Tag Archives: education

Kyrgyz court refuses to approve extradition to Turkey of suspected Gulenist teachers

BISHKEK/Dec. 30 2019 (The Bulletin) — A district court in Bishkek shunned Turkey by refusing to sanction the extradition of two Turkish teachers suspected of being so-called Gulenists.
The court said that the extradition of the teachers, approved earlier by Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prosecutor general, was illegal.

Rights activists have said that so-called Gulenists who have been extradited from countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus have been tortured in Turkey and don’t get fair trials. The Turkish government blames Gulenists for a failed coup in 2016 and has promised revenge.

The press secretary of the Pervomaisky District Court, Asel Ravshanbekova, didn’t give the Kyrgyz branch of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty any reasons for the court to overturn the deputy prosecutor’s extradition approval other than to say that it was considered “illegal”.

Even so, the court’s decision is a sharp and rare blow to Turkey’s status in the Central Asia and South Caucasus region. With the exception of Kazakhstan and Armenia, the other countries in the region have been quick to round up Turkish teachers working at schools and universities regarded as Gulenists. These were educational institutions set up in the 1990s by followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who was once an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but now lives in exile in the United States.

These Gulen-linked schools were considered to be the best schools and universities in each country in the region, producing government ministers and business leaders.

In 2017, Turkey as much as told Kyrgyzstan that it needed to close down the Gulen school network known as Sebat. Kyrgyzstan refused but did rebrand the schools as Zepat. These fee-paying schools still educate many sons and daughters of the elite.

Kyrgyzstan-Turkey relations have improved since Sooronbai Jeenbekov took over as president in 2017 but the strain over the fate of the Gulen schools and their teachers has damaged some of the goodwill.

Mr Jeenbekov took over as president from Almazbek Atambayev, who had pushed a foreign policy that, while not anti-Turkey, was definitely cool towards its traditional ally.


— This story was first published in issue 433 of the weekly Bulletin on Jan. 13 2020

— Copyright owned by the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

Uzbekistan lifts an on studying political science

JAN. 31 (The Conway Bulletin) — Uzbekistan has lifted the ban on studying political science at university, Reuters reported, another indicator of how the country has opened up under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The Reuters report said universities had dropped political science in 2013 as it was deemed to be promoting theories counter to then-President Islam Karimov’s “Uzbek model”.

>This story was first published in issue 399 of The Conway Bulletin on Feb. 8 2019
Copyright The Conway Bulletin 2019

Kyrgyzstan rows with Turkey over Gulen school network

AUG. 16 2017, BISHKEK (The Bulletin) — Kyrgyzstan accused Turkey of trying to pressure it into declaring a network of schools linked to the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen as a terrorist organisation, knocking back attempts by Turkish officials to persuade governments in Central Asia and the South Caucasus to extradite so-called Gulenists.

Risking important Kyrgyz-Turkish relations, Kyrgyzstan’s education ministry released a statement that praised the Sebat school network, which it said has educated 10,000 Kyrgyz since 1992.

“Equating Sebat schools to terrorist organisations and imposing certain sanctions on students and members of their families only on the grounds that they are studying in Sebat schools is unacceptable and the statements of Turkish officials are irresponsible,” it said in a statement.

Five days before the Kyrgyz statement, Turkey’ deputy education minister, Ophan Erdem, told a group of Kyrgyz academics visiting Turkey that graduates from Sebat schools would be denied Turkish visas.

“Please ask your acquaintances, friends and brothers not to go to these terrorists’ schools because it is highly likely that we will deny visas to those who study at such schools. We do not even want to see their families in Turkey,” he was quoted as saying.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan has blamed Mr Gulen and his followers for a failed coup in July 2016. Since then, his forces have arrested thousands of Gulenists.

Turkey has persuaded Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to detain and start extradition proceedings against several people linked to Gulenist businesses and education institutions but has been less successful in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Turks linked to the Gulenists’ movement set up schools in Central Asia and the South Caucasus in the 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, which are now highly regarded.


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(News report from Issue No. 340, published on Aug. 20 2017)

Georgia detains manager of Gulen-linked school in Tbilisi

TBILISI, MAY 25 2017 (The Conway Bulletin) — On Turkey’s request, police in Georgia detained Mustafa Emre Cabuk, manager of a Gulen- linked school, for allegedly having connections with terrorist networks.

Mr Cabuk’s detention came the day after a visit to Tbilisi by Turkish PM Binali Yildirim, triggering accusations that the Georgian government was more interested in boosting relations with its neighbour than human rights.

Turkey has been pressuring its neighbours to close Gulen-linked schools and universities and to extradite their key staff since a failed coup attempt last summer, which it blamed on the exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen.

In court, media reported that Mr Cabuk sobbed.

“These tears come because they badly touch my self-esteem. I’ve not had even a small knife in my life,” media quoted him as saying.

“Unfortunately, there is no justice in Turkey and therefore I ask not to extradite me.”

Mr Cabuk was the manager of the private Demirel College in Tbilisi. As reported in the Bulletin in February, the Georgian government closed down a Gulen-linked school in Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast.

Like the rest of the Central Asia and South Caucasus region, Gulenists set up a network of schools and universities immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Then, the newly independent countries turned to Turkey for support. Russia was too weak and China had yet to develop a strategy towards its near-abroad.

And the Gulenist educational institutions have become some of the best in Central Asia. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have resisted Turkish moves to shut down these institutions but Azerbaijan and Georgia have acquiesced. Turkey is Azerbaijan’s most loyal ally and Georgia is increasingly currying favour with its neighbour through trade and military deals.


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(News report from Issue No. 330, published on May 28 2017)


Kazakh language clubs thrive as people explore national heritage

ALMATY, APRIL 23 2017 (The Conway Bulletin) — In Kazakhstan’s cities, where Russian was once the dominant language, Kazakh language clubs are increasingly popular.

Alina Achilova, a student at the International Information Technologies University in Almaty, helped set up the Qazaqsha club three years ago. Based in a museum for national instruments, the club has broad appeal, attracting students, professionals and the retired. What they share, Ms Achilova said, was Russian as their first language and a desire to explore their own cultural heritage.

“I had many friends of different ethnicities and native Kazakhs who couldn’t speak or understand Kazakh language and would always ask me for help,” she said. “In Almaty I couldn’t find any places for them to learn Kazakh and thought it’d be good to open such a place.”

Language has once again been thrust into the political spotlight in Kazakhstan. President Nursultan Nazarbayev said this month that he wants to switch Kazakh to the Latin alphabet from Cyrillic to broaden its appeal and to identify it more closely with other Turkic languages.

Since independence from the Soviet Union he has worked on building the cultural identity of Kazakhstan, promoting national heroes, cultural and language. Kazakh has grown in popularity and in Almaty it is far more widely spoken now than it was even a decade ago.

Some analysts have accused Mr Nazarbayev of trying to airbrush Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet out of Kazakhstan, but it is still an official language, still widely spoken in business and politics and is the main language in the north of the country.

Still, even among Kazakh’s supporter base, there are people who question whether the switch to Latin is such a good idea.

“I think it will be very long, expensive and problematic process,” said Yerke Maratkyzy, at Qazaqsha club.

Turkish is written in Latin, as is Uzbek, although in Kyrgyzstan, the Cyrillic imposed by the Soviets in the 1920s is still used, like in Kazakhstan. Before that, both Kazakh and Kyrgyz had been written in Arabic script.

For Erden Zikibay, a volunteer at another Kazakh language club called Bas Quso, the switch to Latin is a positive step.

“It will help bring together Kazakh people and Kazakhstani people to the Turkic and Western worlds, and increase popularity and prestige of Kazakh language inside Kazakhstan.”


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(News report from Issue No. 326, published on April 28 2017)

Gulen schools will not close, says Kazakhstan

MARCH 6 2017 (The Conway Bulletin) — Kazakhstan’s ministry of education refuted a statement from Turkey which said that 33 Kazakh-Turkish schools linked to the Gulen Movement would be transferred to Turkish control. Turkey blames the Gulen Movement for a coup attempt last year and has looked to close all institutions linked to it, including a series of schools across Central Asia. Both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have said that they will not close the Gulen schools. Last year, Kazakhstan rebranded the Gulen-linked schools as “Bilim Innovative Lyceums”. Bilim means education in Kazakh.


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(News report from Issue No. 320, published on March 13 2017)


Georgian authorities close Gulen- linked school in Batumi

BATUMI/Georgia, FEB. 3 2017 (The Conway Bulletin) — Georgia’s National Centre for Education Quality Enhancement (NCEQE) stripped the Batumi Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, operated by a Gulen-affiliated group, of its operating licence, triggering accusations of playing politics.

The school was opened in 1994 and was one of the first Gulen-affiliated school to open in Georgia.Officially, its license is now being revoked due to violations of the student’s enrolment code but others have said that the Georgian government is bowing to pressure from Turkey which blames the Gulen movement for plotting a coup last year.

Elguja Davitadze, director of the Batumi Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, said the authorities appeared determined to close down the school. “Georgia’s Education Ministry told us to abolish the Turkish section (of the school’s intake) if we wanted to keep our accreditation. We agreed to abolish the Turkish sector gradually, by transferring Turkish students to the Georgian sector, but the ministry said this was a violation and revoked our accreditation,” he was quoted by local media as saying.

He also said education inspectors had been hovering around the school for months, carrying out inspections.

If the Batumi Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School is closed down it will, possibly, be the first Gulen-run school in the country to close since Turkey started putting pressure on its neighbours in Central Asia and the South Caucasus to shut them. In many countries, the Gulen schools of the 1990s are still some of the best.

Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have so far refused to close them while Azerbaijan, one of Turkey closest neighbours, has appeared eager to please.

Shota Utiashvili, a Senior Fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, said that although the Turkish economy is much larger than Georgia’s, Ankara doesn’t control Georgia.

“It is not a hierarchical relationship, it is a partnership and both parts get a lot of benefits from this relationship,” he said.


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(News report from Issue No. 316, published on Feb. 10 2017)


Kazakhstan renames Gulen-led schools

OCT. 18 2016 (The Conway Bulletin) — Kazakhstan is renaming a series of schools linked to the Gulenist Movement, blamed by Turkish president being behind a coup attempt earlier in the year, media reported. The movement is headed by the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. He has denied any link to the July coup attempt. Gulen schools in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are considered some of the best and both the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments have been resistant to closing them despite pressure fromTurkey.


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(News report from Issue No. 301, published on Oct. 21 2016)

Briefing: Gulenist links in Central Asia & S.Caucasus

AUG 1 2016 (The Conway Bulletin) — >>So, we know that the Gulen movement was big in Turkey but in Central Asia? Really? How deep is it and what does it do?

>> The movement, created by cleric Fethullah Gulen, is a social and religious group that has said it wants to integrate moderate Islam into the secular Turkish state and to replicate the model in other Muslim countries. The movement counts millions of followers. As it puts great emphasis on education and upward social mobility, the movement established a network of schools around the world, including in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

>>OK, but who is Gulen? Wasn’t he an ally of Erdogan?

>> Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan found in Gulen a strong ally when he came to power in 2003, a bulwark against a possible military backlash, something that had dogged Turkish leaders for half a century. Gulen and Erdogan, though, fell out in 2013, when a corruption scandal targeting members of Mr Erdogan’s ruling AKP party emerged. Mr Erdogan and others in his party alleged that the Gulenist members of the judiciary had orchestrated the scandal. Since then the government has cracked down on Gulenists in Turkey. Mr Gulen has lived in the United States since 1999 in a self-imposed exile. Now, after a failed coup in Turkey last month blamed on Gulen, Turkey has said it could ask the US government for the extradition of Gulen. Since the coup, Turkish police have detained over 60,000 state employees and dozens of journalists and businessmen allegedly linked to the Gulen movement.

>>Quiete a full-on assault. Will Turkey now force a crackdown on Gulen- linked institutions in Central Asia and South Caucasus?

>> In short, this bureau and the analysts we contacted all agree that Turkey will not go as far as to sever relations with countries that don’t respond to the request to shut down Gulen-linked schools. Apart from Azerbaijan, all other countries are loosely linked with Turkey. Plus, as shown in our story on page 3, these schools are a relative island of quality and reliability in the South Caucasus and Central Asia’s messy educational system. Both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have shrugged off Turkey’s requests to shut down Gulen- linked schools. Georgia appears also to have pretty much ignored Turkey’s request. Only Azerbaijan, Turkey’s super-tight ally, has gone along with Turkey’s request and closed down a TV station that had planned to run an interview with Gulen and brought under government control a university linked to the Gulen movement.

>>OK, but what about the businesses linked to Gulen?

>> The closest business link between Gulenists and the South Caucasus seems to have been uprooted immediately, with the sacking of Sadettin Korkut, chief of Petkim, a petrochemical complex in Izmir, owned by Azerbaijan’s state-owned SOCAR (See the front page of the Business News). It appears that SOCAR was also keeping a list of Gulen-linked people among its ranks. Together with Korkut, who was later arrested, around 200 other employees of SOCAR-linked companies were sacked. This, however, appears to be a one-off act of loyalty from Azerbaijan’s government to Ankara.


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(News report from Issue No. 291, published on Aug. 1 2016)

Uzbekistan opens language studies

MAY 13 2016 (The Conway Bulletin) – The Uzbek government opened the first state university devoted entirely to the study of Uzbek language and literature. The new university, named after Alisher Navoi, a 15th century linguist and poet, is located in Tashkent. The Uzbek government considers Uzbek language as part of its national brand and an important part of its nation building.


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(News report from Issue No. 281, published on May 20 2016)