Albanian authorities have been accused of caving to Turkish pressure after they abruptly closed a school with ties to exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen.
Albania’s Minister of Education, Evis Kushi, said Mehmet Akif College’s licence had been revoked due to the fact that the location of the school had been changed without permission. According to Kushi, this meant that the college no longer met the conditions of the permit.
“In conditions of exercising activity outside the relevant criteria, the licence must be revoked,” she said.
Kushi went on to add that the decision had nothing to do with media “speculation” that authorities were giving way to Turkish pressure.
The Mehmet Akif Ersoy college said it had only learned of the closure order via media sources, and said it planned to take legal steps to challenge the decision.
“The non-public High School ‘Mehmet Akif’ has been part of the Gulenist Foundation for 26 years in Albania, meticulously implementing the country’s legal framework, while enjoying a great history of success, as it has been consistently ranked at the top of the list of best schools,” the college said.
College administrators said an inspection was carried out by the Ministry of Education on 14 September. On 22 September, the college was notified by post that the institution did not meet the criteria to continue operating.
“Faced with such a decision, we are fully convinced that justice will speak its word. The Gulenist Foundation will follow all legal procedures to enable the normal continuation of the educational activity,” college administrators said.
Turkish state media, Anadolu Agency, reported that Zubeyde Hanim kindergarten- also with ties to the Gulen Network- had been ordered to close by authorities.
Many have criticised the decision, and linked the closure orders with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s repeated calls for Albania to close institutions with ties to Gulen.
An opponent of Erdogen, Gulen has lived in exile in the US since 1999.
Erdogan and his government have accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, and define the network as the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation” (FETO).
“It deeply harms our nation that FETO can still operate in … Albania. In the coming period, our sincerest expectation is that more concrete, persistent and swift steps will be taken against FETO structures in Albania,” declared Erdogan while in Albania in January.
Professor of Journalism at Tirana University Ervin Goci said that Turkish pressure against Gulen-affiliated institutions was a sign that “education has been politicised”.
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