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In Afghanistan, Turkey’s Education Foundation Mired in Scandals

Turkey’s use of Maarif Foundation to take over the Turkish schools set up by sympathizers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s main opponent, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, abroad has run into problems in Afghanistan. The Maarif officials are involved in scandals, including forgery of documents, tainting the reputation of the state-run Turkish foundation which operates under the authority of Education Ministry in Ankara.

The foundation, which was set up to operate educational activities such as providing and developing formal and non-formal education from pre-school to university abroad, keeps working to seize schools built worldwide by people affiliated with Gulen Movement. The AKP government’s central aim to found the foundation was and has been to use it as an instrument to complete takeover of Gulen-affiliated schools across the globe with a relentless diplomatic campaign and pressure over the host countries. 

The Maarif is, therefore, designed as an alternative foundation rival to Gulen’s vast global network of schools. The most recent example in Turkey’s yearslong pursuit either to shut down or transfer of Gulen-linked schools to the Maarif took place in Afghanistan, a country which is home to a number of Afghan-Turk schools that sprung up in the late 1990s and 2000s, providing very advanced education with modern equipment to students in the war-torn country.

Earlier this year, Turkey has taken control of the 12 schools run by Afghan-Turk CAG Educational NGO (ATCE) in Afghanistan. The ATCE had been running the schools set up in several cities, including capital Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i Serif and Jalalabad since the 1990s.

As in other countries, the Maarif took over the schools through a deal with the government in Kabul, to the dismay of families of students who displayed their displeasure and even protested the transfer. In one memorable scene, the Maarif officials were quite taken aback by the level of reaction they faced and were forced to leave a school after a protest by parents. The families still continue their legal battles after the seizure. 

The Maarif, despite having enjoyed a strong backing from authorities in Turkey, appears to be mired in a number of scandals, including forgery of official documents, engaging in defamation and smear campaign against other institutions, which are not directly operated by the Turkish officials, and running campaigns against non-official Turkish schools in different levels.

The official foundation operating in Afghanistan has been seriously tainted by claims of document forgery. An expert specialized on education matters in Afghanistan told Globe Post Turkey that the foundation directors tried to link the Afghan-Turkish schools into a now-defunct company called Isik in Turkey as if to show it as a Gulen-operated school through forgery of documents. 

The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons, underlines that preparing and submitting such forged documents to the Afghan authorities constitutes a crime according to Afghan laws.

Maarif Foundation carries out its activities in Afghanistan as a non-governmental organization (NGO). But it runs counter to the reality. According to the information shared by the same specialist, it is prohibited to carry out activities for the institutions affiliated with a state or government as a “non-governmental organization” in Afghanistan. However, Maarif Foundation continues to violate the law by pretending to be an NGO despite the fact that it is not.

Maarif Officials Disseminate Insults, Accusations on Social Media

Officials and workers linked with Maarif Foundation use social media as a tool through fake accounts to insult and smear administrators of Afghan-Turkish schools and try to undermine their well-found reputation as a success model in the country.

After facing criticism, the Foundation officials claimed that the related social media profiles do not belong to them. It was remarkable to see that social media accounts with related posts were closed right after the statement.

But trolling and smear campaigns based on slandering and false accusations through social media constitutes a crime according to the Article 678 of the Afghanistan Penal Law.

When Turkish embassy officials backed by the Turkish troops raided an Afghan-Turkish school in Mazar-i Sharif, Afghan families of the students reacted in a protest. Sevki Seckin AlpayConsul General of Turkey in Mazar-i Sharif, led the troops along with Zeki Bulduk, Afghanistan Coordinator of the government-run Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), during the raid while students were still in their classrooms. 

The authorities were greeted with slogans like “Thieves” and “Thieves Go!” chanted by the parents who had stated in a press conference in the previous days that the agreement between the Afghan government and the Maarif Foundation over the seizure of the schools was illegal. The Consul-General, an AKP loyalist, and Maarif officials enraged by the protest and smashed the windows of the schools while they were leaving. 

The source who spoke to Globe Post Turkey noted that Turkey’s Maarif Foundation pressured the Afghan government officials to crack down on the Afghan-Turkish schools.

To heed the Turkish demands, Afghan officials engaged in some misdeeds and misconduct to step up pressure on Gulen-affiliated schools. The nature of clampdown, indeed, contains elements of infringement of basic rights, and is regarded as legally problematic by Afghan penal law.

Parents of students set up committees to organize their legal battle to the end. Families vow to defend their rights and protect schools within the legal framework.

‘Terminate the Illegal Agreement’

Abdulshukur Dadres, the head of the Parents’ Committee of the Afghan-Turkish schools, urged the Afghan government to terminate the illegal agreement reached with the Maarif Foundation. Dadres stated: “It is going to cost them a lot to intervene in the culture and education fields of Afghanistan. Maybe you could seize these schools, but nobody can enter them. We want the issues to be resolved within the legal framework. We do not accept anything illegal. Should any negative results occur at this moment, both the Afghan government and the Turkish government will be held responsible.”

Syed Omar Kattali, the head of Herat Afghan-Turkish High Schools Parents’ Committee, also pledged to continue legal battle for the schools. “I promise you once again, as the head of the parents’ committee and the member of the city council, we are not going to back off from protecting our future generations with all our power,” he stated in a press conference earlier this year.

The Afghan authorities were the main target of his criticism. While Kabul is certainly aware of the burning need for new facilities and schools for the education of young generations, the policies they follow do not help the realization of that objective.

“We are moving forward together with unity and solidarity. We and our cause are right inshallah and we will win,” Kattali said.

Both Dadres and Kattali are not alone in their struggle to keep the schools free of political pressure and independent of Ankara’s interference through Maarif Foundation. Several other figures representing Parents Committees are also fighting to take back the schools.

Dr. Seyfeddin Hikmat, the head of the Jalalabad Momin Afghan-Turkish High School Parents’ Committee, reminded that they went to India with a lot of students during the Ramadan month and brought back many medals.

Dr. Hikmat, who stated that the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan was also present in the program, said: “Afghanistan proved that they could not only be successful in sports, but also in science if the opportunities shall be provided. We are really grateful to the Afghan-Turkish schools.”

During their stay in India as part of the participation in an international science competition, the young Afghan student delegation met with ministers, governors, and senior executives. The group of Afghan students appeared on Indian media as well, as part of the program.

Their success was a stunning rebuke of the harsh realities of the war that has kept Afghanistan in its grip for decades. Only years ago, Taliban was shooting girls for just attending schools. Countless school-age children are deprived of the right to education in many provinces given ongoing clashes between government troops and resurgent Taliban fighters who have made steady headways in the countryside in a war against both the central government in Kabul and NATO forces for more than a decade.

The Turkish government’s attempts to portray Turkish schools and its administrators as “terrorists” due to affiliation with Gulen Movement did not find a receptive audience in Afghanistan.

 “Since these are terrorists, which terrorists would bring such success and meet with the high state officials? Afghan-Turkish schools are not terrorists, they are local and national institutions working for the state,” Hikmat said, expressing his disbelief regarding the charges laid out by Ankara in justification for the takeover of schools this year.

President Erdogan’s vendetta against Gulen movement and perceived sympathizers has reached a global scale. The Turkish schools have unwittingly become targets in Ankara’s unrelenting campaign to haunt the movement around the globe.

Dr. Hikmat expressed his disquiet over Turkey’s targeting of those schools.

“TIKA and Afghanistan are both establishing schools. Turkey should operate its own schools and operate them instead of messing with Turkish [CAG] schools,” he said. According to him, the schools in Afghanistan, which were already existed, proved themselves that they could provide a better education.

But, he noted with disbelief, that Turkey’s real intention is not running schools at all. Instead, “the Turkish officials’ intention is to close the current schools and return back to Turkey.”

“There are many examples in different countries. We don’t need to look abroad, we could just look at the schools they established in Afghanistan,” he said in conclusion. 

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