French schools in Turkey on shaky ground

Youths take their seats during an exam in Istanbul. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 05 September 2020

French schools in Turkey on shaky ground

  • Last year, France insisted on training “local” imams to preach to its Muslim communities rather than letting Turkey send imams as a way to increase its soft power in the interests of Ankara

ANKARA: Amid a diplomatic escalation of tension between Turkey and France over the East Mediterranean, the closure of French schools both in Ankara and Istanbul ranks high on the agenda of the Turkish government.
On Thursday, Turkey’s pro-government press Yeni Safak called for the closure of French schools Lycée Pierre Loti and Lycée Charles de Gaulle, in Istanbul and Ankara, respectively, claiming that the schools were “illegally” founded and unlawfully operating on Turkish territories. A significant part of the Turkish business elite, as well as many journalists and members of academia, are graduates from French schools in Turkey, the roots of which stretch back to Ottoman times.
For the past few years, Ankara has been exploring ways to open Turkish state-controlled schools in French territories based on the reciprocity principle.
However, in the context of the longstanding quarrel between French and Turkish leaders, education in a secular country like France remains a controversial and highly sensitive subject.
Last year, France insisted on training “local” imams to preach to its Muslim communities rather than letting Turkey send imams as a way to increase its soft power in the interests of Ankara.
“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s legacy is almost destroying Turkey’s secular education system,” Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News.
According to Cagaptay, there are very few schools left that are sheltered from Erdogan’s ideological re-crafting of Turkey’s educational system.
“And these French schools are part of this minority. It is an unfortunate move. Even religious parents are avoiding sending their children to religious schools because at the end of the day, the issue is whether Turkey’s education system is preparing its citizens to be competitive in a 21st century economy,” he said.
Erdi Ozturk, a lecturer in International Relations and Politics at London Metropolitan University, said Turkey has lost its credibility to a significant extent due to its recent domestic and international moves.
“It still has some friends, but several European countries have turned their backs to Turkey, including France. From 2015-2019, there were many debates about spying activities and the influence of Turkey’s state apparatus over its nationals living in France. Imams and teachers who were appointed by Turkey have been allegedly used as a polarization tool over the Turkish diaspora,” he told Arab News.
Ozturk describes this as “transnational authoritarianism.”
“It is completely reasonable that countries go beyond their national boundaries to exert influence. But I think Turkey implemented this strategy in an unprofessional manner, thus triggering a reaction from France. Now with Macron loudly voicing his anti-Turkey discourse, the Erdogan regime has taken this opportunity to use counter-tools because the ruling government rejects multi-culturalism in its regime based on ethno-nationalism,” he said.
Experts think the recent re-conversion of the Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque marks a turning point and shows how capable the Turkish government is of turning its rhetoric into practice.
“After the controversial Hagia Sophia move, there is nothing that Erdogan can’t do. If the Erdogan regime proceeds with the closure of French schools, it will be not only a tool to consolidate its state identity, but it will further undermine Franco-Turkish relations,” Ozturk said.


Turkey, Russia seal deal for Karabakh ‘peacekeeping center’

Updated 21 min 13 sec ago

Turkey, Russia seal deal for Karabakh ‘peacekeeping center’

  • The deal comes after days of talks between Turkish and Russian officials about how the two regional powers would jointly implement a Moscow-brokered cease-fire
  • Technical details for setting up the joint center were concluded and an agreement was signed

ANKARA: Turkey and Russia have agreed to monitor a truce over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region from a joint peacekeeping center, Ankara’s defense ministry said on Tuesday.
The deal comes after days of talks between Turkish and Russian officials about how the two regional powers would jointly implement a Moscow-brokered cease-fire signed this month between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Technical details for setting up the joint center were concluded and an agreement was signed, the defense ministry said in a statement, adding that it would begin work “as soon as possible.”
Turkey is a staunch ally of Azerbaijan and has fervently defended its right to take back the Nagorno-Karabakh lands Baku lost to ethnic Armenian separatists in a 1988-94 war.
The truce deal ended more than six weeks of fighting that claimed more than 1,400 lives and saw ethnic Armenians agree to withdraw from large parts of the contested region of Azerbaijan.
The Turkish parliament voted this month to deploy a mission to “establish a joint center with Russia and to carry out the center’s activities.”
The deployment is set to last a year and its size will be determined by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Russia has said repeatedly that Turkey will have no troops on the ground under the truce deal’s terms.