Ankara has raised its “concerns” with Tbilisi over schools affiliated to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whose followers Turkey blames for a failed coup.
“We conveyed to our Georgian partners our concerns as to the international activities of the Fethullah terrorist organization, including their links to and management of certain schools worldwide,” Turkey’s ambassador to Georgia, Zeki Levent Gümrükçü, said on July 18.
“As in other friendly and partner countries, we will keep discussing these issues with the relevant Georgian authorities within the framework of the already excellent level of cooperation we have between our countries relating to security issues,” he said.
The Turkish diplomat made the remarks after he was summoned by the Georgian Foreign Ministry over comments made two days earlier by Turkey’s consul general in Georgia’s Black Sea port and resort city of Batumi, close to the Turkish border.
When speaking about failed coup in Turkey and about Ankara’s official line accusing Fethullah Gülen of being behind the coup attempt, consul general Yasin Temizkan said on July 16 in an interview with two Batumi-based television channels, TV25 and Adjara’s public broadcaster, that followers of Gülen movement are “strengthening their positions through their schools and education institutions, raising generations serving not the state, but this terrorist group and regrettably there are schools of this group in Georgia” too.
He specifically named private Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, which was opened in Batumi more than twenty years ago, and called on the Georgian parents not to send their children to this school.
Temizkan also said that the Turkish side would soon appeal the Georgian authorities with the request to close down Gülen-affiliated education institutions in Georgia.
Remarks led to an outcry among teachers and graduates of the school, who were reacting on social media networks and media interviews by saying that they were insulted with these groundless allegation of the Turkish consul general in Batumi.
After meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Gigi Gigiadze on July 18, Turkey’s Ambassador to Georgia Levent Gümrükçü claimed that the consul’s remarks were “misrepresented” by media.
“We just had a good meeting with Deputy Minister Gigi Gigiadze about the interview of our consul general in Batumi and I told him that the interview of the Turkish consul general has been misrepresented in the media,” Gümrükçü said.
“We think that there was a misinterpretation of his [consul’s] statement. In any case, neither he, nor we did say that those, who are going to these particular schools in Georgia for their education or the graduates of these schools, are terrorists; this is a complete misunderstanding,” the Turkish diplomat said, but also added that Ankara conveyed its concerns regarding international activities of Gülen movement, including over its links to “certain schools worldwide.”
Both of the Batumi-based broadcasters, which aired consul’s remarks, denied accusations of misinterpreting the interview and released unedited video footage involving consul general Yasin Temizkan speaking with journalists in Turkish via consulate’s interpreter.
Unedited video also shows that after voicing his allegation over the school, one of the journalists tells the consul general that it is a serious accusation and asks him to elaborate. The consul responded that he mentioned it just as “background information” and asked the journalists not to use it now as the Turkish side was going to make a separate statement on the issue of Gülen-affiliated schools later.
Principal of Batumi Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, Elguja Davitadze, dismissed the consul’s allegation as “utter absurd” and said that the school follows the Georgian state curriculum. Six private schools, among them Şahin Friendship School, all part of Chaglar Educational Institutions network in Georgia, condemned the Turkish consul’s remarks in a joint statement.
Georgia’s Education Minister, Alexandre Jejelava, said on July 18 that Gülen-affiliated schools are accredited in compliance with the Georgian legislation and education courses there are in line with the Georgian state curriculum. He also said that as of now there is no evidence that would substantiate allegations about these schools having links to any illegal activities.
Jejelava also said that the issue would be raised when the Georgian delegation, led by PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili, visits Ankara on July 19.
In a brief comment on the issue, PM Kvirikashvili told journalists on July 18 that the Foreign Ministry had already reacted and “I think that the misunderstanding is now already over.”
PM Kvirikashvili’s visit to Ankara had been planned long before the failed coup in Turkey.
The first high-level meeting of Georgia-Turkey strategic cooperation council is planned in Ankara on July 19.
“PM Kvirikashvili stressed that strong and democratic Turkey is key to the regional development and stability and reaffirmed support to the democratically elected government,” the Georgian PM’s office said on July 18 in a readout of a phone conversation between the Turkish and Georgian prime ministers ahead of the visit.