Turkey asks Cambodia to close schools linked to alleged coup plotter

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 3:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 3:01am

Turkey on Monday urged Cambodia to close three schools supposedly linked to the alleged mastermind of last month’s failed military coup, as part of a post-coup campaign being engaged in by Turkish embassies around the world.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry told reporters that Turkish Ambassador Ilhan Kemal Tug made the call in a meeting earlier in the day with Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn.

Turkey’s coup crackdown strains ties with the US and Europe

The Turkish government insists the schools, like hundreds of others around the world it seeks to have closed down, are associated with the movement of US-based Islamic cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has identified as the coup’s mastermind. Gulen denies involvement.

Zaman International School, consisting of a kindergarten and primary and secondary schools with a total enrollment of over 800 students, has operated in Phnom Penh since 1997.

Zaman University opened in the capital in 2011, when Turkish deputy prime minister at the time Bulent Arinc attended its inauguration ceremony along with senior Cambodian officials.

But that was two years before Erdogan and Gulen, once allies, had a falling out. The Turkish government has since declared the Gulen movement a threat to national security.

Among other repressive actions, Erdogan’s government last March seized the Gulen-linked newspaper Zaman, which until then had the highest circulation in Turkey.

The Cambodian schools were all founded by Atilla Yusuf Guleker, a former journalist for that paper.

Since the coup, Erdogan’s government has engaged in a systematic campaign to root so-called Gulenists from positions of power. It has ordered the closure of over 1,000 private schools in Turkey linked to the movement and sacked or suspended the licenses of tens of thousands of teachers.

In a statement issued after being attacked by the Turkish Embassy, Zaman Co., the private entity that runs the schools, said it was saddened by the “groundless accusation” that it is affiliated with the Gulen movement.

Fethullah Gulen: the cleric Turkey blames for failed coup suggests president may have staged it himself

While acknowledging the schools “started with the spiritual motivation” of Gulen, it insisted that the cleric never had any involvement in their establishment, nor their administration, and said its executives and staff are not required to have sympathy to him.

Indeed, “many of our students don’t even know who Mr Fethullah Gulen is”, it said.