Erdoğan urges Kyrgyzstan to shut down Gülen schools

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) is seen after receiving an honorary doctorate at a ceremony at Manas University in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on September 02, 2018. Kyrgyzstan's President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (R) also attended the ceremony. AFP PHOTOS

Ramping up pressure on Kyrgyzstan, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan urged the Kyrgyz government to crack down on groups linked to the Gülen movement, which Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup, something Bishkek has so far refused to do, Reuters reported.

Erdoğan, on a visit to Kyrgyzstan, on Saturday raised the matter again at a meeting with the new president, Sooranbai Zheenbekov, saying the Gülen movement presented a security threat.

“We don’t want our brotherly people to encounter such problems,” Erdoğan said at a joint briefing with Zheenbekov.

“They [Gülen supporters] may infiltrate the interior ministry, military structures. Such a coup may happen in Kyrgyzstan as well.”

Zheenbekov, who came to power last year, stopped short of promising to comply, saying the school network was now under the government’s control.

After the 2016 coup attempt, Ankara asked governments in the region to shut down the network, but some were reluctant. Almazbek Atambayev, Kyrgyz president at the time, flatly refused to close the schools and simply had the educational network renamed.

Kyrgyzstan’s neighbor, Kazakhstan, has also refused to shut down Gülen-sponsored schools and has also had them renamed.

Twelve memorandums of understanding including one between Turkey’s Maarif Foundation and the Kyrgyz Education and Science Ministry were signed during Erdoğan’s visit to the mostly Muslim nation of 6 million.

Maarif was established prior to the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, through legislation in the Turkish parliament, and after the abortive putsch, it targeted the closure of Gülen-linked educational institutions as part of Turkish foreign policy.

Maarif Foundation Chairman Birol Akgün in July revealed that 97 schools affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement in the non-Western world have been transferred to the foundation.

The foundation has also opened 140 schools in 25 countries and signed protocols with 28 countries to take over Gülen-affiliated schools.

Erdoğan and his ruling AKP government pursued a crackdown on the Gülen movement following corruption operations in December 2013 in which the inner circle of the government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan were implicated.

Despite the movement strongly denying involvement in the failed 2016 coup, Erdoğan launched a global and national witch-hunt targeting the movement following the abortive putsch.

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