A declaration signed by 20 European lawmakers from 14 countries on Tuesday said the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) should follow up on Albania’s decision to close a school with links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by Ankara of orchestrating a coup in Turkey in 2016 although it denies any involvement.
Albania’s government was accused of caving in to Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after it abruptly closed a Gülen-linked school on Sept. 22.
After public criticism of the decision, Education Minister Evis Kushi said the school, Mehmet Akif Ersoy College, had its license revoked because the school had been relocated without permission and that it no longer met the legal criteria to operate as a school.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency also reported that a kindergarten that had ties to the Gülen group-affiliated college was also ordered to close.
“On 22 September 2022, the Albanian Government cancelled two Turkish educational institutions due to an alleged relocation procedure. This closure was assessed by lawyers, academics and civil society as an arbitrary decision of the Albanian Government due to pressure from the Turkish authorities,” the lawmakers said in their declaration.
Many criticized the decision and connected it to Erdoğan’s repeated calls for Albania to close institutions affiliated with his arch-foe Fethullah Gülen, the inspiration of the movement who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999.
“For more than seven years, Turkish foreign policy made it its mission to close educational institutions perceived as embarrassing to the Erdogan government. The Turkish President used the weight of his office to reach out to the Albanian authorities and other governments by calling for the closure of schools founded by a certain group of Turkish nationals, who were in the opposition,” they added.
“We are concerned that Albania, as an EU candidate country, does not respect the rule of law by deciding politically under external pressure,” the lawmakers said, adding, that the PACE “should follow this case and call upon Albania to respect the rule of law.”
At its peak, the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative renowned for its educational activities, operated schools in 160 countries, from Afghanistan to the United States. In Turkey, the network had run thousands of educational facilities, including schools, prep schools, universities and dormitories.