The crazy connection between Turkey, the USA, and Cambodia

I was amazed by the recent coup attempt in Turkey. Although it was poorly planned and implemented, it will likely have lasting consequences, especially for US-Turkey relations. The main issue is Fethullah Gulen, the former Imam who is in self-exile in Pennsylvania, USA. The President of Turkey,  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, blames Gulen for the coup and wants him extradited to Turkey. The USA isn’t expected to oblige, thus straining already difficult relations. (Relations have been difficult because the Syrian Kurds, who are the strongest and US-favored ground opponents of ISIS, are anathema to Turkey because of possible irredentist connections with Turkish Kurds.)  Of course, it is unlikely Gulen was behind the failed coup; nevertheless, Erdoğan is capitalizing on the coup attempt by making it an excuse to consolidate power, particularly taking aim at Gulen and his followers.

And there are many followers of Gulen. One issue about Gulen that hasn’t made much news of late is his massive network of US charter schools.  Seriously. The movement associated with Gulen operates the second largest network of charter schools in the USA, only behind KIPP. The Gulen Movement, as it is know, runs charter schools around the country that receive US-tax payer money to operate. As charter schools go they have private boards and are not required to disclose financial or management reports. Taxpayers don’t know where their money goes or what decisions are being made inside Gulen charter schools. There are all sort of issues that arise from Gulen’s charter schools, but let’s push those aside for a moment.

The story gets a bit weirder and crosses additional borders. Today I read an article about Zaman International Schools in Cambodia. I’ve heard of the schools many times as some of the best in the country. Many government officials whom I know personally send their children to Zaman. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in Turkey, Erdoğan’s reach knows no limits. The Turkish Ambassador to Cambodia would now “like to see this Zaman group in Cambodia end all its activities in the near future” because of its ties to Gulen. Some backstory sheds light on the connection: Zaman International School was founded by Atilla Yusuf Guleker, a former journalist of the Turkish daily Zaman. Zaman was openly critical of Erdoğan and, in March of this year, taken over by military officials loyal to the President.

  1. The failed coup in Turkey has shed light on the educational politics of Gulen both in the USA and in Cambodia. What other countries operate schools associated with the Gulen movement? Although these schools appear to teach national curricula, what are the underlying motives behind operating schools — ideological advancement? building sympathetic relationships? financial support of other Gulen movement activities?