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News 25 Aug 16

Macedonia May Shut Gulen-Linked Turkish Schools

Macedonia's Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki hinted that the government might have agreed to Turkey's request to close schools and organisations with suspected links to alleged coup plot leader Fethullah Gulen.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki. Photo: MIA

Asked whether the government will close Turkish private schools and other organisations allegedly linked to Gulen as requested by Ankara, Poposki said on Thursday that Macedonia supports and will help the legitimately-elected Turkish authorities, without being specific about whether or not there will be shutdowns.

"We will cooperate with the government in Ankara in helping them achieve their goals, of course in accordance to our laws," Poposki told a press conference in Skopje.

“Regarding the question about the government's decisions, yes, the government has reached decisions. All the decisions that we would and will make will be in compliance with our laws and our national interests,” he added.

However, he did not give more details about these decisions and the government press service did not provide any further information when contacted by BIRN.

In late July, Turkey sent a request to several Balkan countries for the closure of schools and other organisations in the region allegedly connected to Muslim cleric Gulen’s Hizmet movement, which Ankara alleges is a terrorist organisation that was behind the failed coup attempt in July.

Macedonia's neighbours Kosovo and Albania rejected this request, while in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a heated debate is ongoing about the issue.

Also in July, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency published a list of schools and companies in Macedonia that are allegedly linked to Gulen, who lives in the US.

The agency listed the Jahja Kemal private elementary and high schools that operate in five Macedonian cities, including Skopje. It also mentioned several other companies dealing with tourism, trade, transport and healthcare.

In July, several former high-school pupils tore up their diplomas in front of the Jahja Kemal private high school in Skopje in an apparent protest against school's alleged links to Gulen.

But the college, which has some 2,000 pupils in Macedonia, strongly declined allegations that it is in any way linked to Gulen's movement.

The school's spokesperson Sureya Tauk said earlier this month that the speculation about the school's alleged financial links to Gulen were groundless.

"We have seven partners [co-owners]. One is from Germany, one from Macedonia and five from Turkey. But, we are operating thanks to enrolment deposits and credits from Macedonian Banks,” tauk said.

“I can say for certain that our schools will be open on the first of September, 2016 [the beginning of the school year]. Our parents and students should not be worried,” she added.

Macedonia's Education Minister Pishtar Lutfiu has vouched for the good credentials of the schools.

“The colleges have appropriate documents and act according to the law. This is most important for our ministry. According to some information that we have, students who graduate from these colleges enrol in high-ranking universities” Lutfiu told Alsat M TV in mid-August.

There are some 80,000 ethnic Turks in Macedonia, making up about four per cent of the population of 2.1 million. 

But the attempted coup in Turkey has exposed ideological splits among the community.

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