This week, Turkey marks the third anniversary of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that was orchestrated by Fethullah Gülen and his terrorist group (FETÖ). The assault on Turkey’s democratic institutions resulted in loss of 250 lives and over 2000 injuries.
For the first time in Turkey’s history, the perpetrators of a coup bombed the Turkish Parliament, Presidential compound and numerous other strategic government buildings. Hundreds of civilians protesting the coup attempt in Ankara and Istanbul were shot to death. It was a direct assault against Turkey’s democratically elected government and the free will of the Turkish nation.
The resolve and resilience of the Turkish people and their strong commitment to democratic rights, thwarted the threat that could have destabilized Turkey and its neighbors for years to come. But the Turkish nation was not alone in its desire to preserve democracy. Afghan Government was among the first to condemn the coup attempt and to demonstrate its solidarity in the aftermath of events. Many Afghan brothers and sisters whom I met for the past two years had shared with me how they followed with concern that eventful night in Turkey until early morning and prayed for the wellbeing and stability of a country they feel fraternal ties towards.
All the evidence collected so far throughout the investigations and trials demonstrates that the bloodiest terrorist attack in the history of Turkey was orchestrated by FETÖ under the instructions of Fetullah Gülen. Together with his followers, he planned and tried to capture the Republic of Turkey on that date.
However, judging the deeds of Fetullah Gülen and FETÖ only with what transpired on July 15th would be a mistake. The crimes committed on that night were just the tip of an iceberg.
It all started under the guise of a charitable education effort back in the 1970s. Fetullah Gülen and his followers disguised themselves as a benign education movement, when they started the campaign of establishing schools in Turkey and later around the world. At the peak of their power, they controlled thousands of schools in Turkey and more than eight hundred educational institutes worldwide.
For more than 30 years, Gülen has encouraged his followers to infiltrate state institutions in Turkey, first and foremost the military and judiciary. In the past decade, we witnessed in Turkey how Gülen network carried out mass-scale exam cheatings to this end, where FETÖ affiliated students were provided with the answers to entrance exams. The FETÖ members infiltrating critical state posts abused their power to eliminate who opposed the organization, by illegal wiretapping, fabricating evidence, unlawful arrests, thereby intimidating and blackmailing a large segment of the society including politicians, businessmen, journalists, even athletes and artists among many. Thus, the organization that disguised itself as an education movement gradually turned into a secretive operational structure aiming to transform the society by taking control of the Turkish state from within. As FETÖ became more affluent, it started meddling in business transactions and government tender processes. Laundering enormous sums of money, arranging illegal transfers of cash and other financial crimes became business as usual.
Today, FETÖ is present in around 160 countries, with thousands of schools, businesses, NGOs and media houses. Their modus operandi is the same all around the world. As they aim to infiltrate and enlarge their global economic and political influence, they constitute a direct security threat for any country where they operate. Afghanistan is still one of them.
In Afghanistan, Afghan-Türk Schools operated by FETÖ-linked NGO namely Afghan-Türk Çağ Education have been providing education to Afghan students for close to two decades. In reality, this NGO was part of the broader network that financed the FETÖ organization and its branches to carry out its deceitful activities across the globe. It is highly likely that they had transferred all the revenues they generated from the schools outside Afghanistan.
I witnessed this first hand, when I visited the Afghan-Türk Momin High School this month in Jalalabad. When the school was handed over to Turkish Maarif Foundation (TMF) in March, it was in such a bad shape that we could not believe that a private education was provided in such a ramshackle location. Now, we are making a complete overhaul of the whole infrastructure and we promise to build a new conference hall and a dormitory before the new school year, as well as to start constructing a girl’s high school in the same complex in a year.
The school in Jalalabad is only one example. Through joint determination of the Governments of Afghanistan and Turkey, Education Ministries of the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding last year and agreed to transfer the management of 15 FETÖ linked schools and education centers to TMF. In return, Turkey promised to raise the quality of education, build new schools across Afghanistan, reduce student fees, provide education free of charge for the children of martyrs, enable scholarship opportunities in Turkey for students who graduate with highest marks and invest all the revenues to be generated from these schools back in Afghanistan. Since last April, commendable progress has taken place in the transfer of 12 schools in Jawzjan, Kandahar, Balkh, Nangarhar, Herat and most recently in Kabul to its new management under TMF.
As the Afghan public witness the positive transformation that begun in the Afghan-Türk Maarif Schools under the new management of TMF and implementation of Turkey’s promises, we receive demands for Turkey to deepen and widen its engagement in Afghanistan’s education sector as well as in the fields of higher education and scholarships.
As Turkey, we are committed to fulfilling this demand, not only because it serves our joint objectives to eradicate the threat posed by FETÖ in Afghanistan, but also due to our longstanding, time-tested ties to Afghan people whom we see as our brothers and sisters. Besides, investment in education is an investment in the future of Afghanistan. We will continue to support Afghanistan as long as our help is needed.
Oğuzhan Ertuğrul is Ambassador of Turkey in Afghanistan.