Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev vowed to send back to Turkey anyone in Kazakh schools found to have "terror links" to an exiled cleric that Turkey blames for a failed coup.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames the reclusive cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, for orchestrating a July 15 putsch to unseat him and has urged Astana to purge Gulen followers in 33 Gulen-run schools in Kazakhstan.
"If anyone among them is linked with terrorism...we will respond to Turkey's demands," Nazarbaev said during a joint press conference with Erdogan in Ankara at the end of a state visit on August 5.
But Nazarbaev stopped short of saying he would shut the schools down, as Erdogan wants. He said the schools in Kazakhstan are already "under state control" and 90 percent of the teachers are Kazakh, not Turkish.
"We do not support anyone working against Turkey. This is not in our interest," he said. "If there are teachers with links, we will send them back and ask the Turkish government to send other teachers."
Nazarbaev said the schools educate their pupils in four languages -- English, Turkish, Kazakh, and Russian.
Turkey is seeking the extradition of Gulen from the United States, where he is receiving medical treatment. The cleric strongly denies that he ordered a coup and says he, in fact, strongly opposed it and said so at the time.
Gulen and his followers say their movement promotes peace, education, moderate Islam, and democracy, not the violent overthrow of governments.
Erdogan has been unrelenting in his demonization of the movement, however, having already purged thousands of teachers, professors, police, and military officers with links to the movement in Turkey.
At the press conference with Nazarbaev. Erdogan said the leaders agreed their education ministries will carry out a joint review of Kazakh schools linked to Gulen, apparently with an eye toward purging Gulen-linked staff.
"The [Gulen movement] is not only a threat to Turkey, it is a threat to all countries in which it has a presence," Erdogan said.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are the only two countries in mostly Turkic-speaking Central Asia where Gulenist educational institutions still have a significant presence.
Less than two weeks after the coup, Turkey warned Kyrgyzstan of the risk of a coup, claiming Gulenists had infiltrated every state institution in the country.
Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry responded by saying it would take note of warnings on education but reminded Ankara it was an "independent, sovereign state."