[Hizmet’s] Prep schools and civilized debate


Date posted: December 1, 2013

Markar Esayan

The prep-school debate has recently revisited Turkey’s agenda after periodically ebbing and flowing since the 1980s. The prep-school sector, which is the product of the huge problems in the country’s education system and students’ having to pass a challenging centralized examination before attending university, has grown out of proportion and presents us with a system that needs to be regulated. For some time, the government has been mulling its plan to transform the prep schools. However, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that they would shut down the prep schools, tensions skyrocketed.

The Hizmet movement, inspired by well-respect Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, led the band of opponents to the government’s transformation plan. This is unsurprising, as the Hizmet movement controls several media organizations and owns about 25 percent of the prep schools in Turkey. As its name implies (“hizmet” means “service” in Turkish), the Hizmet movement basically focuses on providing humanitarian services. And prep schools provide this community good opportunities to get involved with society. These factors led the spotlight to turn on the Hizmet movement as the government’s opponent in this debate.

I recently wrote that before moving on to discuss this issue, principles for the debate should be set, and that compliance with these principles would allow us to have a reasonable discussion, without harming any side. However, on the day that article of mine was published, the Taraf daily published a document dated 2004 that shifted the debate entirely outside the sphere of education. The daily continues to publish new documents.

The claim is that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) made a deal with the generals during a meeting of the National Security Council (MGK) — an institution initially established after a coup d’état — in 2004 to “finish off” the Hizmet movement. The daily further suggests that the government’s recent plan to close the prep schools was part of this deal.

This news story was critical enough to overshadow the Hizmet movement’s well-justified objections to the government’s prep-school plan and give the debate a predominantly political/ideological aspect.

And this was what happened. Now, the prep-school issue is being debated not as a problem of education, but as a row between the government and the Hizmet movement. This is not good for the government or the Hizmet movement.

The Taraf daily’s claims should appear unreasonable to any person who has lived in Turkey for the last 10 years and followed the agenda during this time. It would be a mistake to explain the recent tension between the ruling AK Party and the Hizmet movement in the context of a period when the government was fighting a life-or-death struggle against subversive generals.

The document published by the Taraf daily was a routine tutelage activity and the government had to sign it because of pressure from the generals, who were plotting to overthrow the AK Party after it came to office in the wake of the coup of Feb. 28, 1997. The measures outlined in the document were not implemented, and the Hizmet movement has enjoyed its most comfortable time during the rule of the AK Party. The generals who signed that document are now in jail on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

Then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, who signed the document, had told Turkey’s missions abroad not to hinder the activities of the Hizmet movement or those of other religious communities. In the same period, the national security courses that portrayed the Hizmet movement as a threat to the state were abolished and all circulars and orders against religious communities — which were issued during the coup of Feb. 28 — were canceled.

If the Hizmet movement believes that the government’s plan for the prep schools is an ideologically motivated threat to its existence; and if it is, therefore, concerned, then the government must relieve the worries of this community. Otherwise, unfounded claims that would pit the Hizmet movement and the government against each other may evolve into a vicious confrontation.

I hope this crisis finds its proper course and is overcome.

Source: Today's Zaman , December 1, 2013

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