Afghan authorities have drafted a deal giving the Turkish government control of more than a dozen schools in Afghanistan affiliated with Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, British daily the Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Western and Afghan officials believe the agreement is part of a bargain allowing Afghanistan’s vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has been accused of abducting and torturing a political rival, to seek exile in Turkey, the Guardian said.
Gülen has repeatedly denied any involvement in the coup attempt, which claimed the lives of more than 240 people and injured a thousand others.
Turkish teachers at Gülen-linked schools say the Turkish Embassy in Kabul is refusing to issue them passports, rendering them unable to travel.
The Afghan-Turk CAG Educational (ATCE) runs 16 schools across Afghanistan. Widely considered some of the country’s best, they teach science classes in English and boast a 98 percent success rate in university entrance exams. Thirty percent of the 8,000 students are girls.
“Our schools fight radicalization and uphold human values,” ATCE Chairman Numan Erdoğan told the Guardian.
A Turkish government-run foundation, known as the Maarif Foundation, will reportedly take care of the schools.
The Maarif Foundation has been established by the Turkish government in order to compete with Turkish schools abroad established by sympathizers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Gülen’s views.
In May, an Afghan government commission drafted a memorandum reportedly recommending dissolving the ATCE.
A week later Dostum boarded a plane to Turkey. Mujib Mehrdad, a spokesman for the Afghan education ministry, confirmed the existence of the memorandum but denied its recommendation was related to Dostum.
Ahmad Fawad Haydari, the vice chair of the ATCE, said: “We are hoping the president will not heed the unlawful suggestion. We haven’t done anything to deserve to be dissolved.”
Mathias Findalen, an external associate professor in Turkish affairs at Copenhagen University, said international Gülen-linked schools were often founded by private individuals without an explicit political doctrine. They adhered to “a philosophy of peace and dialogue between religions” he told the Guardian.
“Generally, the schools have had an extremely good reputation,” Findalen said.
In Afghanistan, more than 700 of the ATCE’s 900 staff are Afghan, and school curricula are approved by Afghan authorities.
“We don’t want to be victims of politics,” said one student’s mother at a recent rally in Kabul to defend the schools. “We are a poor family, but I still sent my son to study here.”
The Gülen-linked schools are considered some of the best in Afghanistan
After the failed coup attempt in Turkey, Erdoğan banned the movement’s 300 Turkish schools and increased pressure on its estimated 1,000 schools worldwide.
Findalen said Erdoğan had brokered trade agreements in Africa, Asia and the Caucasus in return for control of Gülen-linked schools. Often the schools were then shut down.
In Pakistan, more than 100 Turkish teachers have been in UN protection since November after authorities ordered them deported following Turkish demands to close their schools.
According to teachers in Afghanistan, the pressure goes beyond politics.
In February, Fateh Karaman, the vice principal of a Gülen-linked primary school in Herat, requested a passport for his six-week-old son Yavuz from the Turkish Embassy. His son needed surgery abroad for an intracranial hemorrhage, he said.
At the embassy, a passport officer said he did not believe the boy was sick and would only issue temporary travel documents if Karaman brought passports for the whole family, instead of just copies, Karaman said. The Guardian said it has seen a letter from a French clinic confirming the boy’s diagnosis.
Fearful of arrest upon returning to Turkey, Karaman decided to stay. His son’s hemorrhage was for now being held at bay with daily doses of vitamin K, he said.
Önder Akkuşci, a teacher in Kabul, had his passport confiscated when applying for documents for his infant daughter. In an email correspondence seen by the Guardian, the Turkish ambassador told Akkuşci he might lose his Turkish citizenship if he did not return to Turkey.
“Citizenship carries obligations,” the ambassador, Ali Sait Akın, told the Guardian in an email. “If my authorities lawfully ask me to go there and give a statement on some issues, I do. Every citizen should. Innocence is not afraid of justice,” Akın wrote without explaining what the “issues” were.
Seventeen families of school staff members in Afghanistan whose passports have expired or been seized have applied for asylum status with the UN’s refugee agency.