JWF report reveals Gülen affiliated science schools, seized by Turkish gov’t, turned into hub of religious radicalism

A report, released by the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) on March 2017 on the fate and state of private educational institutions and educators affiliated with the Gülen movement in Turkey and abroad, has revealed that the most of the Gülen movement affiliated secular private schools in the country were transformed into religious İmam-Hatip Schools as part of the top to down Islamization and radicalization policies followed by Turkish government under the rule of Islamist autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

According to the report by JWF titled “Assault on Education in Turkey and Abroad”, as secondary religious schools İmam-Hatip schools have experienced a four-fold annual increase in terms of the students attending these schools during the first nine years of the rule of Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Following government incentives since 2011 the number of students who have enrolled in İmam-Hatip schools during the 2014-2015 educational year has increased to almost 1 million, with a roughly 40 percent increase from the previous school year. On the other hand, the number of students in İmam-Hatip schools during the 2011-2012 school year was just 268,245. The report stated that the number of İmam-Hatip schools also surged; there are now 1,597 middle and 1,017 high schools respectively.

The report underlined the fact that in the academic year 2010-2011 the Turkish Ministry of National Education decided to close the so-called general schools, which were deemed educationally inadequate. Between the 2010-2011 and 2013-2014 school years, all 1,477 general high schools and other secular high schools were phased out and the most of them converted into İmam-Hatip schools. In 2011 the government has also decided to accord İmam-Hatip graduates equal standing to that of secular graduates in college applications, making them more attractive option for college-bound students.

The report has also cited the fact that İmam-Hatip schools were included in the category of vocational schools. This gave the government the possibility to arbitrarily assign students to İmam-Hatip schools. Among other widely cited examples of the arbitrariness of the assignments among the Turkish population at large, the grandson of the chief rabbi of Turkey also was assigned to an İmam-Hatip school, along with many Christians. İmam-Hatip schools provide free transportation and meals potentially making them attractive to the public. Officials often claim the schools “have the same education with a few extra religious classes.”

In addition to general İmam-Hatipization of Turkish educational system, the most of the closed private schools and dormitories, which were affiliated with the Gülen movement, were also converted into İmam-Hatip schools in the aftermath of the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Since Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan and most of his close radical Islamist collaborators are all graduates of İmam-Hatip schools, they contributed to a massive increase in the number of İmam-Hatip schools and students in Turkey.

However, according to JWF report, despite the extensive support by the government, İmam-Hatip schools’ overall performance have remained extremely poor. One test of 40 math question in 2015, students at İmam-Hatip schools averaged only 2,18 correct answers. In comparison, students of FEN Lisesi averaged 28,42 correct answers on the same test. The wider significance of İmam-Hatip schools has been a constant source of contention, with many viewing them as “problem ridden institutions” which are breeding grounds for radicals.

Citing that the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 unquestionably changed the entire social fabric and political context in the country, the report stated that “The state of emergency enabled the government to consolidate power and continue unabated its efforts to eliminate the Gülen movement. This will have a long-lasting negative effect on the future of the country… In the aftermath of the attempted coup the confiscated land and thousands of buildings belonging to the Gülen inspired schools, dormitories and hospitals were considered as “war spoils” and shared among pro-government individuals and companies. Equally worrisome, many of the facilities were transformed into religious education facilities (İmam-Hatip schools), with the ongoing State of Emergency contributing to the further radicalization of Turkish society.”

The report analyzed the situation as follow: “Efforts to eradicate the Gülen movement, a renowned international movement combating extremism and radicalization by promoting secular education with a specific emphasis on peace building, will contribute to the rise of radicalization. Such efforts will inevitably have their own cost and long-term negative social and political repercussions in Turkey, the volatile Middle East, and beyond.”

The report has also stated that “One of the major effects of this change in the government’s education policy has been the damage already inflicted to the traditional mainstream understanding of Islam across Turkish society. Turkish citizens have always been antagonistic to any form of extremism; this is in part due to the efforts of educational institutions, such as Gülen inspired schools. The current rise in homegrown radicalization is another sign that Turkey’s social fabric is undergoing a harmful change. This is unfortunately; reflected in the number of terrorist attacks and victims killed by terrorism…”

Giving some examples of the private science schools which were affiliated with the Gülen movement and transformed into religious İmam-Hatip schools after government seizures, JWF’s report has stated that “Apart from serious concerns on the quality of education in İmam-Hatip schools, given the importance of Turkey and its unique geo-strategic position, the deepening radicalization of Turkish society poses a serious threat to Turkey’s democracy and security and also to the security of other NATO member states.”

The report has also revealed the facts about the unprecedent crackdown by Turkish government targeting higher education institutions, educators and academics who are affiliated with the Gülen movement. According to the data given by the report, in a series of State of Emergency Decrees issued from July 23 until November 2016 the government dismissed and/or revoked teaching licenses for approximately 41,667 teachers. Teachers and other administrative personnel were unlawfully dismissed from their positions, based solely on political and administrative decisions. Along with their careers and their right to work, these actions increasingly created unnecessarily precarious economic circumstances for hundreds of thousands of families – as well as endangering the future of approximately 1,5 million students.

The report stated that the education in Turkey has been impacted irreversibly and in the most negative manner. The teaching licenses and passports of thousands of teachers were revoked with the stroke of a pen and without any justification… Dismissals unfortunately do not just mean merely losing the teaching position within an educational institution, but rather losing any opportunity of working as a teacher in any educational institution, private or public, throughout Turkey. Dismissed teachers and other personnel along with their family members have also been deprived of their health insurance, social aid, and other benefits.

On July 23, 2016, 15 universities were closed and their assets were seized. Their academic personnel lost their positions under the first emergency decree. The purge and deprivation of liberty of academics and other staff in higher education institutions have continued unabated. Credible reports point to serious allegations of ill-treatment and torture against academics and other higher education personnel deprived of their liberty, including severe beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, as well as denial of food, water and medical treatment. The ongoing purge and repression against academics taking place in an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, combined with a total absence of the rule of law, contribute to a mounting psychological pressure on academics and other staff of higher education institutions.

The report has also covered the efforts of Turkish government to seize or close the Gülen affiliated private educational institutions abroad. According to the report, “From July 15 to November 18, 2016 Turkish diplomats met around 600 ministers and, 1,444 foreign members of parliament, in addition to nearly 6,190 senior officials globally to explain the so- called “FETÖ structure and its vast network abroad.” Turkish diplomats also contacted international media outlets 2,270 times, wrote 448 articles and letters, and organized 236 news meetings on the same issue. Among their efforts was against Hizmet affiliated schools abroad in 2016.

“Turkey’s government succeeded in presenting a political resolution adopted by the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that described the Gülen movement as “terrorist.” The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) also labelled the Gulen movement “a terror group” in a political statement made at the foreign ministers’ meeting in October 2016. They did so, without any evidence.

“A morally corrupt, unlawful, and perhaps criminal campaign of intimidation of Turkish teachers, as well as kidnappings and alleged murders, either directly by intelligence operatives or through criminals in foreign countries, took place during 2016.

“There were even reports allegedly showing that the Turkish National Intelligence Organization ( MİT) orchestrated the assassinations of six teachers in an attack on a school bus in Mogadishu in March 2016. Five employees of a Turkish school in Mogadishu, including two volunteer teachers from Azerbaijan and Turkey were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked a school bus carrying students, teachers and school staff in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, on March 30, 2016.

“Passports of many teachers in several countries have been cancelled leaving their bearers in legal limbo, with Turkish diplomatic and consular missions unlawfully rejecting requests for birth registrations from Turkish citizens. Among three new decree-laws pursuant to Turkey’s state of emergency on January 6, 2017, Decree-Law 68089 seeks to directly target teachers and academics ( and their family members) teaching in top quality educational private institutions in more than a hundred countries. Among other troubling provisions placing arbitrary restrictions on human rights and freedoms, a particularly chilling aspect of Decree-Law 680 is the introduction of a measure revoking the citizenship of individuals abroad, who do not respond to judicial summons issued by courts or prosecutors within 90 days.”

The report has also stated “The Turkish government’s full-frontal assault against the peaceful, open-hearted, and humble members of the Gülen movement, who have done nothing wrong other than volunteering their time, money and expertise to improve the lives of people around the world represents an assault on the right to education. It is an ‘open invitation’ for radical groups to readily fill the gap in many countries.”

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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