It is not clear how many students were named in the database as it was kept secret, but there were some 138,000 students at all levels when the government closed down 1,069 private schools linked to the Gülen movement in 2016. The document indicated that the student list was compiled from multiple years, meaning that the actual number in the database must have been far higher than the enrollment figure for 2016. Writes Abdullah Bozkurt
The Turkish government secretly blacklisted well over 100,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade because they were enrolled in schools owned and operated by a dissident group critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The database list identifying at some 138,000 students from K through 12 was compiled by the Ministry of Education, which targeted the country’s one-time best-performing school network affiliated with the Gülen movement, inspired by Erdoğan foe Fethullah Gülen.
According to government documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, the Directorate for Information Processing in the Ministry of Education set up a special database listing all students who were studying at Gülen schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. The database was aimed at helping Turkish authorities identify government critics and opponents from the group by tracking their children who were enrolled in such schools.
The identification of children in a special database and sharing their information with the police without an explicit mandate in Turkish law and certainly with no court review raises concerns that these children would likely be stigmatized, denied government jobs in the future on national security pretexts and even face possible criminal probes based on their background in these schools when they become adults. A standard question in police interrogations is whether the suspects had attended Gülen schools in the past.
It is not clear how many students were named in the database as it was kept secret, but there were some 138,000 students at all levels when the government closed down 1,069 private schools linked to the Gülen movement in 2016. The document indicated that the student list was compiled from multiple years, meaning that the actual number in the database must have been far higher than the enrollment figure for 2016.
Turkish President Erdoğan branded the group as terror organization in the aftermath of December 2013 corruption investigations that incriminated him, his family members and his business and political associates in an Iran sanction-busting scheme. He accused the movement leader, Gülen, of initiating the graft probes, an accusation that Gülen denied. The cleric, fiercely opposed to Iran’s mullah regime and highly critical of Erdoğan for aiding and abetting radical jihadist groups, has been living in self-exile in the US since 1999.
The government’s identifying of children by compiling such lists to be used in criminal investigations shows the extent and the scope of the crackdown the Erdoğan government has been pursuing against one of the major opposition groups in Turkey. It also confirms the government’s blatant disregard for due process, presumption of innocence and fair trial protections for its citizens.
It further shows that Erdoğan is bent on abusing the criminal justice system to hunt down critics and their families in a country where the rule of law has been suspended for some time.
A document dated March 2, 2017 was written by Mehmet Emin Yalçın, department head at the provincial education board in the southwestern province of Isparta. He informed the district education board about the authority to use the database from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 school years in order to determine the connection of parents and their children to the schools. The database for the years prior to 2014 was maintained centrally at the Ministry of Education in Ankara, and requests for a probe for those years had to be directed to the ministry, he noted.
In other words, the Ministry of Education had compiled all the names of students who attended Gülen schools since the beginning and devised a special database but only allowed it to be used at the provincial level for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years.
The document came with five pages of attachments that listed the names of 16 students who attended Gülen schools as well as the names and ID information of their parents. Apparently, the provincial board was asked to release this information on a select group of parents who were subject to a criminal probe.
On March 3, 2017 the district education board in the city of Eğirdir forwarded the names of the 16 students to the police department in the district. Apparently, their parents were under criminal investigation, and district police chief İsmail Karasakal asked for the enrollment information from the education board on October 13, 2017. The criminal investigation was supervised by prosecutor Uğur Deniz.
The unusual compilation of children’s names in a special database by the government means well over a hundred thousand youngsters in Turkey were marked just because their families opted to enroll them in Gülen schools, which were licensed to operate at the time.
In addition to 1,069 private schools, the Turkish government also shut down 15 universities, 301 tutoring centers, 848 student dormitories and 19 unions — including education and teachers’ unions – over links to the Gülen movement in 2016. Most of the schools were converted into religious middle and high schools (imam-hatip) as part of the Erdoğan government’s campaign to spread political Islam among the younger generation. When Erdoğan came to power in 2002, the number of students enrolled in religious middle and high schools was only 71,000. This figure had increased to 1,494,606 in 2020 according to government statistics.
On July 15, 2016 the very limited mobilization in the military was orchestrated as a false flag plot by President Erdoğan and his intelligence and military chiefs to create a pretext for a state of emergency that led to an “imperial” presidency, suspension of the rule of law and military incursions into Syria. Erdoğan immediately accused Gülen of being behind the coup but failed to present any evidence to incriminate Gülen and support his government’s extradition request for him from the US. Gülen has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attempt and asked for an international inquiry into coup events, a request Turkey refused to accept.
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