July 11, 2014

Bolu Municipality seals Hizmet-affiliated schools

The Bolu Municipality sealed two schools belonging to businessmen affiliated with the faith-based Hizmet movement on Friday.

Bolu Fatih Koleji

The municipality hung a sign in front of the sealed schools claiming that the buildings are not licensed and that the buildings did not follow municipality approved plans. Bolu Mayor Alaaddin Yılmaz said his municipality had to take action against unlicensed buildings and that the closures are not linked to a government policy against Hizmet.

“The preparatory school was rebuilt after the [1999] earthquake. Our municipality has been demolishing such buildings recently,” Yılmaz further noted.

When reporters asked if the municipality decisions against the schools had any link to the government's ongoing campaign against the Hizmet movement the mayor said, “It would be wrong to perceive our [municipality] decisions as a step against the Hizmet community.”

The sealed schools are close to Hizmet, a movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused the Hizmet movement of being behind a massive corruption investigation. He claims that the investigation was an attempt to overthrow his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, although the prime minister has not been able to produce any evidence to justify his claims.

In May, the prime minister publicly asked his AK Party supporters not to send their children to schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement. “We will not even give water to them [Hizmet members],” he vowed.

More recently, the prime minister has ordered officials at municipalities run by the AK Party to seize land and buildings belonging to Hizmet, by any means.

The sealing of two Hizmet-affiliated schools in Bolu on Friday follows similar moves in other parts of Turkey. In early June, the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) stopped the construction of an education complex on privately owned land on the pretext that the land would be used as a green area and a gathering spot in the event of an earthquake. The municipality failed to obtain the required approval from other authorities in the province to halt the construction of the education complex. They said that the complex belongs to Fetih Eğitim İşletmeleri (Fetih Educational Operations), which has close ties to the Hizmet movement.

In the same month the İBB removed a sign advertising the Fem prep school in İstanbul's Mecidiyeköy district, which helps students prepare for university entrance exams. The municipality claimed that the school had violated the municipality's advertising regulations. The school, however, said the İBB had approved the advertisement, for which all the taxes had already been paid. It also said the real reason behind the İBB's decision is because Fem is affiliated with the Hizmet movement. The school filed a complaint against the İBB with the İstanbul Prosecutor's Office, arguing that its advert had been removed for no apparent reason.

Municipal police teams also removed the advert for the Anafen prep school, which is in the same building as the Fem school. Signs belonging to other businesses were also removed. However, 117 other advertisements in Mecideyköy's square remain untouched.

Shortly afterwards, the Başakşehir Municipality in İstanbul ordered the removal of a billboard advertising the success of a college affiliated with Hizmet in the highly competitive Undergraduate Placement Examination (LYS).

Published on Today's Zaman, 11 July 2014, Friday