When the topics of conversation turn to Turkey and Islam, tempers can sometimes flare in the South Caucasus country of Georgia. Even so, a movement founded by the charismatic Turkish theologian Fetullah Gϋlen has found a welcoming community in this emphatically Christian country.
Gϋlen, a controversial, US-based Turkish religious leader, recently named by Time Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, heads a civic movement “rooted in the spiritual and humanistic tradition of Islam” that operates charter schools in 140 countries worldwide.
At first glance, Georgia doesn’t seem like a place where a Gϋlen school would take root, given that the Georgian Orthodox Church wields considerable influence and Muslims comprise just a sliver of the country’s population. But, here, as in other countries, Gülen schools’ representatives describe their mission as based on educational principles, not religion.
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Molly Corso is a freelance journalist who also works as editor of Investor.ge, a monthly publication by the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia. Justin Vela is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.