Islam will be the chief ruling element of the Turkish educational system, from A to Z. This is one of the major consequences of the coup attempt in July 15 which despite the public promises of Erdoğan did not only deliver a return to democracy but pushed the country into a messy drift farther away from it.
Emboldened by the ‘regime of decree’ which the Emergency Rule now delivers, the AKP has now launched series of steps to manipulate with the very DNA of Turkey’s traditionally secular school system.
‘Time has come for our schools to be transformed into religious vocational high schools…’
The newly appointed vice director of Kabataş Gymnasium in Istanbul, Şakir Voyvot, did not mince his words. Possibly emboldened by the euphoria enveloping the AKP, he spilled the beans at this school (in a video that was widely circulated in internet) which is one of the most traditional, respected; one of the symbols of Turkey’s now crumbling secular education system.
‘God willing’, he added, with full of smiles, ‘we will spread those (type of schools) everywhere.’
‘Imam Hatip’, as these vocational religious schools, is the favourite brand of President Erdoğan and the AKP which he keeps in tight leash. With an intense focus on a worldview, based on Islamic teaching, these schools, separating gender, are seen by critics as the ‘republican version of ‘Madrassas’ (Moslem Theological Schools), operational in countries like Pakistan.
Under normal circumstances, statements like Voyvot’s would have caused an uproar. But not much is normal any longer i n Turkey. The so-called ‘mainstream’ media, whose ownership is entangled in financial and moral corruption, ignores such developments. The outcry for the downfall of the educational system – backbone of any secular democracy – is limited to the tiny press portions.
Downfall it is, on many levels.
Kabataş is one of the established schools which feels the heat. As Voyvot’s voice has echoed alarmingly, there were growing acts of discontent. Students at another reputed gymnasium, across Bosporus, Kadıköy Anadolu, have been staging sit-ins for their teachers who en masse had been displaced lately, under a new policy.
The AKP Gov’t interfered more directly by choosing directors to 155 gymnasiums, whose performances are commendable and, branding many of their senior teachers as ‘redundant’; sending them elsewhere or dismissing them altogether.
‘The project is obvious’ wrote Özgür Mumcu – son of lefgendary journalst, Uğur Mumcu, who was in 1993 blown up by a car bomb – in a column for daily Cumhuriyet.
‘At Kabataş Gymnasium 30 of 67 teachers have been dismissed. At Pertevniyal, 28 of 60; at Vefa, 20 of 40; at Avni Akyol school 28 of 39. In 155 gymnasiums, 1187 teachers were sent elsewhere’ he noted and asked:
‘What is the intention? The best established schools face now the danger of transformation into those, at whose gates Islamist groups will flock. They are aimed at being turned into schools in the service of ‘one-party state’ where the objective is to raise religious generations with a grudge… Now it is the students’a and their parents’ turn to be intidimidated. Our republic is losing its schools. People, are you aware of this huge danger?’
The anger is brewing, albeit with low intensity. Parents gathered in the old city district of Istanbul on Wednesday, protesting loudly.
Nilüfer Erdoğan, whose son studies at Vefa Gymnasium told Birgün:
‘My kid entered this school by his own skills. Now, what happens is the destruction of the success and the culture of this school. There has been now a month since schools started and the classes have no teachers. Nobody has any right to subject them all this.’
Barış Yarkadaş, a parliamentary deputy of the Kemalist main opposition party, CHP, said:
‘AKP had already begun this project in 2014. It accelerated the pace from 2015. Now, all the succesful schools are targeted. But this was not enough: the teachers are now ‘exiled’. Look, students now are deprived of lectures, attending empty classes for four weeks, not even the schoolbooks are distributed.’
The ‘project’, which apparently sent shockwaves amongst the staunchly secular urban middle classes, is only part of a broader picture of large-scale damage inflicted onto the education system of the troubled country.
Bits and pieces, reported by brave parts of the independent media, only confirm the rising gloom. The leftist daily Birgün reported on Wednesday that at a secondary school in Antep, students were forced to clean the toalets, publishing their pictures.
Elsewhere, reports from the mainly Kurdish provinces describe classrooms where 6-7 students squeeze at tables that are usually for two or three. The authorities last week closed down a primary school that teaches in Kurdish, named Ferzat Kermanger, apparently as part of the crackdown on the PKK and its local networks. What happened to the students is unknown.
But compared to the general, crisis-like situation, these are only tiny individiual cases. The overall problem is the immense deficit of teachers which the government’s purge following the coup attempt caused.
According to a study by Alaaddin Dinçer, a monitor with a teacher background, there is a deficit of 133.000 teachers in the system, in the wake of the coup attempt. (As of June this year, Dinçer reported, the total number of teachers was 853.987 in the country.)
Recently, Nurettin Canikli, a deputy prime minister of the AKP Government, noted that 27.715 teachers were fired, and 9.465 were ‘removed’ – Diyarbakır schools topping the list of losses. Roughly 40.000 teachers were dismissed since July 15, many of whom are Kurdish, leftist or secular, according to the Teachers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen). 1.029 private tutorial schools were shut, blowing up the deficit.
Daily Birgün gave a higher number of teachers purged in total: 170.000. Yesterday, it reported another wave of purge, of additional 2.800 teachers – accused of being part of Gülen network – and cited sources from the ministry that ‘as more data of involvement is expected, this will continue’.
Eğitim-Sen claimed recently, that the school year had begun with around 1 million students without teachers, adding that the AKP turned the coup attempt ‘into an opportunity’ to purge qualified human resources.’ According to daily Birgün the students affected by the latest purge is above 1.5 million.
Another question is, whether or not the teachers – as well as all the other public employees – will be able to seek their rights and be returned to their positions. There are gloomy developments at that as well. The CHP had some weeks ago objected to the ‘decrees’ which the current energency rule had empowered Erdoğan and his government to conduct the purge, taking the issue to the Constitutional Court. On Tuesday, it was rejected, with the top court declaring itself powerless to rule over the issue. It came as a no surprise to the critical observers, who for long claimed that the country’s supreme legal body also felt intimidated by the ‘palace’.
On the other hand, senior law experts keep claiming that, due to an earlier ruling – in 1989 – all public employees should rest assured that eventually they will regain their rights.
Prof Baskın Oran, who was discharged as a teacher from the university after the military coup in 1980 said that as soon as the emergency rule is lifted, the decrees will be invalid. Another aspect is the complaints process at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). All in all, the tsunami of purge promises a profound headache for the AKP government for years to come.
But the big picture leaves little room for doubt. Turkey’s already troubled educational system, along with academia, is being eclipsed by a no longer disguised Islamisation.
President Erdoğan’s description of the coup attempt as ‘God’s gift’ proves to be right, confirmed, by his deeds on daily basis.
The ‘decree regime’ has served the power perfectly to finish off the critical journalism, as well as engineering a ‘genetically modified media’ in the mainstream, making it totally subservient.
The backbone of Turkey’s secular army is already being transformed.
And, as the growing disgruntlement shows, another element that identifies the secular republic, its educational system, now sees its very DNA being modified in the service of Islamism as well.