Muhammad Aziz, a private company employee in Islamabad, is concerned about the education of his two sons studying in PakTurk International Schools System. “It is astonishing that a political regime in Turkey is following its political opponents across the world to make itself more powerful,” he says.
The Turkish government is pressing the government of Pakistan either to close down these schools or remove the current management which it claims is influenced by Fatehullah Gullen ideology. Following the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly blamed America and Gullen for conspiring against his regime.
The pressure on Islamabad and other countries to close down or take action against the schools that support the Gullen movement is part of Erdogan’s global campaign of chasing his opponents.
“I have asked my children many times and they do not know anything about Gullen or his movement. What do my children or Pakistani students have to do with this internal movement in Turkey? What we want is quality education and that we are getting through these schools,” says Aziz, continuing that he never thought that the Turkish government would ever try to clamp down on such schools on political grounds. “This is awful.”
PakTurk International Schools and Colleges are among the pioneer Turkish educational institutions in Pakistan. The schools, currently run by PakTurk Education Foundation, started in Pakistan in 1995 with one school in Islamabad. PakTurk International Cag Educational Foundation (PakTurk ICEF), an international Turkish non-government organization, started this school system in Pakistan.
The schools were initially meant to educate the Afghan refugees. With the passage of time, it became a successful venture. Currently, the PakTurk Education Foundation has 26 main schools, some with subsidiary branches, 11,000 students, 1,500 teachers and 130 Turkish staff.
The Foundation is imparting education from preschool to grade 12 according to Pakistani law and curriculum.
According to reports, the non-government organisations, following Gullen’s movement and ideology, are running schools in as many as 110 countries of the world. PakTurk International Schools and Colleges registered under the Companies Ordinance, 1984 aim to promote education and social development — to establish, manage, maintain, administer, promote and subsidise educational institutions.
PakTurk Education Foundation has moved court against such attempts to close down their schools. On August 7, Islamabad High Court has given three weeks to the federal government to respond on the issue.
After the failed coup, the Turkish Foreign Minister arrived in Pakistan on a one day visit and called for closing down these schools, hoping that “Pakistan shall support Turkey in this regards.”
“We don’t have any link to the political movement. We are not affiliated or connected with any individual, movement or organisation, whether political, religious or denominational, nor are we funded by any movement,” the Foundation maintains.
After the failed coup, according to media reports, thousands of people have been detained and sacked by now for supporting or liking Gullen’s ideology and his Hizmet movement. Erdogan, who is ruling Turkey for more than a decade now, is accused of becoming autocrat through his political moves.
After the coup, on August 1, a high level Turkish delegation visited Pakistan pressing Islamabad to support Ankara’s global crackdown against Gullen’s movement and his supporters.
“This is a very strange revenge of a political regime,” says a Turkish teacher on condition of anonymity. “He went against the movement because it called for truth. The movement was not opposing Erdogan but called for bringing the truth regarding corruption scandals to the surface which the rulers did not like.”
The teacher, asking not to be named, says everyone in Turkey knows Erdogan himself was supporter of Gullen and his movement. “There will be hardly any house of educated family in Turkey which does not have Gullen’s books,” the teacher maintains. “Also, Erdogan’s own children have studied in Hizmet movement schools. Should he arrest his children too or should he expel them from his house?”
The teacher says the Turkish staff in PakTurk schools is under threat. “It is a bloodless genocide that is coming up after a failed coup whose investigations are still awaited,” he says. “We are not afraid but we are concerned.”
On the other hand, PakTurk International Schools and Colleges’ Parent-Teacher Association expressed concern that the government may hand over the school management to “a political entity”. The association has demanded of the government not to make an unwise political move, and investigate if there is anything wrong with their curriculum.
“Turkey is a friendly country and we respect its democracy. But we should consider the future of 11,000 students of these schools,” the association expresses.