Tajikistan has cast doubt over its willingness to continue hosting a network of leading charter schools inspired by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen.
This week Education Minister Nuriddin Saidov suggested that the Tajik government is planning to review the schools’ licenses, which are currently held by a company called Shalola. The schools – often known as “Gülen schools” or “Turkish schools” – adhere to the educational principles of Gülen’s transnational religious movement, which has been praised for its modern interpretation of Islam but also accused of bearing resemblance to a cult.
“The activities of Turkish schools in Tajikistan should be transformed; they need to work on a charitable basis. This is my position. Now we are working on this issue,” Saidov told journalists January 5.
While the schools (numbering 10, according to one count) in Tajikistan were initially free to attend, they now cost $1,000 dollars per year, according to RFE/RL’s Tajik service.
RFE/RL says the schools’ domestic critics tend to associate them with “Pan-Turkism,” while supporters argue that they offer an education far superior to that at Tajikistan’s impoverished state schools, which are among the worst in the former Soviet Union. Instruction is in English, Russian and Turkish. Tajik social media users claim that many officials place their children in the secular Gülen schools.
It is not clear what precisely Shalola and its schools have done to offend Tajikistan’s aid-dependent and graft-prone government.
But the hullabaloo comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stepped up his feud with former ally Gülen, accusing the cleric of operating a “parallel state” inside Turkey. Gülen supporters allegedly spearheaded a corruption investigation into Erdoğan and his allies that the Turkish strongman has struggled to squash.
Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper, which vocally supports Erdoğan, has revelled in the controversy.
Sabah – which often maligns the Gülen movement – wrote on January 7 that the schools’ licenses would be “discontinued” and that the education minister had called the schools “shadowy.” That comment does not appear in the Tajik news reports.
It would not be the first time the school network has come under attack in authoritarian Central Asia. According to a 2014 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the movement has inspired 10 schools in Tajikistan, 30 in Kazakhstan, and 15 in Kyrgyzstan. Turkmenistan only has two Gülen-inspired schools, after eight were closed during a “reform” in 2011. Uzbekistan closed down its Gülen schools in 2001 when Tashkent’s relations with Ankara went south, Carnegie notes.