Members of opposition parties, prominent businessmen and figures in the education world have severely criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for campaigning for the closure of Turkish schools in African countries that are affiliated with the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who is a former ally of the president.
During a visit to Ethiopia on Thursday, Erdoğan was quoted as saying, “In the countries we visit we have been talking about the status of these schools and saying they should be closed down,” by the state Anadolu news agency. Erdoğan also said he has been telling African authorities that the Turkish Ministry of Education is ready to offer the same service provided by these schools. “The ministry is close to finishing its preparations to that effect,” he said.
The Turkish president has declared the Hizmet movement a treasonous enemy, after a corruption scandal involving people in his inner circle that erupted with a wave of detentions on Dec. 17, 2013. Erdoğan openly declared last year that he would do whatever it takes to eliminate the “parallel structure,” a term he invented to refer to alleged sympathizers of the movement within the state bureaucracy, even if this requires a “witch-hunt.”
There are more than 100 Gülen-inspired schools in Africa, as well as in other parts of the world. The government has praised these schools in the past for being key institutions promoting Turkish culture abroad.
Going down in history as the one to close schools
Erdoğan Aktaş, a Turkish businessman who has been investing in Africa for over 10 years, spoke to Today's Zaman of his bewilderment as to why Erdoğan is trying to close down the schools in question. “I don't understand why President Erdoğan is attempting these sorts of things [closing down the schools]. These schools are important support for Turkish investment and for Turkish businessmen working abroad. I don't know why somebody would want to go down in history as the person who closes schools,” he said.
Stating that Turkish schools are sources of comfort and support for Turkish businessmen, Aktaş said: “We felt comforted when we came here [initially], because of these schools. In fact, it's not possible to say that the government was very supportive of us [businesspeople].”
CHP deputy chairman: No one has the right to close down these schools
Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy chairman and Islamic intellectual Mehmet Bekaroğlu underlined that the Turkish Republic does not have the authority to close down these schools, saying: “People are coming together and putting together funding. [They are] acting in accordance with the laws of the associated countries. Their motives may be discussed. I'll go, someone else doesn't, that is another issue, but Turkey has neither the authority nor the right to close down these schools.”
Bekaroğlu continued: “I don't know if he [Erdoğan] visited these schools before, but all of his ministers used to visit, giving praises [to the schools]. Now, he's saying ‘close them' and doing it as a part of a war, with a vengeful feeling.”
Criticizing President Erdoğan's recent remarks, Bekaroğlu said: “He's doing what he did inside [Turkey] abroad. He said he'd finish them [the Hizmet movement], he said he'd enter their lairs. That's what the president is doing. He's waging war against the Cemaat [the movement].”
The term “cemaat” meaning “congregation” is sometimes used to denote the Hizmet movement, especially in Turkey.
Erdoğan's discourse damaging science and education
University Instructors' Association head Tahsin Yeşildere also joined the criticism against Erdoğan's recent antics, saying, “These types of initiatives damage science and education, preventing the next generations from being brought up in a more knowledgeable, more efficient, more tolerant way.”
“Wherever and however these education establishments are, they are important in terms of Turkey's mission, its cultural values and its economy in the future. We have to encourage them [the establishments],” Yeşlidere said. “I wish we had Turkish universities and research centers abroad, so that we could form stronger connections with those countries,” he continued.
MHP group chair: President interfering in other countries' domestic affairs
Oktay Vural, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman, also made his feelings known, saying: “You [Erdoğan] are accusing people of being agents, spies, for complaining about Turkey abroad. What are you doing? Isn't this, what you are doing, the same thing?”
Stating that another strange point regarding Erdoğan's recent antics is the fact that he is intervening in the domestic affairs of other countries, Vural said: “Doesn't diplomacy have any rules? Isn't there any politeness?”
Underlining that these actions are indicators of paranoia, Vural said: “Will these actions [by the president] not make products and services imported from Turkey dubious? If so, then just complain about our exports and say, don't buy these and this can all be settled.”
“Being unsettled by any institution that keeps the flag of Turkey flying is a sort of madness,” he continued.
MHP deputy: Erdoğan doesn't close down PKK camps but tries to close Turkish schools
Speaking to Today's Zaman on Friday, MHP Ankara deputy Özcan Yeniçeri bombarded Erdoğan with criticism, saying, “He doesn't close down the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] camps, [but] he requests that Turkish schools be closed in the countries he visits.”
Yeniçeri said the Justice and Development (AK Party) will go down in history as the "ruling party that closed down schools," adding, “Complaining about the schools opened by entrepreneurs from your own country, asking for them to be closed down is Turkey shooting itself in the foot.”
“Ebu Cehil, known as the father of ignorance, doesn't point to one person. It lives on as a mentality today. Those trying to close down schools are those helping spread ignorance and thus [represent] the Ebu Cehil mentality," said Yeniçeri.
The term “cehil” or “cahil,” pronounced “jahl,” is used to denote the severe ignorance of a person and is derived from the name of Amr ibn Hisham, better known as Abu Jahl -- a Quraysh leader known for his hostility toward the Prophet Muhammad.
DGP leader: Erdoğan should fix Turkish school system before opening schools in Africa
İdris Bal, head of the new Democratic Progress Party (DGP), bombarded the head of state over his badmouthing of the Turkish schools, saying, “He's [Erdoğan] saying 'close the Turkish schools.' I say [have] some sense, some reason.”
Professor Bal, who is a former deputy for the ruling AK Party, continued his criticism of President Erdoğan saying, “This enmity is not against one section [of society] it is against the people. The people will not forgive this.”
Commenting on Erdoğan's claims that the Ministry of Education is getting ready to take the place of Turkish schools that are already up and running around the world, Bal said, “You [Erdoğan] first fix the national education [system] in Turkey. [Students] are trying to receive an education in prefabricated buildings and there are teacher shortages. You haven't fixed the national education [system] in Turkey and you [talk of] opening schools in Africa.”
HDP deputy: Leaders don't complain about their countries' institutions abroad
Hasip Kaplan, a Şırnak deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), criticized Erdoğan by giving an example of states of law, saying, “In states run according to the rule of law, administrators don't go and complain about the institutions in their countries like undeveloped countries.”
Kaplan continued: “Before, when we used to go on foreign missions, AK Party deputies were the first to visit these schools. We went to Yemen, Toronto and Indonesia; our friends from the AK Party used to visit these schools as if they were visiting [the holy city of] Mecca. What has happened now that they have become enemies?”
Independent deputy: Closure of schools first and foremost damages Turkey's interests
Haluk Özdalga, an independent deputy representing Ankara, also voiced his concerns regarding Erdoğan's campaign to have Turkish schools shut down around the world, saying, “This type of action first and foremost damages and is in violation of Turkey's interests.”
Discussing the quality of the Turkish schools Erdoğan is attempting to have shut down, Özdalga said: “These schools are doing a very good job in many countries around the world. We have to see these services from a few sides. ... These schools help raise youngsters who are more helpful for both their countries and the world.” Özdalga continued by saying the schools that are President Erdoğan is attempting to shut down with a smear campaign are schools that "assist Turkey in connecting with the world.”
Fethullah Erbaş, a member of the Felicity Party (SP) also spoke about his discomfort regarding Erdoğan's words, saying: “If you're [Erdoğan] going to open a new school, go and open one. No one's stopping you. How many years have passed and you haven't opened one? Now you say close these ones, I'm going to open new schools. Rest assured these things [education] over there [African countries], cannot be done by the government's hand.”
Erdoğan is currently on a tour of certain African countries. He was welcomed in Addis Ababa on Thursday with an official ceremony from Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
During a joint press conference with Desalegn, Erdoğan said Turkey's relations with African countries in recent years have developed a great deal and Turkish investors can contribute to the energy, construction and defense sectors in Ethiopia.
Erdoğan stressed that Turkey and Ethiopia aim to boost their bilateral trade volume from $400 million to $500 million. A large group of Turkish businessmen are also accompanying Erdoğan on his African tour. Erdoğan said that, with the meetings that took place in Addis Ababa on Thursday, Turkey and Ethiopia are starting a new phase of economic cooperation.
The president also said he had come to an agreement with Desalegn regarding the so-called “parallel state."
Published on Today's Zaman, 23 January 2015, Friday