Erdoğan propaganda has by now become a routine at the Turkish schools in Pakistan. After their seizure by the Erdoğan regime, these schools have been transformed in a scandalous manner. Turkiye Maarif Foundation bedecked 28 PakTurk school campuses with the portraits of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The school in the picture is the PakTurk ‘Maarif’ International Schools & Colleges Karachi Gulshan-e-Iqbal Girls Campus. The man in the photograph is Hilmi Donmez, the principal of the school. Similar portrait corners are available in the other 27 campuses.
It is a first when politics has so brazenly infiltrated the schools which were founded by people sympathetic with the Gulen Movement 25 years ago and where only the pictures of Ataturk and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were displayed as national founders. Displaying the portraits of a party-affiliated president in schools epitomize political propaganda. This is also the politicization of the 25-year apolitical stance of a network of private schools in Pakistan. It is also reported that the current school administrators do not only display these portraits but also deliver pro-Erdoğan speeches in the campuses. This photo bears an emblematic significance to show why Erdoğan so vehemently wished to seize these schools in Pakistan and elsewhere.
It is reported that the majority of the Turkish staff of these schools were recently evacuated on a special flight to Turkey as per the precautions against the coronavirus pandemic. The schools stand indefinitely closed for the time being.
These schools were once a source of pride for the people and state of Turkey by instilling national mindfulness in the biased and the unbiased alike. Even the cynics for the Movement were impressed when they visited these schools. They would emphasize their satisfaction by expressions like, “There are Ataturk portraits in schools”, “Students are chanting the Turkish National Anthem”, and “Students are educated with a modern curriculum”. For instance, in February 2013, the former Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly Cemil Cicek had attended the prize distribution gala of the PakTurk Schools’ annual ‘Inter-School Math Olympiad’ with CHP deputy Nur Serter and MHP deputy Tugrul Turkes during their official visit to Pakistan. They had expressed that they found the school so exquisite and modern, and they especially highlighted their satisfaction for having observed the photograph of Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, on display at the school foyer.
The modern stance of the schools had even attracted the attention of The New York Times in 2008, and the renowned NYT correspondent Sabrina Tavernise had visited the schools and conducted interviews with the staff and parents. Published on May 4, 2008, the news report titled “Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam” expounded the panacea offered by the PakTurk Schools against radicalism in Pakistan. The report had dedicated an exclusive portion to Karachi, the city where the enclosed photograph was taken. It read, “In Karachi, a sprawling city that has had its own struggles with radicalism – the American reporter Daniel Pearl was killed here, and the famed Binori madrasa here is said to have sheltered Osama bin Laden – the two approaches compete daily.” The reporter expressed that the gentler understanding of Islam represented by the Gulen Movement was in constant dispute with radicalism. Mr. Mesut Kacmaz, who had been extensively interviewed for this news report, would later be abducted by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) along with his family from Pakistan on a special flight to Turkey as victims of a witch-hunt, and Mr. Kacmaz would be subjected to torture on charges of ‘terrorism’.
Thanks to the Maarif Foundation, AKP – which has long been rubbing shoulders with radical political Islamist groups in Pakistan – could change the balances in this contrast to the advantage of the radicals.
Press in Pakistan had insistently pointed at this danger before the transference of the schools. A columnist in the English-daily Daily Times had expressed that Erdoğan fervently imposed his political agenda on Pakistan, which had eventually succumbed to that mission.
Moreover, the Maarif Foundation’s staff and quality were found hugely inadequate for undertaking anything educational in Pakistan. Most of the staff did not know English at all. Even with this stark picture in the Pakistani press, it was perturbing that AKP relentlessly pressurized the Pakistani government to admit the Maarif Foundation in the country. In the article titled, “Is Maarif capable of delivering quality education?” the Daily Times columnist explained that the staff from Turkey were selected solely on political basis and they lacked administrative and language skills. The article also emphasized the close ties between the AKP and the Muslim Brotherhood, and that such political and ideological moves would take the state of education in Pakistan for at least 20 years backward. In another news report, Daily Times voiced the parents’ worry the Maarif Foundation might utilize the youth in Pakistan to support the objectives of the Muslim Brotherhood.
MAARIF FOUNDATION WAS FOUNDED ONLY FOR SEIZING GULEN AFFILIATED SCHOOLS
AKP regime had founded the Turkiye Maarif Foundation in June 2016 to take over the Turkish schools sympathetic to the Gulen Movement worldwide.
In his address to the Maarif Foundation Chairman Prof. Birol Akgun and the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, President Erdoğan had indicated his real objective to deal a heavy blow on the Gulen Movement and said, “If they say they are in 170 countries, you will be in all of the 193 UN-member countries worldwide. Give priority to the countries where the ‘FETO’ is public and effective. Do not allow the FETO’s schools to be termed as ‘Turkish schools’” Ministry of National Education had earmarked 1 million Turkish liras as seed money for the Foundation.
TURKISH SCHOOLS IN PAKISTAN
Having first opened in Islamabad in 1995, PakTurk educational institutions were later opened in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Karachi, Hyderabad, Khairpur Mirs, Jamshoro and Quetta, and reached to a total of 28 campuses in 10 cities. Bringing pride and distinction to Pakistan from education and science competitions in 97 countries, PakTurk students won 260 medals worldwide. Before the forceful transference, a total of 11,000 students from pre-school to Grade 12 were attending to the schools.
As a result of Erdoğan’s relentless pressure on the Government of Pakistan, all Turkish staff of the PakTurk educational institutions were ordered to leave Pakistan in November 2016. This administrative decision, given on the eve of Erdoğan’s official visit to Pakistan, was later impeded by the high court decisions across the country. Even with these verdicts and the status of their UN protection, all teachers had no option but to leave the country one after another within two years. Meanwhile, some teachers were handed to the Turkish National Intelligence (MIT).