January 29, 2015

Reactions snowball against attempts to close down int’l Turkish schools

Efforts by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to close down Turkish schools opened by Turkish entrepreneurs affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement (also called the Hizmet movement) around the world have been met with a growing reaction from many segments of society that highlight the schools' quality education and contributions to the spread of Turkish culture.

Last week, Erdoğan, on a tour of several African countries, pressed ahead with campaigning for the closure of the Turkish schools affiliated with the Gülen movement in African countries. During his visit to Ethiopia, he said: “In the countries we visit, we have been talking about the status of these schools and saying they should be closed.” 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.

Erdoğan launched a battle against the Gülen movement after a corruption probe in which senior members of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan's government were implicated went public on Dec. 17, 2013. He accuses the movement of plotting to topple his government.

Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici said Erdoğan's recent visit to Africa was mainly aimed at the closure of the Turkish schools there, saying that this is “shameful act” for both Erdoğan and Turkey.

“Several years ago, you were attending the inauguration ceremonies of those schools and praising them. Now you go there and ask for the closure of the schools. This is just ridiculous. Give up. People are laughing at you,” he said, targeting Erdoğan.

Erdoğan and members of his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government have previously visited a number of Gülen movement-affiliated Turkish schools abroad several times. Praising the organizers of the event, Erdoğan said internationally located Turkish schools aim at reaching world peace.

Professor Niyazi Öktem said he condemns efforts to close Turkish schools abroad because they offer high-quality education and promote Turkish culture abroad.

“Everyone knows if it had not been for these schools, Turkey's economic growth in the past decade and success in exports would not have taken place,” he said.

Turhan Tayan, a former education minister and defense minister, also criticized attempts to close the Turkish schools, calling the move an unlawful one.

“Closing those schools can only take place in accordance with the laws of those countries. This is not the job of the Turkish Republic. The Turkish government can only interfere in the work of schools in Turkey,” he said.

In the meantime, a former deputy prime minister, Ekrem Pakdemirli, said it is wrong for Erdoğan to say the Turkish Ministry of Education will open schools abroad in place of the Gülen-affiliated schools.

He said schools could be opened abroad through civil foundations, but not through the state.

Published on Today's Zaman, 29 January 2015, Thursday