Georgia Closes Gülen-Affiliated School in Batumi

The National Center for Education Quality Enhancement (NCEQE), an agency at the Georgian Ministry of Education, which studies conformity of educational institutions with the standards set by the Georgian legislation, decided to close down the Batumi Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, operated by the Chaglar Educational Institutions, a Gülen-affiliated network in Georgia.

The NCEQE authorization council cancelled the school “authorization,” a certificate required for any institution to carry out high educational activities in Georgia, at its meeting on February 3, citing “significant problems with respect to student enrolment.”

The decision led to an outcry among teachers, parents and students of the school, who are arguing that the move is “politically-motivated.”

Principal of Batumi Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, Elguja Davitadze, issued an open letter to the Prime Minister of Georgia, naming the NCEQE decision as “illegal.”

“The reason for cancelling the authorization was the transfer of six non-Georgian students from Turkish-language classes to Georgian-language classes, in the absence of any law or regulation with respect to changing the sectors, but the termination of the Turkish sector and [the subsequent] transfer of students to the Georgian sector was implemented in accordance with the decision of the very same authorization council on September 4, 2015,” Davitadze stated in the letter.

Davitadze added that the NCEQE conducted “unplanned” monitoring process ”three times in the past few months” based on “artificially-created” and “non-existent” reasons. “The decision raises questions that it is part of a deliberate policy of restricting and barring the work of the Şahin School in Georgia,” he added.

Davitadze called on the Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili to “protect rights of 340 students, their parents and teachers” and do not allow “illegal closure of the school, which has been in the country’s service for many years.”

Education Minister Aleksandre Jejelava, who commented on the issue February 6, said that the school violated “concrete” legal requirements.

“Unfortunately, the school, as well as other schools, the authorization of which was also cancelled, did not meet concrete, very concrete legal requirements and you can verify this with the NCEQE, that Georgian schools are also monitored just like the Turkish and French schools,” Jejelava stated.

He also added that the school documentation “did not comply” with legal requirements, “in other words the documentation of school students was not complete.”

Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili, who commented on the issue on February 6, linked the decision to “the political processes” in Turkey.

“Political processes of the neighboring country should not be reflected on the country’s educational institutions, which are registered by our legislation, have certification and work in compliance with legislation,” Nanuashvili explained.

The Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI), Tbilisi-based religious and ethnic minority rights group, who met the school principal on February 4, issued a statement s day later, saying that the decision “raised questions” and that it “might be politically-motivated.”

“The school was granted authorization for a five-year term on September 4, 2015. The decree of the National Center for Education Quality Enhancement on October 5, 2015 ordered the school to cancel the Turkish sector and gradually transfer the students to the Georgian sector. After that, the school administration and the National Center for Education Quality Enhancement elaborated a joint plan on transferring the students from the Turkish to the Georgian sector. In the 2016-2017 academic year, remaining 10 Turkish-speaking students were enrolled in the Georgian sector, which was positively assessed by the National Center for Education Quality Enhancement at its monitoring conducted on November, 2016. The second and unplanned monitoring took place on January 20, 2017 and the January 24 monitoring report identified violations with respect to enrollment rules,” the statement reads.

The Tolerance and Diversity Institute noted “the concurrence between the authorization cancellation and the events in Turkey” and added that the organization will produce a detailed legal assessment later.

The NCEQE decision comes just months after Ankara has raised its “concerns” with Tbilisi over schools affiliated to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whose followers Turkey blames for a failed coup.

When speaking about failed coup in Turkey and about Ankara’s official line accusing Fethullah Gülen of being behind the coup attempt, consul general Yasin Temizkan said on July 16, 2016 in an interview with  two Batumi-based television channels, TV25 and Adjara’s public broadcaster, that followers of Gülen movement are “strengthening their positions through their schools and education institutions, raising generations serving not the state, but this terrorist group and regrettably there are schools of this group in Georgia” too.

He specifically named private Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, which was opened in Batumi more than twenty years ago, and called on the Georgian parents not to send their children to this school. Temizkan also said that the Turkish side would soon appeal the Georgian authorities with the request to close down Gülen-affiliated education institutions in Georgia.

After meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Gigi Gigiadze on July 18, Turkey’s Ambassador to Georgia Levent Gümrükçü claimed that the consul’s remarks were “misrepresented” by media. “We conveyed to our Georgian partners our concerns as to the international activities of the Fethullah terrorist organization, including their links to and management of certain schools worldwide,” Gümrükçü said.