MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan police arrested dozens of people in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif including six Turkish teachers in a raid on a school Turkey suspects has links with President Tayyip Erdogan’s arch enemy, officials and teachers said.
The raid on Afghan-Turk school on Friday was the latest move against an educational foundation the Ankara government says is connected to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric it accuses of being behind a coup attempt in 2016.
Shukarullah Samadi, one of the teachers at the school said police had begun their raid at around 2 a.m., arresting six Turkish teachers and at least 40 other teachers and staff members.
“These schools have been successful for 23 years and we’re very worried about their future in Afghanistan,” he said.
Afghan Turk CAG Educational NGO (ATCE), the body that runs the schools, operates schools in several cities including the capital, Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Herat and has been in Afghanistan since 1995.
It says it is an independent foundation and has denied any involvement with the 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Its schools have a good reputation but Ankara, which has major economic interests in northern Afghanistan as well as strong political and cultural links, has put heavy pressure on the Kabul government to turn them over to Turkey.
Last year the government ordered the management of the schools to be transferred in accordance with the wishes of the Turkish government but implementation has been slow.
Similar schools linked to Gulen’s Hizmet movement operate across the world and Turkey has pressed countries where it has influence to transfer their management to the Maarif Foundation, a Turkish educational body.
A statement on the foundation’s website on Saturday said it had taken over six out 12 of Gulen’s schools in Afghanistan.
Monir Ahmed Farhad, spokesman for the governor of Balkh said the action was taken to enforce the government’s decision to transfer management of the school.
“This decision to transfer management of the Turkish Afghan school comes from an agreement between the ministry of education of Afghanistan and Turkey, the local administration in Balkh is just implementing it,” he said.
Students and teachers at Afghan-Turk school expressed alarm and said they feared a decline in educational standards.
“Our whole concern is that the quality of education at the schools does not go down,” said Aref Mousavi, the father of a child at the school. “It’s been very good over the years and this should stay the same.”
Since the abortive putsch, Turkey has waged a crackdown on suspected members of Gulen’s network. Some 77,000 people have been jailed and more than 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in the military, public and private sectors. Gulen has denied involvement in the coup and condemned it.
Writing by James Mackenzie, additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Editing by Clelia Oziel