The Albanian government has closed a school and kindergarten in Tirana reportedly linked to opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leading to accusations the decisions are politically motivated.
Kolegji Turk Mehmet Akif Ersoy and the Zubeyde Hanim kindergarten, the latter part of the Tugurt Ozal network, have both been forced to close due to decisions from the government. Both are reportedly linked to an organisation backing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, fiercely opposed by Erdogan and accused of being a terrorist group for their alleged but unproven part in the 2016 failed coup d’etat.
In January 2022, Erdogan addressed the Albanian parliament, stating, “A precondition to our support and brotherhood is your commitment to the fight against FETÖ,” using a name designated to the organisation and its followers by Turkey.
In 2020, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Gulenists- followers of Gulen- are “not only a threat to Turkey but to countries where they are located,” adding that they must be returned to Turkey, reminding the government that they “expect the support and contribution of Albania” in education and other matters.
In the case of the Akif Ersoy institution, the decision does not specify the reason for closure but instead states staff must prepare the files of all children for transfer to other schools. Additionally, the school is required to cover all costs for the procedure while returning all tuition fees to parents, already paid for the school year.
In a statement, Education Minister Evis Kushi said, “The Ministry of Education and Sports is in any case responsible for guaranteeing the standards, safety and well-being of students. Therefore, in compliance with the law and in support of the 160 students and their families, it will take all necessary measures to transfer the students to schools that meet the criteria and operating standards. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education and Sports underlines that the revocation of the said license has nothing to do with the various speculations about the causes of this decision.”
According to Top Channel, a media close to the government, “The private college “Mehmet Akif Ersoy”, located in Tirana, is part of the Gulistan foundation supported by Fejtulla Gülen, the Turkish philanthropist declared wanted by Turkey. It was Turkish President Erdogan himself who made the request to Albania to close Gülenist schools.”
The Zubeyde Hanim kindergarten sent a letter home to parents informing them of the imminent closure of the kindergarten and stating the reason as government intervention. The Ministry of Education reported the site did not have a license to operate as a kindergarten, something the management denies.
A part of the Dutch-owned Turgut Ozal group, the kidnergarten said it has filed in the Administrative Court, to cancel the order and they have also notified all foreign institutions in the country.
Turgut Ozal school was itself targeted in 2020 when police raided the building, seized student registers and various documents and took photographs of students, without a court order or any official documentation. The school filed criminal complaints with the authorities and accused the government of targeting them for political reasons.
The management of the Turgot Ozal school which has several campuses, plus kindergartens and universities is set to hold a press conference on Friday in Tirana.
These actions against the school come less than a week after Turkish citizen Emre Olsur was deported to Turkey where he is wanted for a raft of crimes.
Olur, press advisor to mafia boss Sedat Peker who was also a whistleblower against the government, was arrested at Tirana International Airport on Sunday and deported back to Istanbul.
Olur’s Albanian lawyer, Arben Llangozi, said he was deported without undergoing the correct legal process, adding he had requested asylum in Albania, fearing his life would be in danger if he returned to Turkey.
Under the law, an asylum request can be made verbally or in writing and must go through all proper legal channels. Considering the short time frame between his landing in Tirana and being deported (several hours), concerns have been raised that the law was not followed.
“The law on asylum made in 2021, clearly defines that when a foreigner addresses the country with an asylum request, he must be taken immediately to a designated place of residence and provided a temporary residence permit as the process takes six months, and he cannot be deported immediately.”
But this is not the first time this has happened.
In 2019, Turkish citizen Harun Celik entered Albania with a fake passport and tried to seek asylum but was deported without having the opportunity to appeal the decision in a move described by the Albanian ombudsman as violating national law and international conventions.
Selami Simsek, who entered the country with Celik, was also set to be deported. He was denied asylum by the Directorate of Asylum and Citizenship on 9 March 2020 and 10 September 2020, but fought his case and won.
The EU and various MEPs condemned the moves and called on the government to ensure compliance with the Geneva Refugee Convention.
In July 2020, United Nations rapporteurs found that the Turkish government had signed a number of “secret agreements” with various states to enable systematic “extraterritorial abductions and the forcible return of Turkish nationals”.
At the time, they reported more than 100 people had been subject to “arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture” due to collaboration between the Turkish government and countries such as Albania, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Gabon, Afghanistan, and Cambodia.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the Turkish and Albanian governments remains close with the former investing millions into Albania every year including building homes for those displaced by the earthquake, providing COVID vaccines, and building hospitals.
Exit contacted the European Commission about the case of Olur and they said they are trying to find out more information and will revert in due course.