Graduates of Turkish High Schools in Azerbaijani
Alasgar Nahmadov studied for four years starting in 1998 in what is now known as the Fethullah Gulen schools and its other educational institutions, and graduated from Baku Private Turkish High School.
He later received a degree from the University of Languages and worked as an English teacher in the same high school where he studied earlier.
Today, he lives in the US.
“Every Monday and Friday we had to recite the national anthems of Azerbaijan and Turkey. The 3-color flag waved proudly over our heads and we were proud of it,” says Alasgar.
After the July 15 coup attempt, there have been criminal proceedings against the Gulen movement in Turkey.
In a press statement, the Azerbaijani Attorney General’s Office accused the Hizmet Movement – led by Fethullah Gulen – of engaging in and promoting social and religious hatred and hostility.
However, Alasgar Nahmadov says this is nothing but a smear campaign.
“Unfortunately, many people in our country receive their information from highly – biased sources. They don’t see the need to use alternative and independent sources,” he says.
Mehmet Orhan, a Ganja Private Turkish High School graduate now living in Germany, believes that Azerbaijan is proving its loyalty and friendship to Turkey by arresting alleged members of the Hizmet movement.
“International organizations are not involved in the reports of arrested Fetullah supporters. This time, people aren’t being arrested on drug charges, but being accused of being Fetullah supporters,” Orhan said.
Gulen schools and religion
Turkish high schools that belong to Çağ (Modern) Educational Enterprises opened in 1992 and began operations in Baku and Sumgayit.
Later, the high school opened branches in various other regions of Azerbaijan.
In these schools, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and English classes were taught alongside classes in religion (ethics).
According to Orhan, during the first year, the subjects were discipline and morality. After that, the subjects were called Islamic History.
Huseyn Qurbanov, a graduate from a Turkish school, says that he didn’t feel impacted by the period of religious and ideological studies.
“No one pushed us to read any religious books or gave us any religious text without asking for it,” Huseyin says.
He says it is not true that it was mandatory to read Gulen’s books.
“Often, I have seen online or talked with friends who didn’t study at my school that they believed we were being forced and pushed to read Gulen’s books, which I found absurd,” the graduate says.
The head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations of Azerbaijan, Mubariz Qurbanli, said that Gulen’s books, according to experts, have a masked message of intolerance to other religions.
Alasgar does not agree with the committee’s view. “I don’t know how this expert arrived at this opinion without solid facts. I have never seen any opinions against the state, nation or government in those books.”
Huseyn Qurbanov says he has read a few of Gulen’s books, and this is the first time he has heard there was a veiled message of intolerance to other religions.
“Actually, I read in a few of his books about inter-faith dialogue,” he said.
Orhan says one of the main goals of Hizmet is extended contact with other religions and ideas.
Ironically, a number of Gulen’s supporters enjoy the closest of relations with the government of Azerbaijan and have the highest level of government support.
“Even the teachers cut off relations with us because we are the opposition. Fethullah supporters are being persecuted when they were just interested in going to school and work”, Orhan says.
The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan took control of the activity of the Gulen movement’s Çağ Educational Enterprises in all high schools and Araz University preparation courses in 2014.
After the coup attempt in July of this year inTurkey, the dean of Qafqaz University was dismissed, and the university was informed about the transfer of the management to Baku Higher Oil School.
The Turkish government claims Gulen, who is currently living in the US, üas behind the July 15 coup attempt and demand his extradition from the United States.
Mr. Gulen denies the accusations.
Turkey wants Azerbaijan to shut down all of Gulen’s schools and universities in Azerbaijan.
Huseyn Qurbanov says the closure of educational institutions which belong to Hizmet concern him.
“Azerbaijan doing so at the behest of Turkey makes me feel bad. To me, we should act like Kyrgyzstan in this case,” Huseyn said.
The Turkish government sent an request to close the Gulen schools in other countries, but not all of them reacted positively to the order. The Kyrgyz government has rejected the demands of the closure of the schools.
After July 15
Hussein says that the high school teachers who taught him found him online and said they are still teaching for the same school, the only way they know how to teach.
“Before all of these things happened, we had our graduations and everyone joined those events. However, after the change of the board of directors, all of those events have been canceled,” adds the graduate.
Alasgar Nahmadov recalls the good memories from where he graduated 18 years ago and later worked as a teacher.
He says that the high school ushered in a new era in his education and doesn’t regret getting his education or later teaching there.
“It was the best 10 years of my life; how can I forget or grieve over them? No, I’m sorry. If I had the opportunity, I would be happy to teach there again. I want my children to be happy and study there.”
This article was originally published in Azerbaijani by the
BBC Azerbaijani Service.