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Berdimuhammedov deserves an “F”: the secretive mass closure of Turkmen-Turk schools

The Turkmen-Turkish high school of Bayramaly. Photograph from Wikimapia. Click on it to see more.

The Turkmen-Turkish high school of Bayramaly. Photograph from Wikimapia. Click on it to see more.

Editor’s note: The Turkmen authorities have been slowly but systematically shutting down or otherwise changing the status of the Turkish system of secondary schools in the country, reports neweurasia’s Annasoltan. She talks with a representative of the schools and students who know them well to discern the government’s motivations.

It began with students from Turkmen-Turkish secondary schools in Turkmenistan complaining in chat forums that their schools were no longer accepting new students. Then this past summer, what initially appeared to be nothing but nasty gossip about the closing down of several Turkmen-Turkish schools throughout the country later proved to be unfortunately true. For the remaining Turkmen-Turkish schools, boarding options were altogether eliminated. That means Turkmen pupils were (and remain) no longer allowed to stay overnight at these schools. Now a source close to the Turkish government has now confirmed to me that the schools are on their way to closing down entirely.

About a dozen schools in Bayramaly, Tejen, Atamyrat, Balkanabat, Koneurgench and elsewhere are being affected. Only five of the high schools located in the five provincial centers are going to be maintained, at least for the time being. All others are due to close their doors permanently once all of the students have finished their studies. The Turkmen-Turkish University remains unaffected (note: the rector of the university is, as before, Turkish).

The Tejen school (from their Facebook group page).

The Tejen school (from their Facebook group page).

The Atamyrat school, originally the Kerki school (from their Facebook group page).

The Atamyrat school, originally the Kerki school (from their Facebook group page).

The seal of Balkanabat school (from Mail.ru).

The seal of Balkanabat school (from Mail.ru).

As indicated above, the mass closing has evidently been going on for some time already, and in a very systematic fashion. Besides the changes already mentioned, the schools’ Turkish directors were exchanged with Turkmen ones.

This development has been hushed up in the strictly government-controlled Turkmen media. Meanwhile, a representative of the Turkmen-Turkish schools association in Turkey who wishes to remain anonymous was hesitant to call it a “closing” per se. In the least, a status change is occurring, as the remaining schools are being taken over by the Provincial National Education Ministry Directorate. The representative explained to me:

“A hundred percent localization is taking place. A new generation of well-educated, conscious and decent Turkmens has grown up in these schools and in the schools of Turkey. Local teachers are replacing Turkish teachers in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and computer science. Most of the teachers are now Turkmens. That is a natural process that was expected over time.”

I’ve gathered from various sources and remarks on the Turkmenet that the Turkmen authorities may have wanted to close some of the schools immediately in order to turn them into hospitals. However, the Turks labored to convince them that if they did so, schools’ interiors would be “wasted”. The pace of the closings suggests that this argument was somewhat successful.

Destroying a generation

The closings/change-in-status parallels a trend in neighboring countries, particularly Uzbekistan, wherein all Turkish schools were closed in 2000 as part of a diplomatic crisis with Turkey. However, internal factors peculiar to Turkmenistan may have played a role, as well.

The atheistic political establishment is fighting religious influences. As part of that, the authorities are increasingly growing intolerant of Islam and are becoming suspicious of any foreign presence in the country. I’ve previously reported that alleged private lessons given by Turkish teachers to their Turkmen pupils on Islamic principles and rituals proved especially irksome. However, the suspicion of outsiders extends beyond Turks: for example, Peace Corps volunteers have been denied entry visas, while Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Russian mobile phone provider MTS have been unceremoniously kicked out of the country.

The end-results could be a small disaster for my nation’s best and brightest. The education system here is even weaker than in other Central Asian countries. Good teachers and teaching materials are in short supply, the official ideology is omnipresent, and corruption is widespread. The Turkish schools, which were first opened in 1991, represent the best opportunity for quality education. They have produced some of my nation’s most talented graduates who have won prizes in international education contents and have climbed the ranks of society to attend some of the best universities and get the best jobs in Turkey and elsewhere.

Their success, and evidently, their current crisis, lies in the fact that they have been teaching Western-style modern science and a good level of Turkish and English. Although the teaching of Islam has not been allowed, the students have nevertheless learned how to pray and live like a modern Muslim (the schools are connected to the Nurcular movement, one of the main religious organizations in Turkey, as well as to Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States. Gülen is a controversial figure in Turkey, but his educational network has spread across five continents,)

Turkmens speak out

I talked with some of my countrymen who know the Turkmen-Turkish school system well. Here are some of their views:

Azat, a Turkmen attending a European university:

“The reason is clear. The students of these schools are better educated, brighter than the others and more willing to go abroad. Without these schools, the education level in Turkmenistan is going to fall down further and the students are going to suffer. But this is exactly what our governments wants.

“You can see that the students of the Turkmen-Turkish schools have been influenced in a certain way. There’s no point in arguing with them. They have their own thinking.”

A Turkmen youngster who wishes to remain anonymous:

“I can understand why they’re closing these schools. The Nurcu movement is the second best organized force after the government.”

Abdulaziz, a self-proclaimed Turkmen Islamist:

“There is no reason for the government to be concerned about Islam in these schools. In these school they are teaching obedience to the government and to be on the side of the powerful. However, the authorities, who are even afraid of their own shadow, may very well perceive even this kind of Islamic teaching as a threat, although it is clear that these students will not bring any benefit to Islam.

“Berdimuhamedov does not need educated people.The less people can think, the better for him. He can’t do what he is doing now to educated people.”

Another anonymous Turkmen youngster:

“I don’t think that religion pays a role here. Religion serves as a masquerade. In our country it would be an easy game to level religious fanatics. I think the issue is political control. What the government is afraid of is that the graduates of these schools have begun infiltrating the state structures. They are afraid that their loyalty will be not to them but to the Turks.”

For myself, I believe the authorities are indeed afraid of outside influence, particularly from Turkey and the broader international Muslim community. Most of all, these developments evidence the deep distrust that my government has of my young countrymen.

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14 Comments »

  • DJT says:

    The circular logic behind obstructing education to prevent mass-emigration of talent is mind-boggling. Berdymukhammedov’s title should be Warden, not President.

    Reply

  • perman says:

    As Abdulaziz says, although these schools may be connected to the Nurcular movement, their graduates are not interested in promoting Islam.

    The government does not want educated people. Moreover, it tries to put some negative image on the graduates of these high schools because they are more ready to think independently than other high school graduates. But the graduates of these schools are normal young children from ordinary Turkmen families.

    Some other less educated young men accept this negative image, because they think they are more competitive and they would like to kick out intelligent people from the competition. The government prepared a chewing gum by saying that “these schools are bad” and the people are chewing it.

    It shows that the elite does not have a faintest idea about history of the world or what happened in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and now in Middle East. It cannot see that by making people who have nothing to lose it prepares an end to itself. Every day the current president will have more and more enemies.

    By closing these schools he will lose sympathy of thousands of young men who are currently studying at these schools and their parents. This president is now crossing those red lines which even Turkmenbashi did not cross. He shows that actually he is much more narrow-minded than Turkmenbashi.

    Of course, Nurcular will be silent because they are not aggressive political movement. They will just go to other countries, taking all human capital with them.

    Reply

  • Kara Yang says:

    Although I admit the higher level of education in Turkish schools, but I would like to add that, they also advertise Islam. Turkey, already for a long time, is advertising Islam in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are already Islam-based societies). Not only in Turkmenistan, but also in Mongolia that are not Muslims at all: under the name of “brotherhood”, Turkey sends there professors who, instead of scientific work, distribute CDs of Muslim religious leaders’ speeches. Can you find something funnier than this? To send professors (supported and funded by Turkish government) to Mongolia to spread the word about Islam. Let alone for Turkmenistan.

    It’s not that easy Annasoltan. Central Asia is the last defender of a secular society within Islamic world. What is happening right now in Arabic world is returning to Islamic principles. Turkey has already started moving towards Islam. They made Iran an Islamic states themselves (US) 30 years ago: nobody voted or selected Khomeini, it was US who changed secular regime of Shah with religious government of Khomeini. The last station is Central Asia, of which Uzebkistan and Tajikistan are already deeply Muslims. They probably won’t be able to turn Kazaks and Kazakstan into Islam (they ARE Muslims, but not as deep as Arabs or Iranians or Turks), so the only countries remaining are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

    And you, Annasoltan, are working on their side (consciously or not), advertising Islam. All the best to you, halk-yn geljegy byle oynomo, indiky nesyller kargar sizleri, for Islam will only ruin your country.

    Reply

    perman Reply:

    @Kara Yang, Yes “halk-yn geljegi” is important. But what do you suggest? Let the most benevolent government in the world to protect the people who are of course 100% stupid unable to distinguish what is good and what is bad?

    Turkmen people existed before 1991 and before 1881 so I cannot agree that at this particular time in history we are being cared for by our government. In fact you seem to advertise repression but you don’t understand that you can be a victim of it too (even if you are the top repressor guy like the head of MNB). Don’t forget Gurbanbibi Atajanova, Muhammet Nazarov, Poran Berdiyev, Akmurad Redjepov and now Charymyrat Amanov. You will not be saved by praising the government for “protecting” people from “bad, very very bad” Islam.

    There is no need to produce some historical analysis of what’s going with Islam. It is very simple, some people got power in Turkmenistan and they are ready to do whatever is needed to maintain that power. Islam, Iran, Turkey and the US analysis is totally useless here. Don’t think too broadly when analysing Turkmenistan, think narrowly or you will miss the point.

    Reply

    Annasoltan Reply:

    @Kara Yang : First of all, covering (political) Islam should not be confused with supporting (political) Islam, if the journalist or blogger is not calling for its advocacy, such as in my case. I don’t meant to be
    offensive, but that’s a fundamental mistake that people lacking media
    literacy make. Moreover, the banning of public debate over pressing
    issues that were not compatible with official ideology, as well as
    attacking journalists who tried to raise the issues, was too common an
    element in our Soviet past, and remains part of a journalist’s life
    today in Central Asia.

    I am a person who strongly believes in the universal principles of
    human rights, and I believe that every person, whether a Muslim,
    Christian, Jew, Buddhist, or Atheist deserves the protection of
    his/her human rights. Again, I don’t mean to be offensive, but it
    seems to me that you are saying that Muslims are not worth defending.
    I cannot agree and I think that is itself a dangerous sort of
    extremism.

    Reply

  • Kara Yang says:

    I don’t support current governmetn of Turkmenistan, I think I have stated this in my previous comments. But anyway I agree with you on the fac that, “some people got power in Turkmenistan and they are ready to do whatever is needed to maintain that power”, as you said. But at the same time, “Islam, Iran, Turkey and the US analysis” ARE of importance here, for Islam IS a a political religion; it can’t live without political power.

    Bu gydyshynyz byle, dogonlor, HICH YERE de yetmersiniz. Maga “akmak” diseniz de diyeberiniz, yone achikcha size shumat aytylsyn: Islam bile HICH YERIG yetmiyariniz.

    Akmak, ulu kapyr-dan.

    Reply

    zaybal Reply:

    @Kara Yang, What is wrong with being a muslim? My religion is my right and if you don’t like it you can ###k off!

    I would also like to state that I am a proud graduate of these schools and i smoke, drink and I like having sex with girls! Now bugger off with your idiotic claims!

    Reply

    Kara Yang Reply:

    @zaybal, You’re talking about something else. Off topic.

    Reply

  • Ajymurat says:

    The “localization” process is appealing to me.If the new generation of YOUNG and EDUCATED Turkmen youth is ready enough,why not to replace the Turkish teachers to Turkmen ones?Good luck to Turkmen new generation.
    p.s. I think I understand the Turkmen language.Kara Yang I agree that “Islam bile HICH YERIG yetmiyariniz.” just want to add that together with Islam and science, you can reach great things.

    Reply

  • [...] this is to say nothing about all the troubles with MTS, the restrictions on students, the closing of the Turkish-Turkmen schools, the questionnaires, the weirdness in Turkmenbasy, and on and on. I noticed that right before the [...]

  • [...] post on the current situation of Turkmen-Turkish secondary schools, I reported on their rather secretive, gradual mass closure by my nation’s authorities. Only five are allowed to remain open, but their status is being [...]

  • Frank Usteminov says:

    Without a doubt these schools are run by Hizmet, (The Gulen Movement) and they are all about loyalty to the Ottoman Empire that they are trying to recreate worldwide. These schools by Gulen are everywhere, they particularly went into Central Asian countries as a front for the CIA (America) to extract our minerals, energy sources to beat out Russia in the game.
    Gulen is a liar and our citizens and students need to be loyal as Turkmen to Turkmenistan NOT to Turkey we are not their slaves.
    I don’t need Noah’s Pudding from these teachers of Gulen, they care nothing except to expand the Gulen Movement.
    http://www.gulenschoolsworldwide.blogspot.com

    Reply

  • ohohmrbill says:

    The Gulen Movement is a fraud and sham. Some of these schools are currently being investigated by the FBI here in America. They are suspected of racketeering, money laundering and human trafficking of there own teachers. They are forced to pay back 40% of there wages back to the movement and sometime not paid at all. There goal is to create sympathizers for Turkey on a global scale. Also they are creating Visa fraud here in the USA claiming they cannot find qualified teachers while bringing in there own loyal followers. The more they bring in the more money for Gulen.

    http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/hidden-agenda/Content?oid=1694764

    http://azstarnet.com/news/science/environment/article_dec199db-be3f-5519-be3d-f6ad970db1f8.html

    http://www.hawaiifreepress.com/main/Portals/0/Article%20Attachments/Gulen%20Tuzuk%20Contract.pdf

    Reply

  • Myahri says:

    Hi!
    Oh my God! By reading your arguments I feel like you are some kind of propaganda or something. I graduated from Turkmen-Turkish high school last year and I never heard such kind of dirty and nonsense comments about my school. I just wanted to clarify that we are not being brainwashed or something else. These schools like other normal schools(not state probably,but like foreign schools) give excellent education and help us develop in all sides. About the religion, NOBODY is forcing you to do something. We’ve got Christians, even Atheists in our school. The main point is that they are teaching common personal rules such as no killing, no stealing, no lying…Is that something bad?! Are they wrong by doing that?! I think no! By closing those schools, even though reducing number of well-educated and well-mannered young people, I don’t think the condition of our country will be better, not even slightly.
    Thank you!

    Reply

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