Saturday, August 27, 2016


Turkish Schools Coming Under Increasing Scrutiny In Central Asia

Dushanbe's Haji Kemal Joint Tajik-Turkish Boarding School is popular among Tajikistan's elite and well-to-do families.
Dushanbe's Haji Kemal Joint Tajik-Turkish Boarding School is popular among Tajikistan's elite and well-to-do families.
By Farangis Najibullah
Saidjon, a 15-year-old student at Dushanbe's Haji Kemal Tajik-Turkish boarding school, is happy to be among the privileged few to attend what many consider one of the best schools in Tajikistan.

Saidjon speaks four languages and has won two international education contests. While trips abroad are beyond the dreams of most pupils in Tajikistan, Saidjon's school opens the world to its students.

"I've traveled to many countries to take part in Educational Olympiads," Saidjon says. "I went to Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Vietnam. I mean, we are given an opportunity to see the world, to broaden our knowledge, and to represent Tajikistan in the international arena."

The Haji Kemal boarding school is highly popular with children from Tajikistan's elite and well-to-do families.

Lessons are taught in four languages -- English, Turkish, Russian, and Tajik.

Unlike many ordinary schools in the country, Haji Kemal is equipped with modern teaching facilities. Its thoroughly renovated, two-story compound with a gated courtyard stands out among other buildings in the area.

Tolerance And Dialogue

The first so-called Turkish schools in Central Asia were founded in the mid-1990s. Turkish educational institutions there -- as well as in countries from Russia to North America -- were set up by the Gulen movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar and author Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is a Sunni Muslim who advocates tolerance and dialogue among different religions.

The schol's gated courtyard and modern construction make it stand out from other buildings in the area.
More than 65 Turkish educational institutions were once operating in Uzbekistan alone. There are some 25 Turkish schools, including boarding schools and two universities, in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan has six such institutions.

Throughout Central Asia, Turkish schools are known for their strict educational methods and discipline and are highly regarded by students and parents.

The majority of national and regional education contests are won by Turkish lyceum students. Easily passing English-language tests, many graduates win scholarships to Western universities.

Parents go to great lengths to enroll their children in Turkish schools, hoping such education will guarantee bright futures for them.

Ulterior Agendas?

Yet, Turkish educational institutions have come under increasing scrutiny in Central Asia. Governments as well as many scholars and journalists suspect that the schools have more than just education on their agendas.

In Turkmenistan, education authorities have ordered Turkish lyceums to scrap the history of religion from curriculums.

In order to keep people in constant fear and turn their thoughts away from social and economic hardships, [Karimov] always needs a new enemy within.
In the only Persian-speaking country in the region, Tajikstan, the government, as well as academics, are wary of the possible spread of pan-Turkic ideas. They fear that these schools promote Turkish influence and the Turkish language in their country.

However, it is Uzbekistan that has taken the toughest stance toward Turkish schools. In 1999, Tashkent closed all Turkish lyceums after its relationship with Ankara turned sour.

This year, the authoritarian Uzbek government headed by President Islam Karimov took things a step further by arresting at least eight journalists who were graduates of Turkish schools. The journalists were found guilty of setting up an illegal religious group and of involvement in an extremist organization.

According to Uzbekistan's state-run media, the imprisoned men were members of the banned religious group Nurchilar and received prison sentences ranging from 6 1/2 to eight years. They have denied the charges.

The state-run media claims that Nurchilar followers have been active in Uzbekistan since the early 1990s, with the aim of undermining the country's secular system.

Islam In Political Life

Uzbek officials have expressed suspicions that Turkish-school graduates in government offices and other key institutions use their positions to weaken the secular government. They charge that graduates of Turkish schools promote an aggressive form of Islam and even a role for Islam in political life.

There is something of an irony in the fact that such charges are being directed at schools inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, though controversial, is generally regarded as a moderate Islamic thinker who condemns extremism and terrorism and promotes tolerance and harmony in society. He has written more than 60 books on subjects ranging from religion, Sufism, social and education issues, to art, science, and sports.

The 68-year-old scholar calls on Muslims to study both religion and modern science, including Darwin's theory of evolution.

He was also once a follower of Said Nursi before he broke ranks with that Turkish scholar's mainstream movement, which many see as the basis of Nurchilar.

Students and a teacher converse on the Haji Kemal campus.
However, Ilhom Merojov, a Russia-based academic, insists there is no such group or Islamic ideology called Nurchilar.

Merojov said there are people in Uzbekistan who are followers of Nursi, a Turkish religious thinker who advocated combining scientific and religious education, supported Turkey's participation in Western organization, and tried to unite Muslims and Christians in the fight against communism.

Merojov, whose translation of Nursi's works prevent him from returning to his native Uzbekistan, said that although there are Turkish lyceum graduates among Nursi and Gulen followers, these people are not necessarily related to Turkish schools.

"Uzbek authorities' claims do not make any sense at all," says Merojov. "Moreover, Gulen's and Nursi's works promote the exact opposite of religious extremism."

"In Said Nursi's 14 volumes of works, there is not a single page that mentions extremism. Likewise, Fethullah Gulen's works have nothing to do with extremism. Not at all. Their works are about science and religion," Merojov says. "They call for studying both science and Islam, because Islam says that a person who understands science can better understand Islam. These two scholars support dialogue -- they support peaceful coexistence."

Gulen, who currently resides in the United States, condemns terrorism and insists there is no connection between terrorism and Islam. In Turkey, he has been accused of trying to overthrow the secular system in order to replace it with an Islamic state. However, a Turkish court acquitted him in 2006.

The Gulen movement insists it has no political agenda. And Turkish schools have lately been taking steps to prove it.

'Suspicious' Content

In an unprecedented move earlier this year, Turkish lyceums in Tajikistan invited local journalists to examine their curriculums to ensure they do not include "suspicious" and "dangerous" content.
In Turkmenistan, Turkish schools have accepted the government's demand to remove all religion-related subjects from their teaching programs.

As for Uzbekistan, it is unlikely that Turkish schools will resume operations there any time soon.

Many Uzbek experts believe that Turkish schools and so-called Nurchilar followers have simply fallen victim to the Uzbek government's paranoia about dissent and opposition.

Tashpulat Yuldashev, an Uzbek political analyst, told RFE/RL that Nurchilar is "just a new enemy created by the government to justify its repressive policies."

"Because of his own fear, [Islam] Karimov has fought against Wahhabists, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and Akramiya groups. They all are suppressed and now Karimov has to find a new enemy," Yuldashev says. "It shows that there are problems inside the country and that Karimov feels insecure. In order to keep people in constant fear and turn their thoughts away from social and economic hardships, he always needs a new enemy within."

In Dushanbe's Haji Kemal boarding school, Saidjon is looking forward to going to an English-language university abroad to study physics.

"I want to go either to Prague or Seoul," said Saidjon. "I will study there and come back to serve my country."

RFE/RL's Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Turkmen services contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Timo Haapanen from: Finland
April 27, 2009 08:27
A highly interesting article by Farangis Najibullah again... From my outsider point of view, any educational institution should be primarily judged according to learning results and public recognition, which in this case seem to speak for Turkish schools. I suppose both parents and students are more or less aware of the religious philosophy, or agenda, that these institutions represent. One might ask what high-quality educational provisions those promoting secularism can offer to challenge the schools in question, instead of condemning them?

by: S
April 27, 2009 20:51
I have been educated in one of those schools and am currently teaching at a major US University. These schools contribute to the economic and political developments of the countries in question. It is very puzzling that anyone interested in the well-being of Central Asian nations would disapprove of such schools.<br />I appreciate the article.

by: Patriot from: all over
April 28, 2009 03:51
The funny thing is that those Tajiks who spread bad rumours about Turkish Schools and their aims, won't even put a brick for their OWN Child's School, forget about donating something worth. I'm glad that there is this site and there are such journalists. Good job Farang, you really made it, Karimov is nutz,it's no news, the world knows it, the only thing about all these Stan Stan kings is that they all seem to follow each other, let's keep our fingers crossed for our High Mr. and his CASA NOSTRA aka La Familia Supermarket Laws.

by: HES from: USA
April 28, 2009 13:55
A lot of Turks in the region think of themselves as the big brother of every Central Asian country. I think these pan-turkic (but always with Turkey in charge) ideas are the problem more than the islamism. They think that all people in Central Asia should be just like Turks. Such colonialist ideas are probably being subtley propogated in the Turkish schools.<br /><br />It's quite true that the quality of education the scools provide their students is vastly superior to that provided by government schools, but something about the people running them always seemed very smug and colonialist to me. The people in these countries are different, and they should be their own cultures and nations, not little versions of Turkey.

by: Kerem from: US
April 28, 2009 20:51
This is a very interesting and objective article that challenges us to think past the headlines and allows us to come to our own conclusions. Subjectively speaking, myself and many other turks believe that we have a cultural connection with many of the former soviet states. I think I can generalize and say that language and historical links(whether turkic or not) with central asian countries facilitates the establishment of such schools and further develops our countries relationships. It seems that unfortunately some of the former soviet dictators still believe that we live in the 1950s and everyone is an enemy and is trying to take over THEIR economic/human capital, but this is not the case in modern economic times nor is hostility a solution for political or economic problems. Free trade and distribution of natural, industrial, and human resources(EDUCATION) is the way for all of central asian countries to grow in cultural and economic prosperity.

by: Timo Haapanen from: Finland
April 29, 2009 06:50
Well, educational establishments always have an underlying big brother agenda of some sort, no matter how neutral, independent and democratic they claim to be. Western institutions promote idea(l)s which in fact are largely based on American thinking, Russian ones stand for the Russian point of view, why shouldn’t there also be room for a Turkish dimension? Independent of whether I like the philosophy or not, I would be happy go to any American, Russian or Turkish school as long as they have a solid program, a practically oriented curriculum and teachers who know their job.

by: Jebagi Erol Paker from: Saudi Arabia
April 29, 2009 08:17
Feytullah Gulen, the organizer and mentor of Gulen Movement,which,in a nut shell, aims in the long run to replace secular states with,least to say,religious biased administrations. Schools, business ventures, charity organisations are all part of this grand scheme. US administration thinks they can control and manupilate this movement to penetrate thich shells of ex-communist states of Turkic republics in the strategic Asia.Feytullah Gulen promises the west inter religion dialog in return for financial and political support. He is currently living in USA now and probably painting pink horizons to re-instate a Vatican like Islamic organization in which he is the Khalifa

by: Farrah from: USA
May 02, 2009 23:06
I was one of the first 45 graduates of the Turkish schools in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The quality of the education was one of the best ones. Thanks to their education, I have won scholarships and studied for free in the United States. Got my BA and MS in the US without paying anything. They had given me one of the best education. And look now, after they closed them in Uzbekistan, the education is bad, students bribe teachers to get grades, and high schools don't provide a good education.

by: guvanc from: turrkey
May 05, 2009 06:46
i have graduated from one of the above written schools, i disagree that the turkish schools have better education than our normal schools. i guess central asia republics just dont have enough money or the heads of government dont use them correctly. how many turkish scientists you have heard about, let me guess : none ,, it means turks dont have better education they just have the better economic growth,, to buy computers,books, to construct and build better schools etc. and also they have the nationalism that is nearing to fascism , that is the most dangerous affect of turkish schools ...

by: Parviz from: USA
May 09, 2009 08:14
Hey Come on guys! all you say just shows that u r poor brain-washeds by the wests' media; open your eyes as big as you can, and look whats goin on around: thousands of people are being killed in Falastin and Iraq for other ones' interests(America and Jewish world). Its really touching when noone can say anything to them, but instead, everyone is judging schools which try to teach something.<br />Guys, lets think with our brains, not with our eyes,i mean not with something that we see and hear via &quot;media&quot;
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