As Turkey focused its coup-cleanup operations on its education system, its close ally Azerbaijan on July 20 announced the closure of Caucasus University, the country's first private university, founded by supporters of the influential Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, now charged by Ankara with plotting to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The decision brought back memories of 2014 when, as Turkey started to raise the alarm about Gülen, a former government pal, Azerbaijani authorities closed 13 education centers and 11 high schools associated with the cleric’s movement. They were transferred to the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR).
One Turkish company Çağ Öğrətim (Era Education), believed linked to Gülen, however, had shared control of Caucasus University with SOCAR and another firm.
No more. SOCAR Vice-President for Human Resources Khalig Mammadov posted on his Facebook page that control over Caucasus University has been given to the state-run Baku Higher Oil School .
“Students . . . will continue their education as before,” Mammadov wrote. “The teaching staff of the university will also continue their work.”
The education ministry told APA that after receiving the relevant documents, it will create a working group to allow Caucasus University students to continue their education elsewhere.
A new rector, however, will be announced on July 21, BBC Azeri reported.
The decision coincides with Turkey’s firing of four rectors and requests for the resignation of more than 1,500 deans. It also has issued a ban on academics traveling abroad ; presumably as a way to curtail any possible networking with the Gülen movement’s global collection of schools and non-governmental organizations.
To Azerbaijan's north, in Georgia, Education Minister Aleksandre Jejelava rejected a Turkish diplomat’s call to close a Gülen-linked Georgian school for allegedly training "terrorists."
"[N]othing dangerous or harmful for our children has happened [there] or will happen. We will not allow this," Jejelava told Georgian public television on July 20.
As yet, Ankara has not made any proof public for its claim that the elderly imam masterminded the failed July 15 plot to overthrow Erdoğan.
But Azerbaijan is eager to display sympathy for the plight of its more powerful, fellow Turkic friend.
Its anti-Gülen purge does not stop with education.
A Gülen-linked newspaper, Zaman Azerbaijan, on July 20 announced a decision to shut down its operations.
The newspaper’s management released a statement that it is their own decision to leave. “Given the latest developments in the region and its possible impact on the friendship and brotherhood between Azerbaijan and Turkey, the founders of Zaman Azerbaijan said that they, expressing support for Azerbaijan’s statehood, have decided to shut down the newspaper and the website zaman.az,” read the statement, APA reported.
Azerbaijani broadcast regulators earlier this week pulled the plug on a national TV station that reportedly had been planning an interview with Gülen, who now lives in Pennsylvania.
In a blog post on BBC Azeri, journalist Firdevs Robinson, who has covered both the Caucasus and Turkey, noted that, despite their differences on the political role of Islam, the Turkish and Azerbaijani governments “stand in the same position on the issue of conflicts with the Gülen movement as never before.”
The question is, how far will this show of unity go.
--Caucasus News Editor Elizabeth Owen added reporting to this blog.