Georgia’s Ministry of Education has revoked the teaching authorisation of a Turkish school in Tbilisi, the Private Demirel College, effectively shutting down the school. The ministry confirmed the decision to OC Media on 30 August.
The ministry’s Council of Authorisation of Secondary Schools made the decision on 29 August, details of which will be published in 10 days.
In an interview with OC Media, Gia Murghulia, deputy head the council, said that the school’s five-year term of authorisation had expired, and that they declined to renew it because of ‘several wrongdoings’.
‘Enrollment and assessment of students and creating individual curricula for them took place in an unrealistic amount of time’, Murghulia said, explaining that on paper, it appeared that a number of students had passed 6–7 exams on the same day.
Murghulia, a school director in Tbilisi himself, called this a ‘major error with signs of criminality’, saying that the council has advised the ministry to forward the case to Georgia’s Prosecutor’s Office. According to him, ‘there were additional wrongdoings’.
‘We are not interested in political aspects’, Murghulia said when asked if the decision was connected to Turkey’s crackdown on schools connected with Turkish opposition figure Fethullah Gülen.
The decision comes 16 days before school starts in Georgia. Murghulia claims the time is enough for the students of the college to find alternative schools.
Demirel manager arrested
A manager at the college, Mustafa Emre Çabuk, was arrested in Tbilisi on 24 May after a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım to Georgia. He was accused of ‘supporting a terrorist organisation’ and proceedings to extradite him to Turkey were initiated.
The move was seen as a continuation of Turkey’s efforts to shut down schools associated with Fethullah Gülen, former Islamic Cleric and a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The ‘Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO)’ is how Turkish authorities have named the movement, ‘FETO’ is considered a terrorist group only by Turkey. Demirel denies any connection to Gülen or his organisation.
After rights groups urged authorities not to extradite him, Georgia temporarily halted the extradition process while the Ministry of Refugees considered his application, however this was denied in July and proceedings resumed.
Following Çabuk’s arrest, Georgia’s Minister of Education Aleksandre Jejelava said that there had been no specific demand from Turkey to detain Çabuk, but added that they are ‘doing their best to defend students from ideological pressure’.
‘I do not think that the detention of this person will cause any problems for Demirel College, and secondly, the school is of the utmost importance to the Georgian education system, as are the other 3,000 schools [in Georgia]’, Jejelava added.
Crackdown on Gülen institutions in Georgia
Çabuk, a citizen of Turkey currently residing in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, is not the first to be detained allegedly for being connected to Fethullah Gülen. Turkish businessman Sinan Saraç was detained in Georgia earlier in May for ‘supporting FETO’.
Another school, Şahin lyceum in Batumi, had its license revoked by Georgia’s Ministry of Education In early 2017, after the Turkish Consul in Batumi claimed that the school ‘raises terrorists’.
The private International Black Sea University in Tbilisi is also reportedly associated with the Gülen movement.