The Turkish Embassy on Wednesday declared that it would continue its pursuit of Phnom Penh schools alleged to have “terrorist” links amid Turkey’s intensifying global crackdown on institutions perceived to have ties to controversial cleric Fethullah Gulen, which has seen schools shuttered across Central Asia and 15,000 educators sacked this week.
Phnom Penh’s Turkish-run Zaman International School and its affiliated university have come under fire in the wake of a thwarted coup attempt in Turkey on Friday night, with Turkish authorities now hunting down supporters of Mr. Gulen around the world, claiming they were involved in fomenting the uprising.
Zaman International’s secondary school campus in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed on Tuesday that the group would be destroyed, according to the Reuters news agency.
“I’m sorry, but this parallel terrorist organization will no longer be an effective pawn for any country,” he was quoted as saying. “We will dig them up by their roots so that no clandestine terrorist organization will have the nerve to betray our blessed people again.”
On Monday, Turkey’s ambassador to Cambodia, Ilhan Kemal Tug, claimed that Mr. Gulen was behind the coup attempt in Turkey and that Phnom Penh’s elite Zaman schools were a part of the cleric’s network.
On Wednesday, an embassy representative said Mr. Tug would be back in Cambodia on Monday after a trip to Turkey—and would press ahead with his campaign to have Zaman shut down.
“The demarche will continue when our ambassador comes back,” said Recep Eris, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission.
Chum Sounry, the spokesman for Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the government was prepared to listen.
“When the minister receives the request from the embassy, the ministry will give [it] thorough consideration,” he said.
Zaman has denied any formal connection with Mr. Gulen, threatened legal action against the ambassador and launched a social media campaign to reassure parents that its schools will continue operating as usual.
However, Philipp Bruckmayr, an oriental studies lecturer at the University of Vienna, said Zaman was clearly part of Mr. Gulen’s global network.
“My perspective is that even if they are distancing themselves—understandably so—they’re definitely a part of the movement,” he said.
Zaman’s founder, Atilla Yusef Guleker, is a follower of Mr. Gulen, while administrators have been linked to the movement’s business arm and Gulen publications have promoted Zaman as part of its network, Mr. Bruckmayr said.
Until recently, ties to Mr. Gulen were widely seen as positive, he said, and Turkey’s recent attempts to brand his followers as terrorists have been met with skepticism.
But claims that Mr. Gulen’s supporters are conspiring against the Turkish government have been gaining traction over the past three years, and Gulen schools are being shut down in Central Asia due to diplomatic pressure, Mr. Bruckmayr said.
“I think [Zaman administrators] have been wavering on this issue for some time because, on the one hand, they’re very eager to publicize that they’re a very good school and they’re connected to Gulen thinking,” he said. “But on the other hand, because of the political framework they’ve become very reluctant.”
Supporters of Mr. Gulen say his teachings constitute a modern and pacifist brand of Islam.
In Turkey on Tuesday, thousands of educators were ordered to resign or had their teaching licenses revoked after the country’s Education Ministry accused them of having links to Mr. Gulen.
dickison@cambodiadaily.com
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