Panel Discussion – The Gulen Schools In Central Asia

Kazakh President Nazarbayev visits a Kazakh-Turkish High School
Kazakh President Nazarbayev visits a Kazakh-Turkish High School


Date posted: August 13, 2016

Bruce Pannier

The events in mid-July in Turkey, events Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called an attempted coup, have had implications on Turkey’s relations with many countries. Erdogan blames Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in self-exile in the United States, for being the mastermind behind the alleged plot to overthrow his government.

After the Turkish government reestablished itself in power and started rounding up suspected participants and leaders, Ankara called on countries where Gulen-sponsored schools had opened to close down those schools. Among the countries the Turkish government called on to shut down these “Gulen schools” were Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Ankara’s partners in the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States.

But the governments of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan did not comply.

To look at the reasons these two countries declined to acquiesce to Ankara’s call, and review the difference of opinion among the Central Asian states as regards the Gulen schools, RFE/RL’s communications office arranged a Majlis, a panel discussion.

Moderating the talk was RFE/RL Media Relations Manager Muhammad Tahir. From Bishkek, Emil Joroev, professor at the American University of Central Asia, joined the discussion. Alan DeYoung from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, who taught in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and has authored many works on education issues in Kyrgyzstan, also participated. And I naturally threw in a few comments from the studio in Prague.

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev rather quickly defused the problem with Turkey by making a visit to Ankara to meet with President Erdogan. Nazarbaev did not agree to close down the Gulen schools in Kazakhstan, but he did promise to carefully scrutinize those running the schools and those teaching in them. Joroev said Nazarbaev explained to Erdogan that Kazakhstan does “take the warnings of the Turkish government seriously and that if there is any confirmed reason for taking some serious actions against these schools that Kazakhstan stands ready to do that.”

Ankara urged Kyrgyzstan to close the Gulen schools also, warning they were dangerous, but Bishkek flatly rejected doing so.

Joroev said that shouldn’t have been a surprise. “These 20 or so schools related to Gulen are really some of the most high-performing, highly regarded schools in the country, which are currently educating many thousands of children,” he said.

DeYoung pointed out the schools have filled an important need for many in Kyrgyzstan. “The Gulen schools came and actually created schools in places where there used to be schools that weren’t doing so well anymore…they provided opportunities and they provided resources, they provided classrooms with electricity.”

Both Joroev and DeYoung agreed the Gulen schools appear to be providing students with a quality education. Joroev also pointed out that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the majority Muslim Central Asian states became independent, there were many questions about what form of Islam was best suited to their countries.

“I think Kazakhstan and especially Kyrgyzstan did not have a settled policy of exactly what sort of Islam we are going to teach, and in that regard I think the Gulen version of Islam, which is open to science, [a] modernizing version of Islam, sounded like an acceptable option,” Joroev said.

The Majlis participants noted that is not the view in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or Turkmenistan.

Gulen’s ideas of Islam are inspired by the life and work of Sufi scholar Said Nursi (Nurchi). Tashkent was the first to believe there was a danger in the works of Nursi. In August 1997, Uzbek President Islam Karimov recalled all students studying at Nursi schools in Turkey. Nursi teachings are banned in Uzbekistan and people have been sentenced to prison for being members of the group.

Tajikistan closed the last of its Gulen schools in 2015, though that could be explained as part of a wider campaign against Islamic groups in Tajikistan that are not totally subservient to the government.

Turkmenistan, where the group is also referred to as “Nurchilar,” closed the sole Gulen-linked school operating in the country at the start of August.

“It’s likely the moral teachings of the movement which alarmed officials in each of those republics,” DeYoung said.

Joroev said that in Kyrgyzstan, when the Gulen schools started to appear in the 1990s “there were lots of rumors about how these schools tend to indoctrinate and brainwash the kids.” He said in Kyrgyzstan’s case, the performance of students in those schools and lack of evidence of ulterior motives had persuaded many in the country that the Gulen schools pose no threat.

Of course, there are still doubts. “That’s possibly the most important question these days, exactly what is the ultimate objective of the movement that we associate with Gulen,” Joroev said.

DeYoung said the Gulen schools were a topic of conversation when he had been in Central Asia previously. “I’ve talked to people about how school leaders or university rectors are trained and the answer has always been ‘well, they’re not trained, they’re just volunteers who come along.'”

For some, lack of clarity on points such as the training of teachers fuels distrust of Gulen schools.

The panelists agreed the Gulen schools that still function in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan would be well advised to show complete transparency about their organization and curriculum to help allay concerns. But it’s unclear how far the schools would be willing to go or how much the authorities in those two countries would need to know to be assured there is no ill-intent.

The Majlis discussed these issues in greater detail and looked at other aspects of Gulen schools and Central Asians’ attitudes toward the organization.

You can listen to the Majlis in its entirety here:

Majlis Podcast: The Gulen Schools In Central Asia

Related article, academic paper: 

The role of Turkish schools in the educational system and social transformation of Central Asian countries

 

 

Source: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty , August 13, 2014


Related News

Deporting Turkish teachers – Why can’t we separate politics from education?

The act of sending to Turkey over 400 Turkish citizens working and studying in the Pak-Turk International School system is highly condemnable. They have been living in Pakistan since 1995 and this is their home now. Their kids were born and brought up in Pakistan. It is heart-wrenching to see that they are suddenly being treated like terrorists.

‘Every minister I met in Africa asked for more schools’

İSA YAZAR, ABUJA “I meet with my colleagues in every African country I visit. The common wish they all have is for more [Turkish-run] schools to be opened. I care very much about these schools. I visit them every time,” Çağlayan, who is on an official visit to Nigeria, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea, said during […]

Arbil closer to İstanbul than Baghdad

ŞAHİN ALPAY My first visit to the Kurdistan region of Iraq took place a year ago, on the invitation of the University of Duhok, to participate in an international conference on the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Awakenings. Last week I was once more in the region, this time upon an invitation […]

Pakistani Education Minister hails Turkish schools

The minister said the schools active in his country offer an excellent education model. “My fellow citizens have embraced these schools,” he said. Speaking of the long-established, brotherly relations between Turkey and Pakistan, “I can explain these heart to heart relations in many ways. We can feel the love from whoever comes here from Turkey. It is hard to put in words. This is brotherhood, this is friendship,” Rahman said.

Global peace as a dream to follow

BEGÜM BURAK* Every dream can come true if we have enough courage to follow it. Peace has always been a dream to catch; however, it has always been almost impossible to provide peace and order. Let alone world peace, no single community can fully have peace. From the very beginning of history, the war between […]

Turkey’s Hizmet Purge Is Seeping into the UK Creating Fear in Some Communities

Over the weekend, we have received 5 reports from individuals who are involved in the delivery of social services here in the UK and who are of Turkish heritage. The text messages ask for individuals to inform on members of the Hizmet movement. The impact of these messages is to create fear within members of the Hizmet movement in the UK and who are active in social work within and beyond Muslim communities.

Latest News

Rhode Island’s latest refugees flee Turkey’s repressive regime

Turkey’s Gulen supporters flee to Greece – BBC World

Pro-gov’t journalist suggests killing family members of jailed Gülen followers

Le Monde: Ankara offered Senegalese government $7.5 million to transfer Yavuz Selim educational group to Maarif

In Greece, Turks tell of lives full of fear in Recep Erdogan’s Turkey

Turkish Police Wait To Detain Another Women Just Hours After Delivery

A battle for power in Turkey faces resistance in Senegal

Turkish family drowned in Aegean Sea while escaping from Erdogan regime

To escape from Turkey, they told their children it was a game

In Case You Missed It

Bruised by lavish palace, Erdoğan pictures fake Gülen compound

Turkey in 2014: Not too bright [Witch-hunt against Gulen Movement expected]

The irrationality of demanding Turkish schools abroad be shut down

Irmak TV starts broadcast

‘A movement like the Hizmet Movement is very important for correcting misconceptions of Islam’

Turkey Has Stolen The Future Of A Medical Student From Uganda

Afghan Students, families baulk at Turkey taking over schools

President Gül hosts Turkish Olympiad students in Ankara

The Crisis in Turkey?

Copyright 2017 Hizmet News