Formerly Gülen-linked schools in Albania face growing gov’t pressure

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Several schools formerly run by the Gülen movement in Albania have been the subject of growing government pressure in recent weeks in the form of police raids on their premises and inspections of their earlier financial records, Turkish Minute has learned.

Staff members from the Turgut Özal School in Tirana told Turkish Minute on condition of anonymity that the stepped-up pressure on the schools, which were transferred to Dutch company BF Cooperatief UA in 2017, is aimed at ensuring the transfer of the schools to Turkey’s Maarif Foundation as well as the extradition of Gülen-linked individuals in the country to Turkey.

Maarif was established by the Turkish government prior to a 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 since the government accuses the Gülen movement of orchestrating the failed coup and has launched a crackdown on the movement.

On Oct. 28 the campus of the Turgut Özal School was raided by Albanian police without any court order or warrant, and excessive force was used in the presence of students.

The raid made its way into the Albanian media, and a lawyer representing the school said in a statement to Albanian media outlets: “There have been some inspections that we deem illegal, and we have addressed them in a criminal complaint. The police entered by force, raided the premises and forcibly took tax invoices, the sales ledger, student registers and contracts with parents and students. …. Inspections cannot be carried out without respecting the code of criminal procedure.”

The lawyer also noted that the school had been subjected to a tax audit and that the results showed no irregularities.

The lawyer said the school had filed criminal complaints against 12 officers from the Albanian police force for the unlawful raid on the school.

The Albanian government has been criticized for its treatment of Turkish citizens who have been extradited or who are to be deported to Turkey. In January the EU reminded the Albanian government of its human rights obligations after they deported Harun Çelik, an alleged Gülen movement follower, to Turkey, despite him asking for political asylum.

Another Turkish citizen, Selami Şimşek, also an alleged Gülen follower, is currently fighting to overturn a decision to deport him as he says he faces unjust imprisonment if he is returned to Turkey.

The Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan enjoy close relations with Albania.

A memorial was erected in Tirana for the victims of the coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. The memorial has angered some nationalists in the country as it has nothing to do with Albania and is the only such memorial for July 15 coup victims outside Turkey. Nationalist circles in Albania claim that a similar memorial should be erected in Turkey as well in line with the principal of reciprocity for the Albanian victims of communism.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s state-run housing authority, TOKİ, in July signed an agreement with Albanian authorities for the construction of 522 houses in the city of Laç for the victims of a magnitude 5.6 earthquake that hit the country in September 2019.

The Turkish government has also launched an initiative in Tirana to plant 1,000 trees upon an order from Erdoğan.

“This was undertaken by President Erdoğan. At the same time, 11 million trees are being planted around the world. This has entered the Guinness Book of  Records,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama on Wednesday as he took part in the tree planting ceremony at Farka Lake, according to Albanian news outlets.

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