August 24, 2015

The unbearable lightness of raiding a school

Berk Çektir

There are three untouchables in any civil society.

These three, in order of importance, are the freedom to pursue education, the freedom of the press and the freedom of the judiciary. The last civil institution intact has finally been affected.

Recently, police raided branches of a reputable school, Yamanlar, making a big fuss out of an unjustified investigation. For international readers who are not familiar with the world of Turkish education, the Yamanlar schools are the equivalent of the best schools in your country, if not better. The space of this whole newspaper would not be enough to list the goals achieved and the awards won by Yamanlar schools in their 33-year history. In 2014 alone, the private schools won 18 medals -- three gold, eight silver and seven bronze -- in the 22nd National Science Olympiad and the 19th National Mathematics Olympiad for primary and secondary schools. Its graduates earn excellent scores on the Undergraduate Placement Examination (LYS) and are usually among the top 10 highest-ranking students.

Simple research will show that a large majority, if not all, graduates become good citizens who work to improve society. Yamanlar is such an exemplary school that it may help society to improve.

Under no circumstances should a school be subjected to a police raid, and Yamanlar would be the last to be investigated for any reason. Now, the school's name has become unjustifiably associated with police raids. Neither a person nor a legal entity should be shown favoritism or harassed and punished by discrimination. I am quite certain that the school has in no way been involved in any illegal activity, and that there is no reasonably likely reason why a school would do so.

Using such a large number of officers to investigate a school is waste of resources, even from the most naive point of view, as there would be no one to challenge the process anyway. Who would stop the investigators, boy scouts in fifth grade?

Any person on the streets of Turkey has come to understand that procedural law has become the substantial law, and that both overlap, nowadays.There was no point in associating the name of the school with the procedure being carried out. However, fame makes news. And Yamanlar is as valuable as it is famous.

No one is above the law, and no one should be subject to discrimination. The process could have been handled in a far more gentle way. Couldn't there have been any other way to investigate without “unintentionally” causing a “loss of reputation”? Wouldn't it have been wiser to ask to inspect documents rather than measuring the length of the schools' stairs?

It is said that a sense of humor is more developed in societies under pressure and censorship, and that people use sarcasm when there is no way to speak honestly.

Finally, it would be a great exaggeration to say that the press is not free in Turkey. I am still able to write for Today's Zaman and use Turkish Airlines' internet connection to send my work to my editor. It is, though, a bit strange that neither Zaman nor Today's Zaman is carried in any Turkish Airlines lounge or aircraft. This could be a coincidence? Maybe?

For some people, it is a joy to watch a school undergo a police investigation and raid. For some people, it is all about feeling. In other places in the world, other schools are being subjected to different types of pressure and violence. Oh! It is just a light feeling, and it should feel even lighter if this school has earned 120 medals out of the 490 won by Turkish schools.

Under the given circumstances, and despite all the difficulties, the Yamanlar schools have raised the best students, earned the most accolades, and established a worldwide reputation based on 33 years of good standing. Once the show ends, and there are no more smoke and mirrors, the Yamanlar schools will still be standing.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 23 August 2015, Sunday