Erdoğan’s Maarif Foundation has taken over 191 Gülen-linked schools in 21 countries, says chair

The Afghan-Turk Boys High School in Shibirghan was raided by members of the Afghan security forces on July 28, 2018 and detained Turkish teachers, dozens of students and their parents in order to seize the school at the request of the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Maarif Foundation now controls 191 schools taken over from the Gülen movement in 21 countries, the foundation’s chair, Birol Akgün, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday.

“Together with the Foreign Ministry, we have been conducting talks with 95 countries. Some have decided to hand them over to us, and 191 schools in 21 countries are currently under our jurisdiction,” Akgün said, referring to schools that were opened by the faith-based Gülen movement.

Birol Akgün

“But it does not mean those countries that have not handed them over have done nothing. Some have closed them; others have taken them under the authority of their own education ministries, and others handed them over to third parties. Some governments have expelled the staff of these schools who were considered threats by Turkey.”

“In the non-Western world 70 percent of the schools are no longer under [Gülen movement] control,” Akgün claimed.

Maarif reportedly uses various techniques to convince countries to do away with schools from the movement.

“If [Gülen-linked] schools are not closed down, we tell them the graduates from these schools cannot come to Turkey to study,” Akgün said. “The students who are graduates of foundation schools can take the university exams in Turkey and study in Turkish universities without paying any additional fees, just like Turkish citizens,” he added.

The Gülen movement had more than 700 schools around the world before a failed coup in 2016. 

The Maarif Foundation is claimed to have been established to spread President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist ideology abroad. The management structure of Maarif is entirely controlled by Erdoğan, who has the power to appoint four members of the 12-member board of trustees, the executive decision-making body of Maarif, directly, and three members thorough the Cabinet, which he chairs. These seven members are considered to be standing members, while the rest are described as representatives who will be selected from the ministries of foreign affairs and finance as well as the Higher Educational Board (YÖK). In other words, Erdoğan not only appoints key members to the board but also reduces the profile of bureaucrats who will represent relevant public institutions on the board. The seven members also form the board of directors, which manages the daily business of the foundation.

Article 4 of the law governing Maarif also grants administrators of the foundation the right to carry diplomatic passports and provides them with rights and privileges equivalent to a diplomatic attaché. Since they are able to serve until the age of 72, these operatives can freely travel all over the world under diplomatic cover. The teachers and school principals employed by Maarif are to be treated as government officials tasked with overseas assignments and will benefit from all privileges awarded to such officials under Turkish passport law. (SCF, turkishminute.com)

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