January 22, 2015

Erdoğan pushes to close down Turkish schools in Africa

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pressing ahead for the closure of Turkish schools affiliated with the Gülen movement (Hizmet movement) of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen in African countries.

“In countries we visit, we have been talking about the status of these schools and saying they should be closed down,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by the state Anadolu news agency during a visit to Ethiopia on Thursday.

Erdoğan also said he has been telling African authorities that the Turkish Education Ministry is ready to offer the same service provided by these schools. “The ministry is close to finishing its preparations to that effect,” he said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said he would follow Ankara's advice on the issue, having worked with Gülen-inspired schools in the past.

"We will follow the guidance of the government because we had never worked with these organisations without the approval of the government," he was quoted by Reuters as telling a news conference with Erdoğan.

The Turkish president has declared 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. He openly declared last year that he would do whatever it takes to eliminate the “parallel structure,” a term of his invention to refer to alleged sympathizers of the movement within the state bureaucracy, even if this requires a “witch-hunt.”

Erdoğan maintained that measures against the "parallel state structure" are being taken in Turkey, indicating that the Gülen movement is now formally considered a threat to national security. "This process [in Turkey] now amounts to the parallel state structure being listed [as a threat] in the National Security Policy Document. Our fight against this organization is and will be carried out determinedly," he said.

Speaking in Davos, where he is attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu echoed Erdoğan, accusing the Turkish schools of "defaming Turkey" by "exaggerating or fabricating" negative news.

"Therefore, they are doing everything other than educating," he said, adding that his government might discuss a plan to replace the schools with state ones as soon as next Monday.

There are more than 100 Gülen-inspired schools in Africa, as well as other parts of the world. The government praised these schools in the past as key institutions promoting Turkish culture abroad.

Published on Today's Zaman, 22 January 2015, Thursday