June 17, 2015

Ex-President Demirel known for his support of Turkish schools abroad

Turkey's ninth president, Süleyman Demirel, who died on Wednesday at the age of 90, was known for his open support of the Turkish schools abroad inspired by the views of the Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Late Turkish President Süleyman Demirel (L) is seen during his visit to a Turkish school in Turkmenistan along with the country's then-leader and former Turkish PM Tansu Çiller (R).

In a speech that was posted on the Herkul.org website in 2014, Gülen wrote that Demirel was generous enough to say “Write whatever you want to say in a letter to leaders of a state where you want to open a school; I will sign it and send it [as the president of Turkey] to the leader of the state.”

While paying an official visit to Bangladesh in 1997, Demirel inaugurated Turkish Hope Schools in the capital, Dhaka, and also helped a teacher from the school, Süleyman Alptekin, who had been injured in an accident, to return to Turkey in his official plane.

Alptekin had lost a leg after being run over by a bus in an accident two weeks before Demirel's visit to Dhaka. Unable to get the necessary medical treatment in his hospital in Bangladesh, Alptekin was then taken to an army hospital, where he was visited by Demirel, who had been informed of the incident during the inauguration of the school.

Seeing that Alptekin was unable to return to Turkey for financial reasons, Demirel then gave Alptekin the sleeping compartment of the official plane for the return trip to Turkey.

During the Turkish Olympiads of 2013, Alptekin and a group of students from the Turkish Hope Schools in Bangladesh visited Demirel at his residence in Ankara. Demirel said that Alptekin was doing a very important job teaching Turkish to the students there in Bangladesh. “That's why we have love, sympathy and appreciation toward these people [teachers in the Turkish schools]” he said.

Demirel was also the chief guest at one of the dialogue meetings of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, whose honorary president is Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, soon after the 1997 military intervention into politics which led to many religious groups experiencing oppression from military-instructed state institutions. Demirel, who was the president at that time, said that he was the president of all the people of Turkey, without any discrimination. Upon receiving a plaque from Gülen in remembrance of the event, Demirel also noted that the community represents the unity of the people of Turkey.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 June 2015, Wednesday