Mar 27

OP-ED: Does the Gülen (Hizmet) Movement Deny the Armenian Genocide? by Ismail Akbulut

Ismail Akbulut

In the past, certain individuals affiliated with the Gülen Movement, and sometimes the movement as a whole, have often been accused of supporting lobbying efforts to circumvent the passing of resolutions that commemorate the Armenian genocide. Members of the Armenian diaspora have voiced complaints about this, both in several articles and in verbal statements. To tell you the bitter truth, I would be lying if I said that the accusations held no weight at all.

Let me state something straight from the outset: this is not an attempt to curry favor with the Armenian community. And no, I am not an “ex-Gülenist” bashing the Gülen Movement (GM), otherwise known as the Hizmet Movement. Furthermore, I speak for myself alone. I am not a spokesperson of the GM making an official statement of some sort.

Instead, this article reflects an honest attempt of an individual participant in GM to articulate his personal views and experiences of GM-Armenian relationships during the last decade.

First, a bit about Gülen and the movement he has inspired.

Hizmet, or the GM, is a global faith-inspired civil society peace movement, founded by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. It is best known for fostering universal education, interfaith dialogue and humanitarian activities. Inspired by Gülen’s teachings and philosophies, participants in the GM engage in various altruistic activities to sow the seeds of world-peace for future generations. Indeed, the term “Hizmet,” the name participants use for the movement, means “service” in Turkish.

Gülen himself emphasizes the importance of human agency in bringing sustainable change and fostering morality and good virtues. For over half a century, he has been an advocate for liberal democratic values such as human rights, social justice, pluralism, the empowerment of women, freedom of speech, thought, and religion. Gülen consistently urges participants in the GM to be law-abiding citizens willing to work to help others, and to promote understanding for others regardless of culture, faith, or ethnicity.

Nevertheless, critics from various backgrounds accuse Gülen of pursuing a range of sinister, secretive agendas. Certain Islamist groups, for instance, have pushed the conspiracy theory that Gülen is actually a secret cardinal of the Pope, or that he’s a crypto-Armenian trying to spread Christianity among Muslims. Moreover, some secularists allege that Gülen is pushing efforts to consolidate powers to transform Turkey into an Islamic caliphate.

The movement did not develop in a vacuum. The roots of the GM go back to Turkey, hence many of the participants in the movement, including Gülen himself, were educated and socialized in Turkish schools that acted as vessels for the indoctrination of the glory and sanctity of pure “Turkishness.”

Historically, the GM has never openly supported any political party. Instead, most participants have supported the party that they believed would pursue a liberal democratic agenda. Consequently, the movement was criticized by Islamist parties for “selling out” to the liberals, particularly before 2003.

However, with the rise of the Justice and Development (AKP) party under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which appeared (according to its own party’s manifesto) to promote liberal democracy, human rights, and inclusion in the European Union; the leadership of the GM, for the first time in its history, decided to form a political alliance based on shared goals. The AKP was not only supported by GM participants, but many liberals, nationalists, leftists and minority groups also voted for that party in the belief it supported democratization.

In fact, GM-affiliated media outlets such as Zaman and Samanyolu TV openly praised and endorsed Erdogan’s AKP, further reinforcing the perception that the whole movement backed the party.

The history of the GM in the US is still very young. Many GM participants came in the early 2000s as students, academics, engineers, businessmen or educators from Turkey. Excited about the “New World,” GM participants wanted to carry out their civil society projects in the US. Several saw opportunities to contribute to American society through establishing intercultural dialogue centers, charter schools or charity organizations.

This involvement allowed them to foster valuable relationships with pastors, rabbis, imams, and other religious leaders. Turkey’s economic boom of the early 2000s allowed for an unprecedented, and deeply longed-for, patriotic self-confidence. Intercultural dialogue trips to Turkey, offered to US-based legislators, religious leaders, academics, media personalities and community leaders created awareness of the spirit of the GM and promoted understanding of Turkey, the greater Anatolian region, and the religion of Islam.

The first interaction between GM participants and the Armenian community in the US took place after the assassination of Hrant Dink, the prominent and brave Turkish-Armenian journalist and human rights activists in front of his newspaper, Agos, by an ultra-nationalist youth on January 19, 2007.

Subsequently, GM participants paid their respects through visits to Armenian churches and organizations to express their condolences. These visits opened doors for conversations and dialogue, mainly with Armenians from Turkey. Consequently, GM participants were exposed, often for the first time, to the suffering of Armenians during the Ottoman and modern Turkish eras, and during the genocide itself. In many cases, this created new empathy among some participants of the GM, thus acting as an antidote against years of propaganda.

Yet, despite this fabulous story of a “Turkified” American Dream, one of the most profound disappointments we felt was the ongoing vilification of Turkish people on the part of many in the Armenian diaspora. On this front, GM participants have been living in a state of inner turmoil.

On the one hand, we deeply desire a constructive and positive relationship with Armenians. However, on the other, the very word “genocide” has proved to be an obstacle for engagement. Indeed, the facts of 1915 have become the massive “elephant in the room” when the two groups, Turks and Armenians, come into contact. One of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories promoted by some on the Turkish side, was that ultra-nationalist Armenians across the United States, have been engaged in inciting a “revenge” genocide, to be perpetrated on the “poor, innocent” Turkish people.

During this time, high-ranking Turkish officials and diplomats reached out to GM for support to stop the passing of resolutions that recognize the Armenian genocide.

Serving the nation of Turkey by visiting US officials in America and repeating to them the Turkish state’s official narrative about 1915 thus became an altruistic patriotic deed.

Yet, recently, our own support for the Turkish narrative has waned, and GM participants have begun questioning almost everything they had learned about what happened in 1915.

The turning point was the outcome of July 15th coup d’état attempt in Turkey. After the Turkish government held the GM responsible for the coup attempt, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, who were in one way or another affiliated with the GM, found themselves illegally profiled, persecuted, detained, arrested, abducted, tortured or disappeared.

Our experiences thus far cannot be called a genocide; however, we have certainly been scapegoated, and enduring an ongoing collective trauma, with no end in sight. The fact that the Turkish state could label innocent people guilty, and punish them for their association (even tangential) with the GM, opened the majority of our eyes. If they could do this to us, it must be true that they did it to other minority groups (Kurds, Alevis) and certainly to the Armenians. They wiped out Turkey’s Christian-Armenian population and taught us all it never happened.

So, what are the lessons we can learn here…

Driven by patriotic and sometimes nationalistic sentiments, participants in the GM, including myself, have deceived ourselves by acting in a way that contradicted our very values. We failed. We did not question the Turkish narrative, and we did not listen nor read the stories of Armenians.

Today, I personally regret and sincerely apologize for my involvement in efforts that undermined the suffering of Armenians that endured one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century, the Armenian genocide.

I was intending to end this article here, with an apology that was long overdue, instead I would like to make three humble suggestions on how I believe we could repair our relations:

Firstly, I ask GM participants to show genuine gestures to Armenians by showing up to genocide commemorations or contributing to Armenian organizations.

Secondly, I wish Armenian journalists would reach out to Gülen for an interview with him to ask him about his views on what happened during 1915.

Lastly, I ask my Armenian brothers and sisters to welcome and engage with GM participants to listen to their stories about what is happening today in Erdogan’s Turkey.

March 24th, 2018 Armenian Mirror-Spectator

Dec 15

Shalom-Salaam facilitates women-to-women interfaith dialogue for Jews, Muslims, Christians

Shalom Salaam

By ANDREA JACOBS. Intermountain Jewish News. December 8th, 2017

On the surface, Bobbi Furer and Gulsum Ciftci Katmer are worlds apart. Furer, 87, is Jewish. Katmer,31, is Muslim. But they are joined at the hip by their shared gender, humanity and hope.

Shalom-Salaam, a cadre of Jewish, Muslim and Christian women pursuing interfaith dialogue, first met in July of this year. Membership has since increased on all fronts. Furer and Katmer, who came to the IJN to discuss the group’s evolution, are antithetical in every way, from their religion to their height
(Katmer towers over her diminutive colleague).

Yet they complete each other’s sentences, philosophize, joke and exchange familiar winks. Despite their differences, the women genuinely admire each other.

Furer, a native Denverite, hails from Hungarian immigrants. Her family owned Freed’s Gift Shop in
downtown Denver. A mother and grandmother, she attends Judaism Your Way, Temple Sinai and B’nai Havurah. “I’m the wandering Jew,” she laughs.

Katmer was born and raised in Turkey. She relocated to California to study biology, stayed five years,
married a man from Turkey and moved here in 2013. Now she’s the executive director of the Multicultural Mosaic Foundation, a nonprofit interfaith organization founded by Muslim Turks.

The genesis of Shalom-Salaam stemmed from Furer’s coincidental run-in with a Muslim woman waiting for an East Denver bus.

“It happened in 2010, when I was walking my little poodle Sammy (Shmuli) near a bus stop,” she says. “I saw an Arab woman standing there with her three children.

Two were hugging her skirt, but the boy was waiting for the bus to arrive. “When they saw us, they backed up, looking like they were afraid. I said, ‘Don’t worry, we won’t come near you. I know you can’t touch dogs.’
“She asked, ‘How do you know I can’t touch dogs?’

“I answered, ‘Because I’m Jewish.’”

The Arab woman stretched out her arms to this petite stranger.
“She ran down the hill, took my hands and said, ‘Oh, you’re my sister!’ with tears in her eyes.

“I said yes, I’m your sister.” The Arab woman uttered shalom. Furer answered, salaam.

“I thought, wow, a couple of thousand years of hatred banished in one little encounter,” Furer says.

She wrote about the experience on Nextdoor, a neighborhood app, and received seven positive responses, primarily from Muslim men.

“When can we meet?” they posted.

Then Furer was invited to a program on Islamic culture and faith hosted by a Muslim group. “I left
thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get Muslim and Jewish women together,” she says.
Furer contacted the Multicultural Mosaic Foundation and spoke to Katmer.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and a female-driven interfaith journey.

Furer publicized the first meeting of Shalom-Salaam on Nextdoor. She assumed that
only Jewish and Muslim women would show up at the July 27 gathering at the Mosaic Foundation.

But several gentile women also attended. “Now the group is for any woman regardless of faith, color or ethnicity,” she says. “We’re here to unite, not to divide.”

Initial questions at the inaugural meeting concerned “what we all believed,” Katmer says. “That was
the warm-up. Then we sat face-to-face at round tables and spoke about our values.
“It was really great to learn and hear about other faith backgrounds,” she says. “At the end, everyone had a big smile and wanted to know when the next meeting was scheduled. We knew it was working.”

While Jews and Muslims maintain strict food restrictions (kashrut and halal), it took a while to get it
right. “These dietary laws are a source of commonality between us,” she says.
Although listening, learning and respecting each other is the priority of Shalom-Salaam, do con-
tentious political issues ever surface?

“You know, as a person who believes that interfaith dialogue is a real need in this century, I don’t
have to accept everything,” Katmer says. “But I have to respect the differences, whether they are
religious or political.”

Shalom-Salaam participants have forged numerous since the group launched.
“My idea of getting together is building a huge family with each other,” Katmer says. “We should be
good friends who are able to say, ‘Let’s go out for coffee’ after meetings.

“And I do have friends like this, especially Bobbi. I go to her home and she comes to mine.”

Asked whether women are uniquely qualified to promote peace between disparate cultures, both ladies nod
affirmatively. “I think this is part of our nature,” Katmer says. “G-d gave us a softer heart. We should promote peace, because most of the time — and I don’t want to generalize — guys are direct and women are more emotional.”

As mothers and grandmothers, they are intimately aware of the importance of forging peace for the sake of future generations. “Why not make the world better for them?” Katmer says. “I’m always hopeful about the future. And lots of women I know — like Bobbi — are trying to do good things.” Furer’s girlhood memories of the Ku Klux Klan in Denver set the conversational stage about 21st-century Islamic stereotypes and the hesitancy to speak out against hatred.

“When I was 10, I saw Mayor Stapleton, who was the head of the Klan in Denver, walking up 17th Street
downtown as the KKK screamed anti-Semitic rhetoric against the
Jews,” she says. “My family, as Jewish business owners, was terrified.” Furer’s grandmother repeatedly imparted proper behavior to avoid being singled out as Jewish to her granddaughter.
In the retelling, Furer emulates her grandmother’s accent and gestures. “‘Bobbi,’ she warned,‘when you go out, don’t talk with the hands. People will know you’re Jewish.’ Or ‘Bobbi, when you get in an elevator, don’t talk or they’re gonna think you’re Jewish.’”
Furer was scared whenever she rode in an elevator — and stayed resolutely mute.

“But one time I looked around and no one was talking, ”she laughs,“and I thought everyone was Jewish!
Oh, I was so happy!” Asked why her family adopted this public code of silence, Furer shrugs.

“We wanted to be liked; we didn’t want to say anything wrong,” she says. Katmer compares her friend’s
defensive etiquette with some Muslims’ reticence in decrying the current anti-Muslim, anti-immigration furor. “Just as Bobbi explains how she felt seeing the Klan, I think Muslims feel today,” she says.“Not many Muslims speak out either. “It’s the same thing: ‘Don’t talk.’ “That’s why we believe inter-
faith dialogue is so important,” Katmer says. “If we don’t give others the opportunity to get to know us, there’s a risk that our children will hate unless they learn to love people of other faiths.”

Competitive victimhood, a tendency to see one’s group as having suffered more than another, has gained credence in psychological circles. But it’s not an issue for these women.

Bobbi Furer lost relatives during the Holocaust. A few survived Auschwitz; most never returned.
“I just read a book detailing the ghosts of Theresienstadt,” she says. “The author said, ‘There were no
humans.’ That phrase kept coming up. “The Jewish elders obeyed the

Nazis and thereby saved their families — until the Nazis decided otherwise. “I’ve been thinking. If I had the chance to survive with my family, what would I do?” Atypical quiet permeates the room. “The real question is, what does it mean to be human?” she reflects. “I have always felt really bad about the Holocaust,” Katmer says, directing her words to Furer. “Now my friends are in jail in Turkey. “A friend told me before I came to Denver that people are jailed with out any evidence. Women are tortured, raped and often become pregnant. What do they do?

“Of course, it’s not as horrible as what the Jews went through,” she adds apologetically. “But it is horrible.”

Furer stops her.

“Don’t ever say it’s not as horrible,” she says. “Every situation like this is horrible.”
Katmer’s parents reside in Turkey because they support the regime in power.
“I feel terrible about my parents’ choices,” she admits. “I’m glad they are safe — but this, too, can feel bad. The innocents struggle.” Seven years ago, Furer’s idea for an interfaith dialogue for women grew out of an incident with Shmuli the poodle and a Muslim woman’s fear of dogs.

Katmer has since enlightened her regarding the canine prohibition in Islam.
“In Islam we cleanse ourselves five times a day before we pray, ”Katmer says.“The Hanbali sect believes that touching a dog is an unclean act. I follow the Sunni Hanafi sect, which believes it’s OK to touch dogs. “I love cats and dogs,” she laughs. “I touch them, I hug them. It’s fine. This is why we teach each other our respective faith traditions. Misunderstandings exist on both sides.” Furer and Katmer, who converse openly and in barely discernible decibels about everything under the sun, are asked about their goals for Shalom-Salaam.

“I think it’s about creating a better future globally, not just in Denver,” Katmer says. “It begins with your family, your neighbors and friends, and these circles get bigger and bigger.”

“It’s especially important for the children,” Furer says. “I love when they come to our meetings. “They are the future.” Furer worries that, given her age, no one will continue spreading the interfaith message once she departs this world. Katmer puts a comforting hand on her friend’s shoulder.
“Even when you’re gone, Bobbi, there will good people who stick with this,” she reassures.“You begin with the differences. In the end you see the commonality. “It’s like you say.We’re all humanbeings.”

Information: Bobbi Furer, 303-388-8611 or light2u@comcast.net.
Andrea Jacobs may be reached at andrea@ijn.com.

Link to Article as PDF.

Nov 30

OP-ED: ‘You Will Burn in Hell’ by Ismail Akbulut

President of Multicultural Mosaic Foundation’s opinion piece in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator:

‘You Will Burn in Hell’

Ismail Akbulut

“You will burn in hell! Since you’ve committed treason, you’re no longer worthy to carry out God’s mission!” That’s a curse recently hurled at me by one of my own relatives, a Muslim Turk, in reaction to my latest op-ed: “Why I Am Grateful to Erdogan, the Dictator of Turkey” [Armenian Mirror-Spectator, November 4] My sin was to violate two of the most “sacred” narratives of Turkish mythology.

In the Islamic tradition, Muslims believe that there is life after death. Either one is cast into hell as a punishment for sins, or is granted access to pass through the gates of paradise. Obviously, no Muslim wants as his or her fate to spend eternity in hell. Why, then, would my own family member curse me with this fate instead of send me loving blessings? Here I will respond to some of the reactions to my previous article, and elaborate on why some believe I have committed blasphemy.

Many Muslims tend to believe that God was on their side during certain historical periods, because of their personal piety and work towards protecting Islam in general. Frankly, today most supporters of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, believe that the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire was part of God’s divine mission, and they still grieve its defeat in 1922.

As some of my Turkish readers reminded me, in the official Turkish narrative held by many as sacred and inviolable, the Armenians were guilty for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the land protected and favored by no other than God himself. The multiethnic and religiously diverse Ottoman Empire, known for its relative tolerance vis-à-vis its minorities, entered WWI as an ally of the Central Powers. In this construction of history, Armenians, considered as the “trustworthy citizens” of the Ottoman Empire, collectively committed treason by rebelling and collaborating with the enemies, including the Russians and French, against the “holy” Ottoman Empire.

In this version, the “vulnerable” Ottoman Empire was “forced” to proactively relocate all Armenians, in order to protect them from Turks’ revenge and to protect Turks from Armenians as well. During the “required” relocation, many Armenians died due to inclement weather, or were killed by Kurdish rebels (not Turks). Therefore, as this narrative puts it, what happened was indeed unfortunate, but really just a part of the collective suffering of those nations involved at that time, and in this light, must not be considered a genocide.

As much as this “sacrosanct” myth attempts to address why at least hundreds of thousands of Armenians died (up to a million and a half), and so many were brutally deported, it ignores, disregards, and denies the massacres of Armenian intellectuals, men, women, and children in the heartland of the Ottoman Empire committed by Ottomans using state power and means. The official Turkish version, which silences history, lacks credibility as it has a lot of holes that can only be filled with cement, through categorically denying and destroying evidence of those crimes. Thus, I regard this version as an apologetic excuse for the crimes the Ottomans committed; a rewriting of history in which Turkish glory conveniently remain untainted.

Thus, my first heretical sin was to committed treason by collaborating with an Armenian newspaper, a newspaper that had been established by “traitors” who were responsible for the fall of the “holy” Ottoman Empire. But this is not all. No, my sins did not end there…

In Turkey, those that supported a greater role for religion in the public realm suffered under the Kemalist secularists for decades, until the rise of Erdogan in 2002. Many saw this as a sign from God, and here we come to the second “sacred” narrative, in which God came to redeem the pious in Turkey. He did this through empowering Erdogan, bestowing him with a divine mission to restore the Ottoman Empire from its ashes, like a phoenix. In this mythology, the figure of Erdogan portends the renaissance and Golden Age of Islam. His “holy” leadership deserves unconditional loyalty, as it is championed by God himself. Thus, arguing against him or criticizing him is equal to rebelling against God. Indeed, in this paradigm, a person who defies God deserves nothing more than to be cast into hellfire. I became a sinner the moment I criticized him and called him a dictator—according to this creed, I have committed a grave form of blasphemy and must burn. Sadly, even one of my own relatives is ready to throw me into the flames.

Well, this is not the end of this article. The wonderful news is that in fact, I also received overwhelmingly positive, encouraging, supporting, and heartening messages.

I received notes from a variety of readers including legislators, academics, journalists, authors, Turkish and Armenian intellectuals, religious leaders, human rights activists, and from friends and family who genuinely thanked me for the courage to articulate what thousands feel these days but don’t dare to say out loud.

One private message from a prominent Armenian intellectual who recently fled Turkey, in which he commended me for my article, made me especially happy. Reading through all of the messages, I got the impression that most of the supportive voices are of those who suffer today or in the past from oppression by despotic regimes.

As I was raised in a background that preached the denial of the Armenian genocide for a century, I totally get it why some of the readers of Armenian background might look at me with suspicion, mistrust and mixed feelings. However, in my personal life as a practicing Muslim who lived his entire life in the West, I realize that we can only overcome mistrust if we listen to each other and try to understand one another. I am very hopeful that we can foster mutual understanding, caring friendships and a peaceful future if we open our ears, eyes and hearts for one another.

Today, I am more hopeful about the future than I was yesterday.

(Ismail Akbulut is board president of a Colorado-based non-profit, Multicultural Mosaic Foundation [http://www.mosaicfoundation.org/mmf/] [Twitter @IsmailDenver])

November 16, 2017 https://mirrorspectator.com/2017/11/16/will-burn-hell/

Nov 16

OP-ED: Why I Am Grateful to Erdogan, the Dictator of Turkey by Ismail Akbulut

President of Multicultural Mosaic Foundation’s opinion piece in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator:

Why I Am Grateful to Erdogan, the Dictator of Turkey

Ismail Akbulut

November 2nd, 2017
I am sure that the very title I chose for this article will enrage some of my readers. Why on earth would one be grateful to a dictator? Indeed, that is a legitimate question. My answer is that I am grateful to Erdogan, currently the president of Turkey, because he has made me a better human being.

I was born and raised in Germany to a Turkish immigrant family. At home, my family told me stories about the glorious and flawless history of the Turkish people, superior to others in every way. The heroic Turkish War of Independence in the 1920s, waged against the great occupying European Allies, was narrated to me by family members, through their tears of patriotic fervor. At every official meeting of the Turkish community, our national anthem was sung with the utmost pride.

At the time, I believed that I was related to a special group of people, the Turks, who throughout history endured oppression, envy and greed at the hands of other powers. Our enemies were all around us, yet we remained standing. We Turkish people were always able to defeat them with God’s help, and establish the most beautiful country on earth, the Republic of Turkey.

Conveniently, I chose not to believe in the narratives told by minorities, such as the Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, and Jews, regarding their suffering under Turkish rule. I allowed myself to be blind to that which might contradict my idealized image of the homeland.

When I beheld Erdogan rising to power in 2002, I believed I was witnessing the glorious embodiment and manifestation of the collective Turkish people, in his rule. Then an underdog, and a victim of discrimination and bigotry against religious people, Erdogan defeated the powerful political secular elites who had long ruled Turkey while oppressing the pious, along with ethnic and religious minorities. He did this with the support and the trust of the majority of the Turkish people who showed up to vote.

For people like me, that believe, as he did, in freedom of religion in the public realm, his success appeared like a beautiful romantic dream, similar to the stories my family told to me about the successes of the Turkish people.

A few years later, I woke up sweating and violently trembling from this dream. “Humble” Erdogan had transformed into a populist, oppressive and brutal dictator, even while presenting himself as one of the masses, a victim of “powerful forces,” despite the fact that his successful quest for increasing authority has made him the most powerful man in Turkey for decades.

This power corrupted Erdogan, and his fear of losing power has made him paranoid. This has resulted in his frequent use of violence and oppression to crush dissent. At times, he has blocked Twitter and Facebook. He has thrown hundreds of journalists in jail, and taken over media outlets. Today, he has arrested over 50 thousand people, and according to Amnesty International, torture and abuse are rampant in Turkish jails.

This power-poisoning made me think and question all those stories that I had learned about my Turkish heritage.

I started listening and reading about the stories that Kurds, Armenians, and other minorities in Turkey have told. I was flabbergasted to learn that, in fact, there are many parallels between what happened to them, and what is happening today to many innocent people in Turkey that have been fired, detained, or jailed by Erdogan.

I now recognize that hundreds of thousands of Armenians, including women and children were massacred, displaced or deported in 1915. The Armenians’ crime was merely being Armenian. Today, Erdogan, a man who claims to be a righteous Muslim, ordered the arrest of thousands of journalists, academics, public servants, teachers, business people, women, and children. Yes, you have not read wrong, almost 700 children (some are babies) are currently being raised in Turkish prisons, held there because of the “crimes” of their mothers. Human rights violations, torture, abductions and displacements, now are a part and parcel of everyday life. The crime of many of those affected is simply being related to a person who does not share the same worldview as Erdogan.

For decades, Kurds were regarded in Turkey as a lesser Turkish tribe, “mountain Turks,” who were expected to assimilate into the larger Turkish identity, completely forgoing their Kurdish heritage, language, music, and culture. Whenever Kurds spoke up for social justice and equality, they were labeled as “separatist terrorists” and either jailed, deported or massacred. In today’s Turkey, representatives and members of Amnesty International, the pro-Kurdish political party HDP, the Gulen Movement, and other human rights groups, have been arrested, charged with collaboration with “an armed terrorist organization” that Erdogan argues tried to overthrow the Turkish government. Clearly, Erdogan has found that calling people “terrorists” effectively neutralizes them in society; it enables him to completely socially isolate them, and to justify all forms of violence against them.

So, how did Erdogan make me a better person?

Erdogan’s brutality raised my awareness of Turkey’s flaws, and my ability to be critical of Turkish history. It caused me to question nationalistic narratives that I previously accepted as facts. If many Turks are now conveniently unaware of (or unwilling to see) the human price of Erdogan’s rise to power, I see clearly now that all of those notions of Turkish superiority I used to believe in were just part of a grand, nation-building myth. The price of that “beautiful” myth was to deny the pain and oppression of Turkey’s ethnic and religious minorities. I can no longer pay that price; my own blinders have been ripped off by these events.

Erdogan helped me realize that it is incredibly important to listen to individuals and groups who feel neglected, humiliated and oppressed. I have realized that only through facing my mistakes and false perceptions, can I sleep in peace.

He also made me understand how important it is to live by a set of universal values, and not for my own material interests. When you are loyal to your values you will always be a person who can be trusted.

Therefore, I thank you, Mr. President Erdogan.
(Ismail Akbulut is board president of a Colorado-based non-profit, Multicultural Mosaic Foundation (Twitter @IsmailDenver))

The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, November 2, 2017, URL: https://mirrorspectator.com/2017/11/02/grateful-erdogan-dictator-turkey/

Aug 18

PRESS RELEASE by Colorado Muslim Leadership: Statement on Charlottesville – VA, Barcelona – Spain and Turku Finland

Press Release

CONTACT:
Imam Shakir Muhammad, Colorado Imam Council Coordinator
Email: coimamco@gmail.com

Statement on Charlottesville – VA, Barcelona – Spain and Turku Finland.

August 18, 2017, Denver, Colorado – The Colorado Muslim Leadership and Colorado Imam Council express their sadness, deep concern and outrage over the recent events of racial hatred, bigotry and domestic terrorism that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Spain and Turku, Finland.

We offer prayers for the victims and the families of the dead and injured, and all those who were traumatically affected by the hateful violence and speech that ensued at these events.

We denounce any violent and hate filled actions against any person or institution. We advocate for peaceful, constructive, legitimate and law-abiding ways to engage with persons, institutions or governments.

The constitution of the United States of America embraces and protects the rights and freedoms of all regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, language, religion etc., concepts also foundationally paramount in the Muslim faith.

We condemn all groups and individuals who condone, support or engage in white supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, terrorism and every form of xenophobia and hate and call upon all public officials to do the same.

We call upon all community and religious leaders, to join us in renewing our commitments to the promotion of understanding, dialogue and peace, among all cultures and faith traditions, through education and peaceful social activism.

We will not step aside, but will stand firm and strong for our values of love, respect, and justice.

Ansar Pantry
Colorado Imam Council
Colorado Islamic Center – Masjid Salaam
Colorado Muslim Community Center
Colorado Muslim Connection
Colorado Muslim Society
Colorado Muslim Speakers Bureau
Council on American Islamic Relations – Colorado Chapter
Islamic Center of Boulder
Islamic Circle of North America – Colorado Chapter
Metropolitan Denver North Islamic Center – Masjid Ikhlas
Multicultural Mosaic Foundation
Muslim American Society – Colorado Chapter
Muslim Family Services of Colorado
Muslim Intent on Learning and Activism
Northeast Denver Islamic Center – Masjid Taqwa
Rocky Mountain Islamic Center

Download Press Release

– END –

Aug 09

Support Mosaic’s fundraiser program to help high school students graduate from South High School



Mosaic’s fundraiser program to help high school students graduate from South High School




Immigrant students are three times more likely than native-born Americans to drop out of high school. While immigrants in the United States comprise only about one-tenth of the U.S. population ages 16 through 24, they account for one-quarter of the status dropouts in this age group.

That is why Mosaic Foundation developed an annual fundraising program to benefit 9th grade immigrant and refugee students at one of the most diverse schools in Denver, Colorado, South High School. With the help of school administrators, community support, parents, volunteers from the Mosaic Foundation, and you, our donors, we are looking to raise $2,000 to supply at least 25 newcomer students with a generous package of school supplies for their upcoming year.

Multiple studies show that students who successfully complete the ninth grade are more than three and one-half times more likely to graduate from high school in four years than students who do not successfully complete the ninth grade. The indicator is a more accurate predictor of graduation than students’ previous achievement test scores or their background characteristics, according to the University of Chicago study.


Who You Will Be Serving


The Newcomer students at South High School are new to the United States and have experienced interrupted schooling — a period of time when they were not able to attend school regularly. Typically, our Newcomers are refugees as well. So, it is often the case that they and their family members have fled their original home country and spent significant time in refugee camps.

By the time our students arrive here in the Newcomer class, they have overcome a lot to be here. At the same time, they are adjusting culturally, socially, linguistically, and academically to our community. Any resource that is provided to them is something that they will put to great use.

Eddie Williams,

ELA — Newcomer Center Teacher

Denver South High School

Last year Mosaic Foundation has raised at total of $1840 for 25 newcomer students with generous packages of school supplies.


How To Donate


We are asking our very generous donors of Mosaic Foundation to help in this effort. You can donate to supply one student, or more.

Please, donate as much as you can. However, the following are suggested donations:

To fund:

1 Student, medium package: $25
(3 notebooks, 3 folders, 1 binder, 1 pack of pencils, 1 pack of pens, 1 backpack)

1 student with a full student-starter package: $38
(5 notebooks, 5 colored folders, 2 binders, 3, packs of paper, 1 pack of pencils, 1 pack of pens, 1 backpack)

Fund 2 Students Full: $76
(same as above x2)

Fund 3 Students Full: $114

Fund 4 Students Full: $173

Please be one of our very valuable donors. Your donation will help make these students’ first year and ultimately their graduation a success.

Thank you,

Multicultural Mosaic Foundation


Mar 28

Statement of Solidarity with the Fort Collins Muslim community

Multicultural Mosaic Foundation is deeply concerned about the incidents of vandalism against mosques, the latest of which took place on March 26 in Fort Collins, Colorado. The Islamic Center of Fort Collins was attacked by a person who threw rocks and a Bible through a window of the center in the early morning. As we express our support to the Fort Collins Muslim community, we also appreciate the gathering of the community members together with the congregants from a nearby church and synagogue to stand against bigotry and hate on Sunday afternoon. We believe that such displays of community strength and solidarity are essential to prevent hate crimes that threaten social peace and harmony. We are also relieved that the culprit of this hate crime was caught and hope that justice will be served.

The vandalism at Fort Collins was the latest of the attacks against many vulnerable groups in the US including the desecration of cemeteries, attacks on religiously observant people, threatening cultural centers and damaging prayer spaces. We have witnessed in history and in our collective memories that targeting a community or religious group does not help the very fabric of the society people live in. Great nations and countries always thrived and succeeded with their rich and diverse communities.The dynamism of the American people is stronger and better with people of all faiths and no faith, who are respectful towards each other. It is our goal to build relationships based on understanding, respect and love in our diverse communities.

Mar 07

Statement of Solidarity with American Hindu and Sikh communities

Multicultural Mosaic Foundation stands in solidarity with the Indian community in the United States of America, which suffered a series of hate crimes in recent weeks.

On February 22, two Indian immigrants of Hindu faith were shot at a bar in Kansas City suburb, which left Srinivas Kuchibotla dead and Alok Madasani wounded.

The Indian community was shocked once again this Sunday, March 5th, on the shooting of a Sikh man named Deep Rai, a US citizen of Indian origin, in the driveway of his home in Kent, WA.

In both incidents, the shooting victims reported that the attackers shouted racist and xenophobic statements, leading the authorities to investigate these cases as hate crimes.


We send our sincerest condolences to the Indian community and to the family and friends of Srinivas Kuchibotla, and we wish a swift recovery for Alok Madasani and Deep Rai.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hindu and Sikh communities that suffered these attacks and losses.
 



Once again, we want to reiterate our commitment to stand against all forms of hate crimes against all communities that make up the American society. We strongly believe that if one community is worried about their safety here, that casts a shadow on the overall safety of the nation. Therefore, we will continue to work together with all communities regardless of their backgrounds to foster mutual understanding, dialogue and peace. 



Multicultural Mosaic Foundation

Mar 03

We Strongly Condemn Recent Hateful Acts Against the Jewish American Community


with the courtesy of ABC News

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers and schools across North America and the desecration of two Jewish cemeteries in the last two weeks in St Louis, MO and Philadelphia, PA.

On Monday afternoon, another wave of this unprecedented harassment of the Jewish communities reached the West Coast in Arizona, California, Nevada and Washington states. According to the JCC Association of North America, the total number of bomb threat incidents has now raised to 89 in 72 locations in 30 states and 1 Canadian province.

We strongly condemn these hateful acts against the Jewish American community, which are clearly aiming to intimidate and make them feel less safe in a place they call home. It is essential for the safety and peace of all Americans to stand in solidarity with the targeted communities and not let hatred hold sway over love and respect. In that sense, we commend the Muslim American community which quickly gathered to donate generously to repair the damaged graves in the St Louis Jewish cemetery last week. As we are saddened with the senseless acts of hate and disrespect against a faith community, we feel hopeful at the sight of support and friendship offered sincerely by other fellow communities.

It is our mission, as Multicultural Mosaic Foundation, to cherish and promote the values of compassion, empathy, and solidarity between the diverse communities that make up the American society; and we are more committed than ever to work towards this mission to defend trust over fear, and love over hate.

Feb 13

Syria is our generation’s shame

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On January 21, 2017, Multicultural Mosaic Foundation hosted a panel on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The participants were Dr. Nader Hashemi and Nadeen Ibrahim. Dr. Hashemi discussed the Syrian crisis from a political scientist’s perspective, whereas Ms. Ibrahim approached the issue from her humanitarian aid experience.

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According to Dr. Hashemi, Syria is our generation’s shame. Life expectancy in Syria dropped from 71 years before the war to 55 years. Over sixty percent of the population is displaced. ISIS crisis is a direct byproduct of Syria crisis. Russia’s intervention has increased the level of violence and the future looks grim as the crisis will further increase the destabilization of the Middle East. The violence in Syria has reached the borderline genocide level. He showed a video produced by BBC on Aleppo that displayed largest tragedy and catastrophy of the 21st century. In 2015, half a million people fled to Europe. Turkey hosts more than three million Syrian refugees. 12.5 million people now displaced or turned into refugees. About half a million people were killed, about ninety percent of which the regime is responsible of. There were four hundred attacks on medical facilities in Syria. The estimated cost of rebuilding Syria is seven hundred billion dollars.

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Ms. Ibrahim, recently returned from an aid trip to Lesbos island in Greece and works with families resettled in Colorado. She talked about her experiences in Lesbos where she distributed female hygiene products and diapers with the eight thousand dollars she raised in Colorado. The money lasted less than a week. According to her, refugees who make it to the island are generally financially well-off people who pay smugglers for their trip. On the island, a family of six lives in a tent of size 6ft x 3ft in refugee camps where fights and fires can take place. Children have access to basic health and education. European Union resettlement process is much shorter than the United States. The resettling refugees in Colorado are in huge need of basic items like cups and plates. They also need help in learning English. Coloradans can help by reaching out to organizations such as International Rescue Committee, African Center and Lutheran Family Services.

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