Gov’t pressure to shut down Turkish schools sparks outcry


Date posted: April 6, 2014

ANKARA

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government’s attempts to shut down Turkish schools abroad that are affiliated with the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by the teachings of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, have sparked an outcry among opposition figures and diplomats, who criticize the government for “abusing education because of personal hostility.”

 

After several reports that circulated in the media stated that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu sent orders to Turkish embassies to take steps towards the closure of the Turkish schools, opposition figures and diplomats raised their voices against such an attempt, saying, “Shutting down schools is completely a political and ideological attempt.”

The faith-based Hizmet movement administers a wide network of schools and more than 2,000 educational establishments in more than 120 countries around the world. These schools provide education to thousands of students and are well known for their achievements in the International Science Olympiads.

The attempt to shut down the schools comes at a time when the Hizmet movement has been subjected to a smear campaign from the Turkish government, whose prime minister and many high-level officials are implicated in a sweeping corruption scandal that became public on Dec. 17, 2013.

Former Turkish Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış has also criticized government’s attempt, saying those schools have always been a “source of pride” for Turkey and that closing them would be a big mistake.

“The closure of these schools is totally an ideological matter. If the schools carry out something against the national education’s curriculum, then what is needed could be done. However, closing schools is an indication of personal hostility. The government should act within a legal framework. Closing schools is equivalent to medieval thinking,” said Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Yusuf Halaçoğlu.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Faruk Loğoğlu has also reacted to Erdoğan’s attempts to close the schools. “This is totally a political decision. From every aspect, this decision is based on animosity and is wrong,” said Loğoğlu.

Regarding Davutoğlu’s instructions to Turkish embassies and representatives, Loğoğlu stated that the Foreign Ministry does not have the authority to order the closure of schools in other countries, and that deciding to close those schools would be in “violation of laws” as they are not public but private schools.

Last month, parents of students at Yavuz Selim School in Kanifing, Gambia, received a letter announcing its immediate closure. According to reports, the national education authorities of Gambia reportedly sent a one-sentence letter to the school’s principal ordering the school’s immediate closure, and the principal in turn sent a letter to all parents announcing the government’s decision to close the school.

Following this, Gambian authorities reportedly ordered the immediate closure of the school. Yavuz Selim School was established in 2010 and served students of various nationalities. The school provided an international school curriculum and was described as “not for profit.”

When asked about reports that the school in Gambia received compensation for its closure, Loğoğlu replied: “I would not be surprised [the Turkish government]. It would close it [the school] through money. Anything can be expected from this government.”

Education should not be abused for personal hostility

Observers say the closure is a clear an example of Turkish pressure on governments to shut down Gülen schools abroad.

Türk Ocakları Chairman Nuri Gürgür also said that the closure of these schools would be a serious mistake and added that those schools effectively represent Turkey abroad. Entrepreneurs affiliated with the Hizmet movement consider the Olympiads to be the schools’ most important activity, as they represent Turkey and the Turkish language.

“Closing the schools that keep Turkey’s name alive in foreign countries would be a very bad decision. Considering that these schools provide quality education, closing those schools would mean nothing but only revenge. History would not forgive this,” said MHP Deputy Reşat Doğru.

Recent reports say that Erdoğan personally asked Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani to close Turkish schools in the autonomous region of Iraq during Barzani’s visit to Turkey in mid-February, according to sources close to the KRG prime minister. Erdoğan also called on the administration of Pakistan’s Punjab region to shut down its schools linked to the Gülen movement.

“It is unacceptable for the prime minister to carry his animosity to the area of education. Education should not be an instrument of personal hostility. It is not ethnical to pursue hate rhetoric by means of our children,” said CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Engin Altay.

Closing schools is a dictatorial attempt

CHP’s Mahmut Tanal also criticized the government’s attempt to shut down the schools abroad, saying that such an attempt would drag society into darkness. “Shutting down schools is a method that dictators apply in order to prevent the public from being enlightened,” said Tanal.

Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici described the attempt to shut down the school as a “shame.” “It is inexplicable to see the Turkish government complaining about its schools abroad while many other foreign countries are trying to establish their own schools in abroad,” said Destici.

Davutoğlu defended the instructions given to the Turkish embassies and representatives abroad for the closure of Hizmet-affiliated schools there. Speaking to the reporters on the sidelines of his meetings in New York, where he went to gather support for Turkey’s pursuit of non-permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2015-2016 term, Davutoğlu said that the reason behind the orders was that a number of civil society representatives sent letters to foreign officials in which they expressed their complaints about Turkey.

Davutoğlu, who did not give details regarding the content of the letters, said that for the sake of their duty, they should take measures. When asked whether Turkish schools sent those letters to foreign officials, Davutoğlu replied: “Not the schools [themselves], but well-known civil society organizations and representatives from those institutions sent the letters,” said Davutoğlu.

“I wouldn’t say this if I hadn’t been asked, but I mean the [Turkish] schools in the United States… Some civil society representatives complain about their own countries by sending letters to foreign officials. Some foreign officials conveyed those letters to me. We have the right to question whom these efforts serve,” said Davutoğlu.


Despite smear campaign, Somalia says it stands by Turkish schools

Contrary to reports circulated by pro-government Turkish newspapers claiming that an investigation has been launched by Somalia against Turkish schools in the country, Somali authorities claimed no such investigation had been launched and said they would continue to support Turkish schools.

Mohammed Omar, a member of the Somali parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, has stated that Somalia is happy with the work carried out by the Turkish schools in the country. “Four schools and a hospital have been established in Somalia. They provide services up to global standards. We Somalis will always be with the Nil institutions [affiliated with the Hizmet movement] and we will always support them,” Omar said.

Somalia has been struggling with civil war and drought for a long time, and Turkish schools have played a prominent role in rebuilding the education system in the country, despite the fact that the schools were opened only two years ago.

Nil institutions, which have been increasingly active in Somalia, have achieved 22 medals in international student Olympiads.

Source: Todays Zaman , April 6, 2014


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After all, it is not difficult to understand that the reasons pushing so many people so far from home have been a love of service and a love of their own country. During the course of my travels, I also had the chance to meet a few of the teachers dedicated to their service and to teaching in these schools. Most of them had sacrificed some of their own opportunities so that they could simply contribute to the schools at which they are working.

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