ergoghan Geo PM Press Office Photo

Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (Photo by the Georgian PM office.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–Georgian authorities have suspended the accreditation of a private school with links to the Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara has accused of plotting the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The council of the National Center for Educational Quality on Friday revoked the Sahin Friendship
School’s authorization to carry out educational activities due to ‘serious violations’ of the rules about enrollment and procedures.

Schools and other educational institutions need government authorization in order to operate, as prescribed in the education law.

The school has been in operation since 1994 in Batumi, a coastal city at the easternmost shores of the Black Sea. The educational quality centre assured that students of the school will be offered places at other schools in Batumi.

Sahin Friendship School’s director Elguja Davitadze said it is a political decision to close down a school, and pointed out that the Turkish government for a long time has been asking the local government to shut down his school, because of its links to Gulen.

Davitadze pledged to the prime minister, as well as president and education minister, to personally take charge of the issue and protect the rights of the 340 students, their parents and teachers.

Although President Erdogan pushed for closing schools and other educational institutions affiliated with the exiled Turkish scholar far before the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, the push has intensified since then.

People informed about the issue told DFWatch that Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili was under pressure from President Erdogan to shut down activities of educational organizations allegedly linked to Gulen during their meeting in Turkey on July 19, just a few days after the coup attempt.  Since then those educational institution have been under increasing pressure from the Georgian government.

The Sahin Friendship School has become a widely discussed issue following the coup attempt in Turkey last July. In remarks to the Batumi broadcaster TV25, Turkey’s Consul in the Adjara region Yasin Temizkan accused the school, which teaches five to 12-year-old children, of ‘serving terrorist groups’. The Gulen network, he claimed, uses such schools “to strengthen its own position.”

The consul also asked the government and the education minister to close the school and called on parents to take their children out of the school.

Later the consul disavowed the comments, blaming an incorrect translation, although the statement by the consul was translated by the consulate’s own interpreter. Turkey’s Ambassador to Georgia Zeki Levent Gumrukcu did not comment regarding the consul’s statement.

The statement caused a strong reaction on social media in Georgia. Batumi Sahin school graduates denied being terrorists, and many pointed out that the school is one of the best in the region, offering solid English-language instruction.

Following the coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, Ankara asked all states to close down schools associated with Gulen, who is accused of masterminding the coup.

Gulen-associated schools were taken over in Azerbaijan; a country with strong ties with Turkeys. Also Tajikistan shut down its own Gulen schools last year. The same fate has been shared by similar institutions in several African countries.