Albania Accused of Closing Gulen School Under Turkish Pressure

26. September 2022.13:45
Protesters link Albanian government decision to shut down a well-known Gulen-affiliated college to demands coming from the Turkish President.

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Parents and students protest against the government decision to close the ‘Mehmet Akif Ersoy’ college. Photo: Glidona Daci

Albania’s government has been accused of caving in to Turkey’s authoritarian President after on Thursday it abruptly closed a school affiliated with the exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, without giving clear reasons.

After public criticism of the decision, the Minister of Education, Evis Kushi, on Friday said their licence was revoked because the location of the building of Mehmet Akif College had been changed without permission, and so it not longer met the conditions.

“They started the 2022-2023 academic year in another location and environment not approved by the Ministry of Education and Sports, which is without relevant legal certification in terms of tbuilding standards,” Kushi wrote on Facebook.

“In conditions of exercising activity outside the relevant criteria, the license must be revoked,” she added, saying the decision has nothing to do with current media “speculation”.

The Mehmet Akif Ersoy college on Thursday said it only learned about the closure order from the media and it would take legal steps to challenge it.

“The non-public High School ‘Mehmet Akif’ has been part of the Gulenist Foundation for 26 years in Albania, meticulously implementing the country’s legal framework, while enjoying a great history of success, as it has been consistently ranked at the top of the list of best schools,” the college said.

It added that on September 14, an inspection was carried out by the Ministry of Education and on September 22 it was then notified by post that the institution does not meet the criteria to continue working.

“Faced with such a decision, we are fully convinced that justice will speak its word. The Gulenist Foundation will follow all legal procedures to enable the normal continuation of the educational activity,” it added.

Turkey’s state-led Anadolu Agency also reported that a Zubeyde Hanim kindergarden that is part of Turgut Ozal Education Company, which also had ties with the Gulen Network-affiliated college, was also ordered to close.

Many criticised the decision and connected it with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s repeated calls for Albania to close institutions connected with Erdogan arch-foe Gulen, who has lived in exile since 1999 in the US.

Erdogan and his government accuse Gulen and his network of orchestrating a failed 2016 putsch and define the network as the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation”, or “FETO” for short.

“It deeply harms our nation that FETO can still operate in … Albania. In the coming period, our sincerest expectation is that more concrete, persistent and swift steps will be taken against FETO structures in Albania,” Erdogan said in Albania in January.

Thousands of institutions – universities, schools, banks, media companies, NGOs and private firms – owned or run by alleged members of Gulen’s network have been seized since authorities under Erdogan crushed the attempted coup. The Turkish government continues to press other countries to do the same.

So far, however, apart from a few states in Africa and Asia, which have autocratic governments, Gulen schools have continued to operate without problems.

In Albania, Gulen-affiliated schools are widely considered some of the best.

Professor of Journalism at Tirana University Ervin Goci said that “education has been politicized”.

Another professor, Erlis Cela, said the college was closed “because the Turkish President asked for this”.

“By allowing a conflict and an internal issue of another country to be imported into Albanian society and into the Albanian education, he has done harm to Albania, the consequences of which we will suffer for a long time. This country has turned into a big madhouse where anything can happen and no one speaks up,” Cela wrote.

A hashtag calling for the annulment of the decision (#anullombylljenemehmetakif) has started to trend on Facebook.

This is not the first time that a school connected with Gulen has been closed in Albania. In September 2020, the government also closed several other religious and secular educational institutions established with Turkish funding.

    Hamdi Firat Buyuk

    This post is also available in: Bosnian