Afghans have collected 1 million signatures to prevent the transfer of Turkish schools founded by businessmen and operated by educators allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement for decades in Afghanistan to the Maarif Foundation, which was established by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to seize Gülen movement-affiliated schools abroad.
The top agenda of Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who made an official visit to Afghanistan over the weekend, was to assure the transfer of Turkish schools to the Maarif Foundation. Although a protocol was signed on February 26, 2018 for the transfer of these schools to the foundation, it has not yet been implemented by the Afghan administration. Turkish media reported that Yıldırım tried to put pressure on the Kabul administration during his recent visit to assure the implementation of the protocol.
Prime Minister Yıldırım said during a joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Abdullah, in Kabul that “I appreciate your decision to transfer these schools to the Maarif Foundation, which we as a state have established. Our teachers have come and they are now waiting. There is no obstacle to putting the transfer process into practice. We expect the continuation of your support on this issue.”
Yıldırım also claimed that there was no political motive behind the decision to hand over the Afghan-Turk schools to the Turkish government, claiming that the decision was taken to improve services and develop these schools in Afghanistan.
Characterizing the decision as being for the benefit of students, Abdullah said the agreement was signed with the Maarif Foundation so teachers coming from Turkey would be able to take over responsibility for the schools. He said they have also agreed that joint supervision should be shared by the Afghan Ministry of Education and the Maarif Foundation.
However, the parents of Afghan students who have received a quality education at the schools operated by the Afghan-Turk Çağ Educational NGO (ATCE) reacted against the demand voiced by Prime Minister Yıldırım. The Afghan parents, who have collected 1 million signatures to prevent the transfer of these schools to Erdoğan’s Maarif Foundation, said, “The Turkish government must treat the Afghan nation with respect.”
ATCE has been serving Afghan children for 23 years with 12 high schools, four primary schools, four test preparation schools, dormitories and laboratories across Afghanistan. However, the Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt against alleged members of the Gülen movement following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 has also targeted Turkish teachers abroad. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has requested that countries in which it exerts influence to close these schools or to transfer them to the Maarif Foundation. The Turkish government has also not hidden the fact that it is making plans to abduct teachers working for these schools abroad, with success already in abducting teachers in Pakistan, Malaysia, Gabon and Kosovo.
Mohammad Yusuf Pashtun, head of the Afghan-Turk Parents Association, said they will not allow any country or organization to use its support for Afghanistan’s education as a pretext for interfering in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs and pursuing its own interests. “We will not give support to any Turkish institution or association to intervene in the domestic affairs of our country and to carry out intelligence-related activities under the guise of education by violating the country’s constitution and international law,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Fawad Haidari, deputy director of the Afghan-Turk schools, said the Afghan government’s decision to hand over management of the schools to Turkey’s Maarif Foundation was against Afghan law and that they will continue to raise objections to the move.
Three Turkish teachers, Mesut Vardak, Önder Akkuşçu and Yılmaz Aytan, one Afghan teacher and a Turkish businessman, Sami Yavuz, were detained by Afghan intelligence in December 2017 at the request of the Turkish government over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, just as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was on his way to İstanbul to attend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit on the Jerusalem crisis. Their deportation to Turkey was prevented through the efforts of the United Nations at the last moment. Due to this, the visit to Afghanistan by Prime Minister Yıldırım together with five Cabinet ministers and other deputies has created uneasiness among the Afghan students’ parents.
Holding a press conference in Kabul on the occasion of Yıldırım’s visit to Afghanistan, Pashtun said: “If the Turkish prime minister’s visit to Kabul is for the purpose of damaging the school system, as the parents association we condemn the Turkish prime minister for this visit. We consider it to be in contradiction to the interests of the Afghan nation and the historical ties between the people of the two countries.”
While underlining the fact that they are against the Maarif Foundation, Pashtun also stated that “in order to support the present school administration and to object the transfer of these schools to the Turkish government, we, students and parents, have collected 1 million signatures. Government officials need to consider the thoughts and decisions of the Afghan nation.”
Reading a seven-point declaration, Pashtun said: “The decisions taken by the Afghan and Turkish governments about the fate of the Afghan-Turk Schools are against the constitution. We ask government authorities to reject these decisions immediately and to make it clear to the public.”
Directing his words to the Afghan government, Pashtun said: “Do not continue to pursue illegal policies for the sake of fulfilling the purposes of the foreigners. If you continue to engage in practices that are contrary to the Constitution, you will encounter the serious decisions of the parents association, and all the responsibilities of these decisions will belong to the government. The parents association will always support the constitution of Afghanistan.”
“If a prime minister comes here to take only a few schools, we would be even more determined to protect those schools,” Fazıl Ahmad Manawi, vice-president of the parents association, said, adding: “A prime minister is coming this country to take over schools that are mostly Afghan. Only a few Turks work in these schools, and most of the schools are affiliated with Afghans. If a few Turkish teachers are so important to a prime minister, then our commitment to our future will be even greater.”
“We will not allow those who want to harm the future of our children and their education,” Manawi said and continued: “We will not allow any foreign country to play with the future of our children. I have always thought of a formula for solving this problem. When I heard the words of the Maarif Foundation’s spokesperson, I found the solution. The Maarif Foundation claims that they will double the number of Afghan-Turk schools. So they were going to make the number of Turkish schools 24. Then the issue is resolved. You will build 12 schools first, then take over these present schools. You could not find a more logical, more peaceful and more effective solution than this. We promise, if the Maarif Foundation will build 12 more schools, we will sign for the transfer of the remaining 12 schools.”
Sharing a conversation between him and his daughter, Manawi said: “Last night there was news about the schools on TV. My daughter asked me, ‘Dad, where will they go if they take the Turkish teachers out of here?’ I said: ‘We will not allow this. But if we cannot afford this, the teachers go to other countries.’ My daughter asked again: ‘Doesn’t the Turkish government arrest them in those countries?’ I said, ‘No, the rule of law dominates, and there are sovereign governments in those countries.'”
“However, we have no law, no sovereign government in our country. Such a weak government that bows before the illegitimate demands of foreign countries and opposes its own nation’s will would never be respected. A [Turkish] government that does not show compassion and pity for the students who are studying here is pitiable to no one else. However in these debates, our government is more responsible than the Turkish government. Why does the Afghan government submit to the illogical, illegal and illegitimate desire of a foreign country? ”
Manevi added, “The Turkish government should respect the will of the Afghan nation. The seizure of these schools is one of those disrespectful acts.”
Reacting to the Maarif Foundation, Manawi also said that “the Maarif Foundation’s spokesperson made an arrogant and immoral statement by saying, ‘Let us see what we will do.’ Sorry guy, our country is not a laboratory… These schools have been serving in Afghanistan for 23 years, and they are respected by everyone, and we are all here to protect the interests of our nation and our country.”
Abdulshukur Dadres, another vice-president of the Afghan-Turk Parents Association, also reacted to the AKP government and said: “Turkey’s President Erdoğan made a commitment to the Afghan people years ago. He said, ‘We will build a university, we will restore Mevlana’s birthplace, we will build a hospital,’ but none of these promises were delivered by him. I don’t know why, but he began to show an intense interest in Afghanistan after the coup attempt in Turkey. Does the Turkish government want to serve these schools, or do they just want to take the Turkish teachers at these schools? If they want to lend support to the Afghan schools, then here they are. No, we understand that they have no intention of helping the Afghan people.”
Dadres also criticized the protocol signed on February 26 and argued that it cannot be implemented. “It has been 43 days since the deal was signed, and the Turkish government has been advertising every day, saying that ‘we have taken over the schools.’ Who took over these schools? Everyone knows who owns these schools. Believe me, it is very embarrassing, very regretful and very bad. It’s been almost a month and a half, but they have not yet managed to get the schools. The Council of Ministers also endorsed this agreement. Unfortunately, nobody asked what the parents, the people, say or what they want.”
“Then, Turkey’s prime minister is visiting here today. The biggest goal of this visit is to take over these schools. Never! Any intervention into Afghanistan’s cultural and educational sphere will carry a heavy price. Maybe you will pick up these schools, but nobody can get in here. They hear what I am saying. We recently had a meeting with a senior government official. We displayed the same stance, and our stance will continue. We want the issue to be resolved within the framework of the law. We will not accept anything illegal,” he said.