Cablegate: Turkish Gulenist Schools: "Be Everywhere or Be

DE RUEHAK #1331/01 2071001
P 251001Z JUL 08 ZDK

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 001331


E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/03/2018

Classified By: Political Counselor Daniel J. O'Grady, reasons 1.4 (b,d)

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Gulenist-administered Turkish schools are
inspired by the same humanistic philosophy no matter where
they operate in Turkey or the world, according to teachers
and students at a leading Gulenist math and science school in
Ankara. The teachers underscored that these schools must
adhere to the education system of the host country, while the
students emphasized the full-time attention the teachers at
their schools provide them and their families. The
opportunity to study and teach abroad is a major attraction
for many, both students and teachers alike. The Gulenist
communities on campuses in cities hosting Turkey's major
universities are a key source of recruitment for new
teachers, central to advancing Fetullah Gulen's humanistic
"movement." The schools are already well established in
Turkey, with growth now focused on the country's East.
Overseas, the schools are concentrated in Africa, Central
Asia and the Balkans, but are also found in the United States
and elsewhere. The Gulenists plan continued growth.
According to Gulen, in order to open up to humanity, one must
be everywhere. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) We met recently on two occasions with
administrators, teachers and students at Ankara's Samanyolu
High School, one of Turkey's leading math and science
schools, administered by a Fetullah Gulen
community-associated foundation. According to the teachers,
eight of Turkey's one hundred top math and science high
school graduates came out of Samanyolu last year, including
the top math and science graduate in the country. (There
were approximately 1.5 million Turkish high school graduates
in 2007.) Many Samanyolu boarding students come from
Turkey's provincial cities, and the school also hosts a
number of foreign students on exchange programs. A large
percentage of Samanyolu teachers, including those we spoke
to, have taught abroad.

3. (SBU) The Samanyolu teachers we met with, Mehmet and
Servet, had previously taught in Ukraine and Vietnam
respectively, before returning to Turkey. They emphasized
that their schools strictly follow the educational system of
the host countries. Most programs are taught in English or
the local language; Turkish history and religion is not
taught abroad, and Turkish language is only an elective at
some schools in some countries. Thumbing through pictures
from schools in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, we noted that many of
the teachers appeared to be local and mixed-gender (unlike
this particular Samanyolu school, which is all male). Mehmet
and Servet emphasized that most teachers are, in fact, local
residents and not Fetullah Gulen adherents. The common
denominator, they said, is a love for humanity.

4. (SBU) Both teachers noted that cultural adaptation for
Turkish teachers is not easy, and often takes time, but they
stressed their enthusiasm for learning the local culture and
getting to know students' families quickly dispels any
prejudices and concerns among the local people. Servet noted
that in former Soviet republics, Turks continue to face
prejudices deriving from the Soviet legacy where Turkey was
degraded as part of the West and Turkish culture as
dangerous, but the animosity, he said, is lessening. Mehmet
joked about how intelligence officers in Kazakhstan had been
parked outside a Turkish school each day when it first
opened, but then went on to enroll their kids there.

5. (SBU) One student, Salum, from Tanzania, recalled when
the Turkish teachers came to Tanzania in 1998. There was a
huge desperation for schools, but a concern existed about
whether these foreigners would seek to impose a foreign
culture on the students. Soon, the school's teachers were
warmly welcomed and celebrated in the community. Compared to
Tanzanian teachers, who he said are often aggressive, he
found his Turkish teachers to be calm and patient. Moreover,
enrollment at a Turkish school meant you could successfully
complete your exams without having to pay corrupt public
school teachers for private tutoring. Salum, who is 23,
recently completed one year of Turkish language training at
Gazi University, and intends to begin studying math at
Ankara's prestigious English-language Middle East Technical

ANKARA 00001331 002 OF 003

University (METU). His experience, he said, has instilled in
him a desire to serve his country and be a teacher, and
perhaps even Education Minister one day.

6. (SBU) Salum's experience, along with that of another
student with whom we met, Bedar, an Albanian graduate of a
Turkish high school currently studying at Hacettepe
University in Ankara, illustrated how the schools' graduates
grow the Gulenist movement worldwide. University students,
like Salum and Bedar, coming from provincial Anatolia or
abroad, are often in need of housing when they attend Turkish
universities in Istanbul, Ankara and other large cities. On
the campuses of these cities there are Gulenist communities.
According to the Samanyolu teachers, the students lodge with
these communities, eventually become "members," join "the
education department," and go abroad as teachers.

7. (SBU) Gulenist schools are well established in Turkey and
the procedures for opening a new school are clear, Servet
told us; there are about 300 in operation. The number of
schools in eastern Turkey is growing, but there is no fixed
geographic plan, only "to be everywhere," he said. Local
businessmen facilitate new school openings. For example,
there are numerous schools in commercial centers, like Konya,
Antalya and Istanbul, whereas in Van there is only one. But
the teachers noted proudly that there is now one Gulenist
school in almost every Turkish province. Mehmet underscored
Fetullah Gulen's teaching philosophy that instructs his
followers to "open up to humanity." "Whomever is not
everywhere is nowhere," Mehmet said, quoting Gulen. "You
must be globalized to be localized." Servet added that
teaching is "an activity that places humanity at its center,"
allowing Gulen's followers to set good examples and implement
Gulen's philosophy. The philosophy is more important than
the technique, said Servet.

8. (SBU) According to Servet, tuition at top-performing
Gulenist schools in Turkey (about $10,000 per year) is
generally less than at other private schools in Turkey, even
as the schools offer instruction in English and their
graduates generally out-perform other students in Turkey.
Scholarships are available, and many of the schools target
underprivileged students and neighborhoods, both in Turkey
and abroad (though Gulenist schools often educate the middle
class and elite in countries outside of Turkey). We met one
American citizen high school student of Albanian descent who
is on a three-week exchange, residing with the Turkish family
of a Samanyolu student. He described positively his
experience at a Turkish-run math and science academy in
Chicago. His school primarily serves African-American
students and students of Mexican descent, he said. He
emphasized the importance his teachers place on traveling and
competing in math and science fairs, which he said he and his
colleagues often win. Turkish is an elective at his school,
but other foreign languages are also taught.

9. (SBU) The teachers described a lack of official ties
between their schools abroad, the local Turkish Embassy and
local representatives of other Turkish government agencies,
such as the Turkish Agency for International Development
(TIKA). The local Turkish Ambassador will often attend
school ceremonies and graduations, but that is about the
extent of the relationship. In fact, in many of the
countries where Gulenist schools operate, such as in
Afghanistan, the Turkish Ministry of Education administers an
official Turkish state school. Mehmet noted, however, that
TIKA, for the first time last year, co-sponsored the sixth
annual "Turkish Language Olympics," which brings Turkish
language students from around the world to Turkey, indicating
a renewed GOT interest in these schools' capacity to help
promote Turkish culture, even if it is not a primary
objective. (NOTE: The GOT will sometimes cite indirectly
Gulenist schools -- euphemistically known as "Turkish NGO
schools" -- in their statistics describing Turkish
development assistance abroad. END NOTE.) One exception to
the non-official nature of these schools abroad is northern
Iraq, according to Mehmet. There, the GOT has sought to

ANKARA 00001331 003 OF 003

engage more directly with the schools. He noted that Barzani
and Talabani grandchildren all attend Gulenist schools in
northern Iraq, as do Iraqi Arab, Turkmen and other Kurdish

10. (SBU) Asked why suspicion of the Gulenist community
exists in Turkey, Mehmet replied that those who accuse Gulen
of surreptitious activities are projecting their own fears
and intentions on him. "I am as I look and I will be the
same," he said, quoting the Mevlana. There is no evidence of
Gulen or his supporters trying to direct politics, he
stressed; this is not a political movement, but a way of
life. "It is only a political problem for certain people."
Mehmet did not shrink away from describing the Gulenist
movement as an "Islamic movement," but noted that its
philosophy stands in contrast to radicalism or
fundamentalism. For example, the movement is restricted by
the governments of Syria and Iran from operating schools
there. Emphasizing the movement's humanistic aspect, he said
Gulen's followers do not preach religious teaching; they only
try to set an example through their lifestyles. (NOTE: In
response to suspicions about the schools, Gulen has said he
would not oppose the state taking over the financing and/or
direct operation of (his movement's) educational activities,
so long as the activities somehow continue. END NOTE.)

11. (SBU) Commenting on the ongoing political upheavals in
Turkey, Servet expressed a note of confidence. The Turkish
nation, he said, bounces back quickly from every political or
economic crisis. A political party (i.e., AKP) might be
closed, but better days are on the horizon, followed by
economic growth. Mehmet added that Turkish society is active
and lively, while the state is moribund. This will change
and democracy will succeed. If the EU process is pursued
actively, he said, Turkey will achieve this more quickly.
The government, he opined, slowed down the EU process; if it
had not, Turkey would not be facing the problems it is today.
Both teachers expressed a sense of admiration for the
American political system, observing that whichever political
party is elected, there is a fundamental consensus in the
U.S. about the country's principles and values.

12. (C) Samanyolu High School teachers and administrators
have undoubtedly much to be proud of. Their students are
high-achievers; their facility, compared to the average
Turkish public school, is first rate; and they have promoted
valuable -- and rare -- cross cultural exchanges among Turks
and the rest of the world, especially in the developing
world. Given this and other Gulenist schools' concrete,
positive achievements, it is difficult to see how the
schools, or the Gulenist movement of which they are the
vanguard, constitute any threat to Turkey's secular
democratic order. But suspicions run deep among Turks
outside the movement, even among those without a strong
secular pre-disposition. One Ankara University professor, an
ethnic Uighur with whom we recently spoke, who is familiar
with the work of Gulenist schools in Central Asia, offered an
old Chinese saying: "Don't trust the man who reads only one
book." Gulenist school students, especially those who are
boarding away from home, have their reading and television
strictly controlled, he said. He recalled an academic
colleague who sent his son to a Gulenist school. The son has
excelled in physics, but he now, for example, criticizes the
father for drinking raki at dinner (a national pastime for
Turks), and the father laments that he has lost his son.
Analogies between Gulen and the Ayatollah Khomenei, the
professor suggested, are misplaced. Gulenists do not seek to
dramatically overthrow Turkey's secular order; the change
they seek is within.

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