Agents of the Moldovan and Turkish intelligence services on Thursday detained seven Turkish nationals working for a chain of private high schools in Moldova as part of the Turkish government’s global witch hunt against alleged members of the Gülen movement.
The Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS) and agents of Turkey’s notorious National Intelligence Organisation on Thursday detained seven Turkish nationals who were working at the Orizont Moldovan-Turkish Schools and took them to an unknown location.
According to a report by Balkan Insight, one of the detainees is only 14 years old, but he was shortly released. “They were taken this morning, but my son and his teacher were released. But another teacher was taken after they broke down his door,” the father of the teen said. He added that he feared the others would be sent to Turkey on the first flight from Chisinau.
The Turkish teachers were apprehended either on their way to school or at their homes. In one case the SIS agents broke into the house of the detainee. Hasan Karacaoğlu, Hüseyin Bayraktar, Rıza Doğan, Feridun Tüfekçi, Yasin Öz and Müjdat Çelebi were the detained Turkish nationals. Tüfekçi was the principal of the Ceadir-Lunga branch of the schools, and Rıza Doğan was the principal of the Durlesti branch.
With the exception of Bayraktar, they had all applied for asylum in April 2018 and were expecting a response from Moldovan authorities this month.
In March 2018, the general director of the schools, Turgay Şen, was detained by Moldovan security forces because of a request from the Turkish government for his extradition; however, he was released without charges.
Less than two weeks before Şen’s arrest, Moldovan President Igor Dodon announced that he had met with Turkish President Erdoğan at İstanbul Atatürk Airport on March 18, and had talked about Turkey repairing the presidency building in Chisinau, which was damaged in street riots on April 7, 2009 that toppled the then-Communist-led government.
Erdoğan was expected in Moldova on August 27 the country’s national day, to open the new presidential palace, but the ceremony has been postponed to October. Dodon said on Wednesday on a political television show that he expected the Turkish president for the grand opening.
Erdoğan had previously asked Moldovan Parliament Speaker Andria Candu to close the Gülen-linked schools. There are five Horizont high schools in Moldova. Opened in 1993, they are multi-lingual, multi-ethnic schools with several championships in international science contests. The schools host 1,691 pupils and employ about 376 staff from Moldova, Turkey and Albania.
SIS stated that it had conducted operations designed to prevent threats to national security in several locations. The actions were carried out by the SIS Counterterrorism Center. However, pro-government Turkish media claimed it was Turkey’s MİT that carried out the detentions.
“MİT, which earlier dealt a major blow to FETÖ’s Balkan branch [Kosovo] … is now conducting an operation in Moldova,” a Turkish media outlet reported. “FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.
A statement by SIS suggested that the detainees were “suspected of ties with an Islamist group, a group about which there are indications that they are acting illegally in several countries” and that they “have been declared undesirable by competent authorities and expelled from the territory of the Republic of Moldova.”
The relatives of the detainees were not informed of their whereabouts. According to local sources, students from the schools and their families arrived at the airport where the detainees were to be handed over to Turkish security forces for rendition to Turkey, protesting the detention.
Another Turkish educator in Mongolia, Veysel Akçay, was detained in late July of this year upon an extradition request from the Turkish government, but due to the intervention of Mongolian authorities and international pressure, he was released.
In April, the European Union criticized Kosovo for deporting six Turkish teachers, saying it raised questions about Kosovo’s respect for human rights. The deportations on March 29 were approved by Kosovo’s interior minister and intelligence chief, prompting their dismissal by Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who said the officials had acted without his permission.
In October 2016, Bulgaria returned to Turkey at least six people who were allegedly linked to the Gülen movement. Border police found them in Ruse, on the border with Romania, where they had attempted to cross. After they claimed asylum, they were told they would be taken a refugee center, but the vehicle instead took them to the Turkish border.
Turkey has continued to pressure Bulgaria on the same issue, however. Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu recently reportedly asked his Bulgarian counterpart to check 14 organizations and schools at which his government suspects supporters of the Gülen movement work.
The Turkish government has launched both a domestic and a global crackdown on the Gülen movement, accusing it of orchestrating a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, although the movement strongly denies any involvement.
As a result of the global witch-hunt, more than 100 Gülen-linked Turkish national were brought back to Turkey through intelligence service operations and the cooperation of other countries including Kosovo, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Gabon and Myanmar.