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Turkey's post-coup purge leaves children short of teachers

Chase Winter
September 19, 2016

Hundreds of thousands of children in Turkey are starting the school year without teachers following post-coup purges and conflict. A major teachers union has warned of chaos and uncertainty.

Türkei Schulkinder
Image: picture-alliance/blickwinkel/imagesandstories

Nearly 19 million children in Turkey on Monday returned to school for the first time since July's failed coup attempt under a state of emergency, as the school system braces for an uncertain and chaotic year.

In the wake of the failed coup by a faction within the military, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party have purged tens of thousands of people in the judiciary, military, civil service and education sector over alleged links to the coup plotters.

On the first day of school, students from elementary school to high school received a pamphlet (pictured in tweet), "The triumph of democracy on July 15 and in memory of the martyrs," explaining the coup and will watch two videos.

The government blames US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers for the coup attempt, in which more than 200 people were killed and jets bombed parliament. The government says Gulenists infiltrated the state in a bid to take over the country.

Followers of Gulen, who place a high value on education, have a strong presence in the school sector. The movement ran hundreds of schools in the country and university prep schools.

Nearly 28,000 teachers with alleged ties to Gulen have been suspended or dismissed, while another 11,000 teachers with suspected ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) will also not be returning to the classroom.

Egitim Sen, Turkey's largest teachers union, said in a statement Monday that the government's "illegal and unjust" policies against teachers would lead to an "uncertain and chaotic" school year.

"September 19 isn't only the day schools open, it's also the first day broad segments of society -- teachers, students and parents --will come face to face with a heavy set of problems," it said in a statement demanding the reinstatement of dismissed teachers. It warned that one million children would be without a teacher.

Egitim Sen, joined by others including the public workers union, plan a number of protests against what they describe as a witch hunt.

In addition to those dismissed, some 25,000 teachers retired or were moved to management last year. The Ministry of Education also needed to hire 65,000 new teachers. As a result, Turkey faces a teacher gap of 130,000, according to "Cumhuriyet" newspaper.

There are concerns that in a bid to quickly fill the education gap the government may hire unqualified and inexperienced teachers.

The government has also closed down some 1,000 schools alleged to have ties to Gulen and in a controversial move turned 80 percent into Imam Hatip Islamic preacher training schools.

Hundreds of dormitories housing students, many of them girls from poor rural areas in the east, have also been closed.

Fighting between the PKK and military has meanwhile left several towns severely destroyed and displaced a half a million people, including children.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned teachers to be on guard against many lurking dangers in a message to mark the start of the school year.

"Unfortunately, members of the Gulenist terror organization have infiltrated a number of institutions in a cruel bid to destroy the state, which was revealed on July 15," Yildirim said in a statement to teachers published on state media Anatolia Agency. "I'm imploring you, do not tolerate any Gulenists or separatist movements (PKK) among you."

In this comic, Erdogan (L) says: "Teach about the July 15 coup." Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz replies: "That would be nice, but we didn't leave any teachers to explain the coup, we dismissed them all."

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