I was very interested to read your article about Turkish academics seeking asylum in the West and I thank you for it (“Turkey’s purge of academia leads to record asylum requests”, News, 16 September). I lived in Istanbul for many years. During my time there I worked with teachers and schools across the country. Many of those schools have now been closed down and many of those teachers have lost their jobs and had their teaching certificates revoked. Many of my friends have lost everything.
I find it upsetting that the British press uses language about Gulenists such as “shadowy organisation” and “infiltrating the state”. Nobody in Turkey discusses their politics. All politics is seen as shadowy except for that of the leading party at the time – now Erdoğanists and before that the Ataturkists. When I started teaching in Istanbul, I was told specifically not to bring up politics in class. Of course, there are “Gulenists” working in state institutions just as there are people from all political parties and social movements. It’s like saying Catholics have infiltrated the state in the UK. What is wrong with wealthy businessmen donating their income to build schools and universities? Isn’t that something to be admired – redistribution of wealth? It happens in the UK. Do we call it shadowy? No, we don’t.
Many girls of my age couldn’t go to school in Turkey because there weren’t schools in their villages. There weren’t enough state schools across the country.
Fethullah Gulen believes passionately in education and that all people should have the chance to be educated, which they didn’t have in his day. He is a very moderate and highly educated Muslim. I am not at all religious myself but as someone who believes in education too, I have come to admire and respect the man for what he has achieved for his country. He has given villagers the opportunity to be well educated, and some of them, naturally, have gone on to be lawyers, teachers, doctors and university professors. What is wrong with that? I went to a Moravian Missionary School in the 1970s. There were practising Christian teachers there but not one person ever asked me if I believe in God and I certainly didn’t leave school a Moravian. I just left with an education and happy memories. People in the UK try desperately to get their children into Catholic schools.
What is happening in Turkey now is tragic – I could write pages on it. Thousands of ordinary innocent people have had their lives destroyed.
Thank you so much for your article. I know it means a lot to people in Turkey that you are aware of their situation.
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