February 14, 2016

Seizure of private schools in gov’t-led move draws ire

The heads of education unions in Turkey reacted against the seizure of certain private schools after an İstanbul court ordered on Friday the appointment of trustees to the administration of 12 educational institutions for their alleged links with Kaynak Holding, which was seized in a government-initiated move in November 2015.

Trustees, accompanied by police, took over the administrations of nearly 50 private prep schools, foundations, associations and dormitories belonging to 12 educational institutions, established by people sympathetic to the faith-based Gülen movement, upon an order by the Anatolia 4th Criminal Court of Peace in İstanbul on Friday.

Among the schools to which trustees were appointed are the Mizan and Sema educational institutions and the Anadolu Fen Educational Institutions. According to the court's decision, eight of the companies are located in İstanbul and two in Ankara. The remaining two are located in İzmir and Samsun.

Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-Sen) President Kamuran Karaca told the Özgür Düşünce daily on Sunday that, according to the law, trustees do not have the right to take over the administration of educational institutions. Underlining that the seizure of schools will traumatize the students studying there, Karaca noted it is unacceptable for the government and the Ministry of Education to target schools as part of their witch hunt against the Gülen movement.

“Turkey is moving toward an indescribable situation where dissident voices are targeted in ugly, illogical and intolerable moves. Do they want everyone to be a member of the ruling party? Do they want all political parties, trade unions and professional associations to be abolished?” Karaca asked.

Companies, educational institutions and media outlets established by individuals sympathetic to the Gülen movement have been harshly targeted in government-initiated operations after the eruption of a graft scandal in December 2013 implicating politicians, businessmen and people from the inner circles of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Without providing any concrete evidence, the AK Party and Erdoğan accuse sympathizers of the movement, especially those in the police forces and the judiciary, of carrying out the corruption operations in order to topple the AK Party government. The movement denies the accusations.

In a written statement on Sunday, Union of Active Educators (Aktif Eğitim-Sen) Chairman Osman Bahçe said educational institutions were not even touched during periods of war. “This nation has always protected its teachers and students and did not allow education to be interrupted,” Bahçe said.

Underlining that the appointment of trustees to educational institutions is unlawful, İsmail Koncuk, the head of the Turkish Public Workers' Labor Union (Kamu-Sen), told Özgür Düşünce on Sunday the court order is not in line with the principle of the rule of law.

According to Koncuk, the AK Party government wants to disband the institutions of the Gülen movement as part of the witch hunt against the movement. “The appointment of trustees will put an end to these educational institutions. However, the seizures of educational institutions will not in any way benefit the country and those who carried out these orders [to appoint trustees],” Koncuk said.

Kaynak Holding: We do not have any links with educational institutions

In a statement on Friday, the shareholders of Kaynak Holding denied any corporate links with the foundations and associations to which the trustees were appointed. "These claims are completely false. These companies are neither subsidiaries of Kaynak Holding nor do they have any links with the holding," the statement said.

According to Özgür Düşünce, the Anatolia 4th Criminal Court of Peace appointed the new trustees to the educational institutions based on their links with Kaynak Holding as they receive catering services, stationery and educational equipment from the holding.

Former Turkish Bar Association (TBB) President Vedat Ahsen Coşar also told Özgür Düşünce on Sunday that it is against the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to seize educational institutions as part of a witch hunt as both the Constitution and the ECHR guarantee the right to education.

Underlining that trustees appointed to companies by court order must be supervised by the courts, Coşar noted the new trustees are violating the law by making decisions on issues they have no authority over. “In a functioning state ruled by law, trustees carry out courts' task of inspection and courts ensure that the trustees are accountable for their actions. However, we are witnessing a complete judicial scandal as all these trustees are violating laws and the courts are not bringing them to account,” Coşar said.

As part of the government's efforts to restructure the judiciary following the corruption scandal, then-Prime Minister Erdoğan ordered the establishment of Penal Courts of Peace in June 2014 as “project” courts. Erdoğan said during a speech in June 2014 that Penal Courts of Peace were established to fight the "parallel state," a term he uses to refer to the Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement.

Since their establishment, the courts have handed down rulings that have led to sweeping operations by the police force and the detention and arrest of dissident journalists and opinion leaders who are vocal in their criticism of the government's unlawful acts.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 14 February 2016, Sunday