October 7, 2014

İstanbul municipality tears down part of school in midnight operation

The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality sent teams in the early hours of Tuesday morning to the private Fatih College in the Merter neighborhood to demolish the wall of the school as well as a security cabin in the school's courtyard.

The municipality, which is run by the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party), had earlier decided to construct a road through the courtyard of the school, which is affiliated with the Hizmet movement -- one of the largest faith-based communities in Turkey. The school has been in operation for 20 years.

Teams from the municipality arrived at the school at around midnight and rapidly demolished one of the walls surrounding the courtyard and the security cabin nearby. Sources said the municipality did not send any written warning to the school administration about its demolition plans beforehand. What was more unusual was that the demolition took place at midnight and on Eid -- an official holiday in Turkey.

The demolition was protested by some 400 people, who rushed to the school upon hearing that municipality teams were tearing down part of Fatih College. The protesters were challenged by police teams.

In late August, Fatih College Director Salim Kaplan told the media that the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality wants to construct a road through the courtyard of the school. The college appealed the municipality decision at an administrative court, which has yet to announce its decision.

Before that, the Bolu Municipality closed down two schools belonging to businesspeople affiliated with the faith-based Hizmet movement in early July.

The closure of the two schools in Bolu followed similar incidents across Turkey. In early June, the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality stopped the construction of an educational complex on privately owned land on the pretext that the land was to be designated a green area and 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.

All of these schools are close to the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. President 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 AK Party government, although the prime minister has not been able to produce any evidence to justify his claims.

Mehmet Dikmen, general director of Fatih Öğretim İşletmeleri (Fatih Teaching Operations), said the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality had previously attempted to demolish parts of the school, but the attempts were foiled thanks to objections made by the school administration. Now that the municipality has this time managed to demolish the wall and security cabin of the school, the school administration is planning to sue the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, according to Dikmen.

Dikmen also called on protesters to remain calm and follow legal procedures to seek their rights for the future of the school.

Lawyer Fikret Duran said he will file a suit against the municipality on Wednesday (today) and ask the municipality to recover the school's financial loss due to the demolition.

Yusuf Karaç, the father of two students attending Fatih College, told the media that the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality is seeking to discredit the college in the eyes of the people by demolishing parts of it. “There is one thing they [municipal officials] cannot understand: We do not send our children to this school for the school's courtyard or security cabin. We send our children to this school for the high level of education it offers. We send our children here because we trust the administration of this school. I will continue to send my children here even if the school does not have even one square meter of courtyard,” he stated.

Karaç also expressed his belief that more people will send their children to Hizmet-affiliated schools in protest of a growing hate campaign against Hizmet. “We believe justice will be done. We trust God's justice,” he noted.

Engin Aman, a shopkeeper in Merter, described the municipality's demolition of part of Fatih College as “brutal.” “This [demolition] happened on the third day of Eid [al-Adha]. This is brutal. This is cruel,” he said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 07 October 2014, Tuesday