is why they have chosen the lighthouse as their symbol - to reflect the objectivity of their work and their desire to serve regardless of differences in religion, race or political belief. The organization started from a Turkish television program in 1996 that sought to raise awareness and donations for those in need; the current institution evolved from 2000. Their short term disaster relief program includes providing immediate access to food, makeshift shelters and immediate medical relief. The Istanbul office site includes a warehouse of immediate relief items that can be deployed at any time, as well as a storage and sorting area for material donations, and a “shop” where families can come and pick out the clothes and shoes they need but cannot afford.
Deniz Feneri’s Director of Logistics discusses the impacts of his organization, his role in the organization during his 10 year tenure, the changes Deniz Feneri has gone through over the course of the Syrian conflict and the DF programs that have set a policy precedence either for the Turkish government's AFAD and within the NGO Syrian relief space.
Many of Deniz Feneri projects vary in scale, as some of the most widespread programs are geared at medium and long term aid for specific communities, like the Water is Life project which has built deep water wells in multiple countries in Africa like Niger, providing clean and safe drinking water to those without. Deniz Feneri has responded to need around the world - delivering food donations to 21,000 families of Pakistani earthquake survivors, as well as collecting funds for post-tsunami educational support for students in Indonesia and building prefab houses for civilians in Gaza. Deniz Feneri has been able to expand successfully and efficiently by partnering with other international relief and aid organizations to create self-sustaining institutions such as schools, orphanages, and renovated hospitals. They provide vocational training courses, medical assistance units, ritually sacrificed meat during Ramadan, free cataract surgeries in many African countries, and incubators in under-equipped hospitals.
Founded in 1984, Islamic Relief is an NGO that is inspired by the Islamic faith to empower communities, provide relief and recovery, promote development and support marginalized populations through the values of justice, compassion, sincerity, custodianship and excellence. IR operates in 47 countries around the globe with programs in emergency relief, development, faith inspired projects and orphan, children and family relief. IR’s main focus is to provide emergency relief, which includes food security, healthcare, shelter and non-food items, and WASH.
Mohammed O. Rebei of Islamic Relief discusses the challenges and rewards of delivering aid in a chaotic environment. More information on the work IR is doing regarding the Syrian crisis can be found in their Syria Emergency Response report.
Now that the Syrian crisis is looking to continue for many more years, IR has added medium-long term aid to its agenda. The main sectors of aid, in addition to emergency relief, are education and psychosocial support, protection and resilience. Such projects include women empowerment, ending child labor, creating harmonious communities between the host country and displaced peoples, vocational training and financial management. In regards to the Syrian crisis, IR is providing assistance to the displaced populations in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and within Syria itself, a total of approximately 52 percent of the Syrian population.
Local Administration Council Unit
Local Administration Council Unit (LACU) is a Syrian civil society organization specializing in empowering the concept and methods of good governance for local administrative councils in Syria. LACU provides support for local councils through activities such as conducting needs assessments, developing and implementing local projects, and even conducting local elections.
Bahjat Hajjar and Mazen Gharibah of the Local Administration Councils Unit discuss the challenges of building civil society in war-torn Syria.
Alliance of Civilizations Institute
Located in the building of one of the oldest and largest Mevlevi Sufi lodges just outside the historic city walls of Istanbul, the Alliance of Civilizations Institute exists as a microcosm of diversity in action. This program is housed at Fatih Sultan Mehmet University and derives from a UN initiative seeking “to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural, and interreligious dialogue and cooperation,” specifically concerning Western and Islamic relations.With fifty percent of the admitted masters and PhD students come from outside of Turkey, there are over 25 countries represented in the student body taking a range of multidisciplinary courses focused on generating global perspectives. Languages used for instruction include Turkish, English, Arabic, and Spanish.
Sonia Kikeri interviews Dr. Recep Sentürk, the Director of the Alliance of Civilizations Institute hosted at Fatih Sultan Mehmet University in Istanbul, Turkey. His thesis on an open civilization society provokes questions and dialogue of how to address the management and promotion of diversity and coexistence in today's world.
GSU TURKEY STUDY ABROAD
This website is simply a classroom project that uses a conventional study abroad trip, student talent, and faculty expertise to fill an important information gap concerning Turkish politics and the Syrian crisis. Overseen by faculty mentors Dr. Abbas Barzegar and Dr. Rashid Naim of Georgia State University, advanced graduate students and undergraduates from various disciplines were placed in small working groups tasked with explore key subject areas. They did this by conducting research before their trip and interviewing experts. During their three-week trip they continued this process as they visited NGOs, think tanks, and cultural sites. Every day they documented their experiences through the content material that can be found on this site. See this brief article about the project for more information.