The Turkish consulate in Georgia’s Black Sea city of Batumi on July 18 announced that it would ask the Georgian government to close a local private school associated with Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, the man Ankara has accused of plotting the failed July 15 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In remarks to the Batumi broadcaster TV25, Consul Yasin Temizkan charged that the Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, which teaches five to 12-year-old children, “is not serving the government; they’re serving terrorist groups.” The Gülen network, he claimed, uses such schools “to strengthen their own position.”
Temizkan said that he would petition Georgia’s education ministry “in the nearest future” to close the school. In the meantime, he called on parents to withdraw their children from the school.
He did not present any evidence for his claims. Turkish Ambassador to Georgia Zeki Levent Gümrükçü did not touch on the matter in a July 17 interview with national TV company Imedi.
Speaking with TV25, Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School Principal Elguja Davitadze, however, denied the allegations.
How the Georgian government will respond is unclear, but a demand from Ankara to close the school could put Tbilisi in an awkward situation. Turkey is a close economic and security partner for Georgia, yet, at the same time, the government can ill afford to shut the door on foreign investors without cause.
The Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, which has operated in Batumi since the 1990s, has a reputation among locals for solid English-language instruction and attractive small-class sizes. It has claimed that tuition and parents’ donations, rather than the Gülen movement, provide its financing.
In a 2012 interview with EurasiaNet.org, the school’s then principal, Mehmet Salih Koç, said that it follows the Georgian state curriculum and does not teach Gülen's writings.
"We don't want to impose Mr. Gülen's teachings,” Koç said. “We are trying to create peace through education. Educated people contribute more to society and the world we are living in."
The private International Black Sea University in Tbilisi also reportedly is associated with the Gülen movement.
But the pushback against Gülen-associated educational institutions in Eurasia is not new.
In 2014, in Azerbaijan, Turkey’s strongest ally in the region, Gülen-associated schools and other educational institutions were taken over by SOCAR, the state-run energy company. Tajikistan shut its own Gülen schools down last year by presidential decree.
They still exist in number in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, both predominantly Turkic countries with robust ties to Turkey.