Capture of Turkish Teachers Stirs Political Chaos in Kosovo

The controversial abduction and arrest of Turkish teachers in Pristina plunged Kosovo into a political crisis, stirring up public frenzy and backlash toward what they regarded incompetence of political authorities and Turkey’s overreach in the small Balkan country.

The Kosovo government is considering to fire interior minister, chiefs of its police and secret service after they cooperated with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) to capture five teachers and one doctor linked with a Gulen-affiliated school.

Kosovo Prime minister Ramush Haradinaj said six Turkish citizens were arrested in Kosovo without his knowledge. In a post on Facebook on Thursday, he said the operation was undertaken by the Kosovo Intelligence Agency (KIA).

Earlier in the day, state-run Anadolu news agency has brought six people affiliated with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen‘s movement back from Kosovo to Turkey as part of the Turkish government’s expanding global manhunt against perceived Gulen sympathizers.

According to the Turkish state media, MIT and Kosovo’s spy service captured “high-ranking members” of the movement and brought them to Turkey on a private plane.

The Anadolu said they were helping other Gulenists escape Turkey through Balkans en route to Western Europe and the U.S. But, in line with the official policy of the Turkish government, the state-run media portrayed them as if they were criminals after releasing their photos.

But lawyer of one of the detained teachers, Leutrim Syla, said that five teachers and one doctor have been kept at an unidentified place in Kosovo.

The incident, however, created a political storm in Kosovo, with political authorities appearing to be caught off guard with having no knowledge.

The prime minister convened an urgent cabinet meeting and grilled police and intelligence chiefs over conducting the operation without his knowledge.

The revelation casts a fresh doubt on the inner workings of the government in Kosovo, which won its independence from Serbia in 2008. It also came amid a diplomatic standoff with Serbia over the arrest of Serbian official Marko Djuric, director of the Serbian government’s Kosovo office.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly made a phone call with Kosovo’s prime minister to discuss the situation between two countries.

President, PM Have No Information

 

The confusion around the operation seems to linger. “This should have never happened in any circumstance. We are against it and feel for their families,” Foreign Minister Beghjet Isa Pacolli said.

“The Foreign Affairs Ministry opposes such an action and also expresses its deep regret to the family members of the deported,” a statement by the Foreign Ministry said.

President Hashim Thaci also displayed disillusionment over the incident, expressing dismay regarding that relevant institutions failed to protect citizens working in Kosovo. He also among the Kosovo leaders who learned the arrests after they took place.

Despite initial reports of deportation, other sources said the detained teachers have been kept at Turkish Embassy amid ongoing political dispute.

Adem Vokshi, lawyer of the arrested had earlier said that he could not meet his defendants as the police did not give him any detail on the operation, saying it was ongoing.

“This has given us a lot of concern and we suspect they plan to deport them without regular court proceedings. By law, this should not happen,” according to AFP.

A video purportedly showing the moment of abduction sparked public outrage.

Students Protest Deportation

As soon as Kosovo people, students and families learned the event, many of them rushed to the airport to protest potential deportation of the teachers.

Hundreds of students displayed their discontent with the news and urged authorities to block the deportation.

Journalist Xhemal Rexha said in another tweet that “For the record, there has been an enormous reaction by #Kosovo journalists, MPs, activists and society in general against deporting #Turkish citizens thus abiding Erdogan orders.”

Kadri Veseli, the speaker of Kosovo Parliament, also reacted to the arrests.

“Today’s arrest of six Turkish cizitens with valid residence permits in Kosovo, and Mehmet Akif College staff accredited according to Kosovo’s relevant standards, does not represent the proper form of development of the rule of law or the correct consolidation of democracy.”

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