Afghan Forces Raid Schools Allegedly Linked To ‘Gulen Movement’
Turkey has been working with local authorities to take over educational institutions it claims are linked to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen
[Islamabad] – Afghan Intelligence officials and security forces entered the premises of two Afghan-Turk high schools in Herat in Western Afghanistan Sunday morning and detained dozens of students and teachers, an official from the school’s administration told The Media Line.
The official said security forces dragged students from their classes and took them to the local police station for questioning. They also raided a nearby girls’ school.
“We successfully convinced the court that the school’s administration is linked to the Gulen movement,” said Farhad Jilani, a spokesperson for the governor of Herat, explaining how local officials received a court order to take over the institutions.
Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish cleric who currently lives in exile in the United States. Turkey claims he is responsible for the 2016 failed military coup that tried to remove Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power.
Jilani affirmed that the raid was conducted to change the school’s management according to an agreement between Afghan and Turkish officials, but that only those who resisted security personnel were arrested.
Members of the school’s administration condemned the raid, charging that it contravenes civil law and international norms. Another official who declined to be named informed The Media Line that some Turkish teachers in other schools have been under house arrest for the past several months.
Immediately following the failed 2016 coup, Erdogan established the state-run Maarif Foundation, which is under his direct control. Its single-stated task is to locate and take over the administrations of overseas schools that it claims is linked to the Gulen movement.
The foundation has thus far seized control of dozens of schools established by volunteers of the Gulen movement in predominantly Muslim countries in Africa, including Somalia, Guinea, Niger, Sudan and the People’s Republic of Congo.
Ahmad Fawad Haidari, the former deputy head of the raided school in Herat, rejected allegations that his institution is part of the Gulen movement, claiming that it does maintain links with any foreign organizations.
Prof. Mubeen ul Islam and Dr. Kaleemullah Toori, former administration members of Afghan-Turk schools, told The Media Line these institutions do not promote a political agenda, and that their only aim is to provide quality education to middle class Afghan children.
There are currently 11 Afghan-Turk schools operating across Afghanistan and thousands of students have graduated from them schools over the years, the administrators say.
The so-called Gulen movement is an international Islamic social movement named after the cleric that seeks universal access to education and promotes civil society and peace. It also advocates for a tolerant, moderate Islam that emphasizes interfaith harmony, hard work and education. Many adherents of the group regard Gulen as a spiritual leader.
The movement, also known as Hizmet, runs over 200 schools throughout Turkey and around the world, including institutions in Pakistan, Europe, and the U.S. These institutions are publicly funded, and are supposed to be operated by people belonging to the movement, usually Turks.
Asad Qazi, a former senior administration member at a Pakistan-Turk School, told The Media Line that in Turkey there are potentially millions of Gulen followers, and they are believed to hold influential positions in the police force, secret services and the judiciary.
After the 2016 failed coup, the Turkish government declared the Gulen movement a “terrorist” activity. Ankara then removed more than 2,600 Turkish judges on suspicions that they had links to it, Qazi explained. After an earlier military coup in 1980, Gulen was also suspected of trying to topple the government and arrested after six years on the run as a fugitive. He was freed in 1999 and decided to take refuge in the U.S., where he has been receiving medical treatment.
Ankara petitioned the U.S. for Gulen’s extradition to face trial in Turkey, but the U.S. has said it would only consider the request if Turkey could provide solid evidence of his involvement. Gulen denied playing any role in the coup and called for an international investigation into it.
In early 2018, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education formally agreed to hand over the management of Afghan-Turk schools to the Maarif Foundation. The agreement was met with strong resistance from parents of students in Afghan-Turk schools.
Mohammad Yusuf Pashtun, the former head of the Afghan-Turk Parents’ Association, told The Media Line that his organization will fight any country or foundation that interferes in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs.
“We are responsible for deciding how to educate our children. We will never allow even our state to decide these matters,” Yusuf Pashtun asserted, adding that students and parents have collected over one million signatures in a show of support for the raided school.
Turkey has also been pushing neighboring Pakistan to close schools it claims maintains links to Gulen. Lala Javed Kaker, a Pakistani intelligence official, told The Media Line that “no Pakistan-Turk school has been closed in the country, and that such institutions are governed only by Pakistanis.”