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Erdogan vs. Gulen in Europe

Fabian von der Mark / sgbJuly 29, 2016

Turkey is taking on the Gulen movement any way it can. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expects European countries to help him take action against his political enemies.

Türkei Aussenminister Mevlut Cavusoglu und Präsident Erdogan
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/F.-A. Warsameh

If it were up to the Turkish foreign minister, the matter would be clear: Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Germany to extradite judges and prosecutors of the "parallel state" - meaning the Gulen movement. German politicians are unconvinced. Among those Ankara wants handed over are a pair of state's attorneys who fled Turkey last summer. Berlin let it be known there was "no evidence the two prosecutors are actually residing in Germany."

A high bar for extradition

And even if they were in Germany, it would not be easy for Turkey to bring about their extradition. The request would have to be made through diplomatic channels - and would thus arrive at the German Foreign Ministry.

Then the justice system would come into play - or more precisely, the prosecutor and court with jurisdiction. For extradition to be an option under German law, a foreign citizen would have to be given a prison sentence.

And even then, the Foreign Ministry and the Federal Office of Justice could still veto the extradition. In 2014 German courts approved only 19 of 46 Turkish extradition requests.

Turkey demands inspections of German schools

Türkei Aussenminister Mevlut Cavusoglu
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Germany to extradite two prosecutorsImage: Reuters/U. Bektas

Meanwhile, it became known on Friday that Ankara has also requested inspections of schools, institutions and associations in Germany. Turkey sent a written request to the state government of Baden-Württemberg to "re-evaluate" schools allegedly linked to Gulen.

State Premier Winfried Kretschmann, a member of the Green Party, was quoted in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" as saying he "would do no such thing, of course" and that he was "highly surprised."

As for one Stuttgart school, Kretschmann said, "This is a German school where teaching follows the Baden-Württemberg syllabus and not that of Mr. Gulen."

Balkan purges

But it is not only in Germany that schools and associations have been targeted by the Turkish government. The purge under Erdogan after the foiled coup has also targeted educational institutions in Southeast Europe.

Ankara has lodged direct and indirect demands to shut down the "Gulen schools." In several Southeast European countries with a Turkish minority, a network of private schools has existed since the early 1990s.

Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish preacher in US exile and Erdogan's declared nemesis, is the initiator of a global private school network financed by fees and donations. In the Balkans, they are regarded as a welcome alternative to the often outdated state education system, and their students often produce very good results.

Turkish pressure

Ankara's behavior has aroused uncertainty and indignation in all these countries. In Romania, representatives of several schools have informed the government that the Turkish consulate in the port city of Constanta on the Black Sea had called for their closure. Bucharest says there has so far been no official request from Ankara. The Romanian Ministry of Education said it firmly rejected any such demands and gave its assurance that schools would not be closed.

Türkei Premier Binali Yildirim mit hohen Militärs vor dem Treffen des Militärrats in Ankara
Prime Minister Yildirim with high ranking members of the unpurged militaryImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Anadolu/H. Goktepe

There are similar reports from neighboring Bulgaria. Turkish embassy staff put parents and students under intense pressure to look for other schools, telling them the closure of their old school was imminent.

In Bosnia, the Turkish ambassador called on the government and parents to take action against the schools, which he described as "terrorist organizations." In the Macedonian capital, Skopje, the association representing the Turkish minority demanded the "cleansing" of "traitors" who it said had arrived in the country from Turkey.

Ankara is demanding not only the closure of schools, but also the "punishment" of critical journalists. The ironic commentaries of prominent Kosovar journalist Berat Buzhala about the coup in Turkey provoked a violent reaction from the Turkish embassy in Pristina. It called on the Kosovo government to take legal action against Buzhala. Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj called this demand unacceptable and completely disproportionate.

Erdogan feels misunderstood

Prosecutors, schools, journalists - the attempts by the Turkish government to impose its domestic conflicts on other countries are growing. And as European politicians resist Erdogan's interference, the Turkish president says he feels misunderstood. The West, he said, should be praising Turkey for its defeat of the coup, rather than taking the side of the rebels.