Muslim boy doing Praying. Photo: File

From Amazon to Turkey: Indigenous children ‘kidnapped’ and converted to Islam

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Dario Salvi

(ZENIT News – Porta di Oriente (Asia News) / Milan, 06.26.2023).- A direct thread connects the Amazon to Turkey. A traffic of minors, who are taken from their families – often destitute and unable to support them or offer them prospects for growth – to take them overseas to the former Ottoman Empire where, under the pretext of education, they are educated and converted to Islam.

Police have launched an investigation into the affair that is still ongoing, confirmed by AsiaNews sources in Manaus, who urge “caution” and ask that “the names of those involved be omitted for the moment” pending the judiciary and criminal implications.

The investigators’ are focusing on the Süleymancılar association, linked to Turkish Islam and active in several countries, with a radical view of the faith that is contrary to the secularity of the state and seeks to permeate-and influence-the lives of families according to Muslim precepts.

An in-depth investigation by Turkish diaspora news site Artı Gerçek uncovered a long-running practice. The newssite is critical of the Ankara government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was founded in 2017 by exiled journalists.

Its’ guiding principle is to “publish news” that would be “victims of censorship” at home and “give voice to groups, religions, minorities” relegated to the margins, or persecuted, in the country of the “sultan.”

This is a controversial and sensitive affair, because it involves “minors being abused, trafficked and violated,” as our source confirms, and which is fueled by a pro-Islamic entity that has already been the subject of complaints in the past, but has been able to count on the cover of Turkey’s top leadership.

Groomed and converted

A longtime Turkish citizen in the Amazon, who since June 2021 benefits from a residence permit issued by Brasilia, allegedly lured on behalf of the Süleymancılar sect dozens of children from poor families of forest tribes.

The target area is that on the border with Colombia, but the operational headquarters is Manaus, the capital of the Amazon state, where children picked up with a “consent” signed by the family are conveyed to receive the first dictates of their “new educational model.”

At least six of these were transferred to Turkey  after a three-year period in Brazil and housed in centers owned by the sect or linked to it in Kütahya, Tarsus or Istanbul (where child abuse had allegedly taken place in the past) to continue “schooling” and eventually be converted to Islam.

The Turkish trafficker allegedly acted through a company he founded, the Amazon Humanitarian Aid Solidarity Association, which, under the guise of aid and development support, would establish ties with the families and gain their trust by getting their children into his care.

This move was also motivated by the parents’ desire, or hope, to secure a better future for the children by wrenching them away from forest life toward an educational path, the opportunity to attend schools and attain a higher level of education that would otherwise be precluded.

After spending some time in Manaus, the children are changed their names by receiving “Turkish and Muslim” ones such as Muhammad, Hüseyin, Ahmet. Education is also Turkish, Arabic, and Islamic, involving young guests between the ages of 5 and 17.

For some-in this case between the ages of 15 and 17-the final step, with relocation to Turkey through an “education visa” issued by Ankara’s own embassy in Brazil.

Trafficked to Turkey

Once they arrived in Turkey, the Brazilian Indians lost track of each other among the cities hosting branches or affiliates of Süleymancılar. The investigation shows that the young boys from the Amazon were taken to the Mekân Ortadoğu men’s dormitory in Tarsus, whose center manager would not give his personal details and attacked the journalists who authored the investigation.

“Why,” he said, with a reference to religion, “do you chase children who have taken the path of the Prophet Allah? Mind your own business….” He then added that “they came to Turkey for educational purposes, even their families gave permission […] they are no longer in the center and I don’t know where they are.” Faced with the prospect of charges of international trafficking of minors taken from their families by deception (the crime being investigated by Brazilian police), he cut it short by saying that they have been transferred to an Islamic solidarity association called Mena in Istanbul.

Among those who have put up a wall of silence and omertà is the Turkish embassy in Brazil itself, which does not want to comment on the affair and does not answer questions from reporters, both Turkish and from Cariocans.

As Brazilian journalist Thalys Alcantara, quoted by Artı Gerçek, explains, the children belong to Amazonian peoples whose culture and way of life “are protected by Brazilian law” as part of a policy to preserve tribes and indigenous areas.

“The young people,” he explains, “come from a town [which our source asks to keep secret, ed.] in the state of Amazonia, located in the middle of the rainforest,” from which they were taken in 2019 behind “the signing of documents by their parents that have no legal validity.”

The families “are poor and dream of a better future,” the children “have few opportunities to learn to read and overcome poverty.” Islamic groups, AsiaNews sources confirm, have seized on the destitution of populations that have become “targets” for child trafficking, kidnapped and forcibly converted. Better fate befell 20 of these children, who were tracked down by police and returned to their families.

Suleymancilar and sexual abuse

At the center of this international trafficking is the Süleymancılar Association, which for years has been shrouded by opaque affairs involving abuse and violations, including of minors.

In November 2020, a family in Istanbul filed a complaint against the organizers of a Quran course after their son saw with his own eyes sexual violence in the facility and dormitories.

The organizers belonged to the controversial sect, which is no stranger to such events, and responding to the parents’ complaints one of the organizers said what happened “was not a big deal,” in any case not such “as to merit a complaint and create a scandal.” At the time, the family’s lawyer stressed that for the organization in question, the case of violence is “just the tip of an iceberg” of abuse, rape, and exploitation with the blessing of the state.

An emergency confirmed by the numbers: child violence has increased by 700 percent under President Erdogan’s Akp (Justice and Development Party) governments and, in many cases, investigations have ended with the perpetrators going unpunished.

In 2018 alone, nearly a dozen cases had emerged in the dormitories of the Süleymancılar, moreover known for its ties to the highest echelons of the executive branch. The country ranks 38th in the world for rape (15.6 per 100,000 population) and 45th for femicide (0.88 per 100,000).

In 2018 Turkey was third in the world for child abuse; nearly 500 thousand young girls under the age of 18 were married with the “permission” of the state; in pregnancies conducted between 2007 and 2017 by girls 17 and under, more than 2,400 babies were stillborn. Hdp and Chp have submitted dozens of parliamentary questions for the prevention of sexual abuse and violence, all of which have been punctually rejected by the Akp.

Today is UN World Refugee Day: “The hope,” concludes the AsiaNews source, “is that exploitation will be nipped in the bud for the sake of these minors, who are lured with a false promise that is also the motive behind this trade. Finally, what happened is also a warning to the Brazilian and global Church, so that it can help to become increasingly aware of the pastoral care of minors and contribute to the prevention of possible violence.”

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