We would like to inform the public regarding the story reported by Channel 9, which mischaracterized the Atlantic Institute. It was unfortunate to witness that the story related to our organization was aired without our perspectives on the issues are included.
The Atlantic Institute Central Florida is an independent, non-profit organization whose goal is to facilitate dialogue and bridge cultures from multiple regions of the world. To reach a greater understanding and acceptance of cultures, it is necessary to embrace diversity and build tolerance for differing beliefs, traditions, and opinions. The American doctrine, which unites all races, ethnicities, classes, religions, and ways of life on this soil, remains to be a powerful source of inspiration for Atlantic Institute. The Turkish-American community has been a significant contributor to social harmony in the nation by organizing events, trips, and conferences for inter-cultural dialogue and understanding.
Mr. Fethullah Gulen, the inspiration behind the Hizmet (Service) Movement whose participants have established dialogue centers around the world, including Atlantic Institute. Mr. Gulen`s contribution to interfaith relations were recognized by a high level visit by the former Chief Sephardi Rabb of Israel Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, a personal audience with the late Pope John Paul II, and a recent peace award by Martin Luther King International Chapel of Morehouse College, Atlanta.
We would like to share the following responses to those allegations with your viewers and prevent any misunderstanding among those who dedicated to build cross-cultural and interfaith awareness, and promote dialogue, greater understanding and a more inclusive society in Central Florida.
Respond to Allegation #1 about “Sheriff Demings receives award from group led by man accused in Turkey coup attempt”.
Participants of Hizmet Movement (also known as Gulen movement in the west) established non-governmental organizations around the world that focus on three areas: Education, humanitarian relief and intercultural dialogue. Active in over 160 countries, these NGOs promote dialogue and understanding in the community and have been praised by the local communities and authorities.
Some of the founders and donors of the Atlantic Institute are inspired by Mr. Fethullah Gulen. Fethullah Gulen has neither ownership nor membership to Atlantic Institute. Atlantic Institute is open to people of all faiths and AI is a faith –inspired organization.
We will respond further allegations about Mr. Gulen`s involvement to the coup attempt following responses below.
Response to Allegation #2 concerning “sources contacted Channel 9 to look into the awards given out by the group. They said that community leaders such as Demings should stay away from the group, especially after the Pulse massacre.”
With regard to the unrelated attribution`s of sources that contacted Channel 9 referring to the Pulse Massacre is unfair and not related to the Atlantic Institute. Atlantic Institute strongly condemned this terrifying massacre perpetrated against innocent people in the City Beautiful and participated many prayer vigils including the interfaith prayer service that was led by Orlando Bishop John G. Noonan (http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2016/we-must-recognize-...).
Unfortunately, mentioning the innocent victims of the Pulse that abuses the horrible incident and disturbs the viewers with misconceptions about Atlantic Institute.
Correction: The organization that Atlantic Institute share the same building is misstated at the report in displayed and written as “ Islamic Cultural Center” although the sign at the building clearly shows as “ Istanbul Cultural Center” which is a community center that Turkish – American community gathers and organizes cultural events such as cooking classes, Turkish Food Festivals and language classes.
Respond to commenting on “People at odds with the group and its ideology told Channel 9 it was a lack of judgment for a sheriff on the campaign trail.”
The purpose of the Atlantic Institute’s Awards Ceremonies is to recognize influential persons who actively promote diversity and intercultural exchange in the workplace, the government, or other vocational spheres within their communities.
Publicly recognizing these officials encourages them to continue in their efforts to lead others in mutual understanding through dialogue and joint projects, which incorporate diverse individuals. It is an honor to award these persons each year.
We are also grateful to honor Sheriff Demings along with many past awardees in his large contribution to our local community through involvement in community service, organizing community projects, and recruiting diverse individuals to participate in community service projects.
Response to comment on CNN report that Mr.Gulen is accused of being the mastermind behind a failed coup in Turkey needs additional explanation:
Atlantic Institute and particularly Mr. Gulen publicly denounced the coup attempt as early as Friday July 15 when the coup was still in progress in full force. The Turkish government has every right to go after military officers who are suspected of having played a role. They should be investigated, brought to justice and receive a fair trial and if found guilty suffer the consequences. However, this is not what is happening in Turkey. A mass purge was started after the coup and tens of thousands of civilians have been targeted and they continue to suffer under inhumane conditions. To justify these mass purges, the Turkish government pursued a misinformation campaign. By blaming the attempted coupon Gulen sympathizers and suppressing the information on coup participants who have Kemalist or neo-nationalist inclinations, the government successfully made the Hizmet movement a scapegoat. Under cover of vilifying the Hizmet movement, the government has eliminated all opposition to its authoritarian rule.
Tens of thousands of families with no connection to the coup whatsoever are suffering under the Erdogan regime’s systematic persecution including inhumane detention conditions, torture, verbal and physical abuse, harassment and humiliation, denial of the right to residence, lawful occupation, travel and expression.
President Erdogan is successfully using the scapegoat he has produced to consolidate power and silence his critics. Even opposition parties are afraid to voice concerns about human rights abuses.
The July 15th coup attempt gave Erdogan a golden opportunity to achieve precisely that. On the night of the coup, he said, “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.” ( http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-security-primeminister-idUSKCN0...) He immediately began firing thousands of military officers before the details of the coup attempt could be revealed and the proper judicial process could be established. His lists were ready.
Turkey has formally requested Gulen’s extradition from the United States, however, Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed that the US would comply only if there was compelling "evidence" to suggest wrongdoing or crime committed by Gulen. U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asked whether Turkish allegations that cleric Fethullah Gulen planned the attempted coup passed the “smell test” of credibility, Clapper answered: “No. Not to me.” He said that Secretary of State John F. Kerry “was right on the ball” to press the Turks to back up their extradition request with evidence of Gulen’s involvement. “We haven’t seen it yet. We certainly haven’t seen it in intel.”
Many of the Turkish officers that are the key counterparts for U.S. counterterrorism efforts have been arrested or purged after a failed coup earlier this month. This is the frank assessment of both the U.S. general in charge of the Middle East and South Asia, Joseph Votel, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-07-28/america-s-friends-get...)
Additionally, US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher said during a hearing titled “Turkey after the July Coup Attempt” in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the Turkish government’s claims against a US-based Turkish scholar for masterminding the July 15 coup attempt lack substantial evidence and were not credible. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufJf2c48sJc&feature=youtu.be)
Numerous human rights organizations, world leaders and journalists have criticized the post coup purge and human rights abuses in Turkey. Emma Sinclair Webb, the Turkey director at the Human Rights Watch, said, “The government crackdown is on media outlets and journalists it accuses of being linked to the Fethullah Gülen movement, which it blames for the foiled military coup. In the absence of any evidence of their role or participation in the violent attempt to overthrow the government, we strongly condemn this accelerated assault on the media, which further undermines Turkey’s democratic credentials. (“Turkey: Media Shut Down, Journalists Detained,” Human Rights Watch, July 28, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/28/turkey-media-shut-down-journalists-d...)
Gulen has become the default scapegoat for the current Turkish government because Gulen and his supporters are critical of what they feel is a shift towards authoritarianism by the ruling party in Turkey. This criticism alone appears to be the basis for scrutiny against Gulen and his supporters. Yet with the coup and state of emergency it turned into a full-fledged war against the opposition from all backgrounds, not just Gulen-inspired.
Since July 15th 2016, Turkish government arrested 127 journalists, shut down 180 media outlets, 35 hospitals, 2084 schools and dorms, 15 universities, 1254 non-profits, dismissed over 5070 academics, 3531 judges & prosecutors, detained 50979 and arrested tens of thousands including judges, prosecutors, teachers, soccer players, referees, local authorities.(http://turkeypurge.com)
At the Atlantic Institute Peace and Dialog Award dinner program that Sheriff Demings honored, also featured the guest speaker Rev. Dirk Ficca who actually addressed Turkish Government`s accusations along with his speech. He stated that “Hizmet movement inspired by Fethullah Gulen, an aging exiled Islamic scholar from Turkey, who lives today in two rooms in an educational center in eastern Pennsylvania, where he prays, teaches, writes, and worries about the world. The same Hizmet movement that has over the past fifty years has served humanity by founding thousands of schools and universities in one hundred and fifty countries, providing humanitarian aid, fostering intercultural and interreligious dialogue and cooperation, facilitating conflict resolution, cultivating social entrepreneurism, and promoting public discourse and civic engagement for the common good, now stands accused of plotting the ill-fated military coup against the Turkish government on July 15 th of this year. Over 200,000 people to date, individuals and organizations associated with this same Hizmet movement, have been purged, detained in jails and prisons; or put their out of jobs as teachers, doctors, judges, police officers and soldiers; or put out of business because their bank accounts have been frozen and assets confiscated with tens of thousands more reportedly still on the list. The only way to quash such a civil society movement is with a purge, employing an iron fist, filling jails and prisons, under the total control of an authoritarian regime.”
Atlantic Institute is an American based non-profit organization and it is unfair to link the Atlantic Institute with failed military coup attempt in Turkey. This story serves the Turkish authoritarian regime`s baseless accusations against civil society movement and disturbs the local members and supporters of the Atlantic Institute.
Unfortunately, participants of Hizmet movement in Turkey are facing unprecedented repression in the form of criminal prosecution; other forms of legal harassment, confiscation of private property, police brutality, and media smear campaign under the shadow of ongoing state of emergency.