You are here

Back to school in Turkey after post-coup teacher purge

By AFP - Sep 19,2016 - Last updated at Sep 19,2016

ISTANBUL — Turkish schools reopened on Monday for the first time since July’s attempted coup, following a summer which saw tens of thousands of teachers sacked or suspended over alleged links to the plotters or to Kurdish rebels.

As more than 18 million children began the new term after the summer break, Huseyin Ozev, president of the Istanbul teachers’ union, told AFP there were fears the academic year would begin with “chaos” because of huge staff shortages.

After a rogue military faction tried to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ankara embarked on a massive crackdown, dismissing and detaining tens of thousands within the judiciary, the police and the education system over alleged links to the putschists.

Students arriving at school on Monday were handed pamphlets from the education ministry commemorating “the triumph of democracy on July 15 and in memory of the martyrs” as well as their usual school books.

Pupils were being shown two videos about the coup, the ministry said, including footage of Erdogan reading the national anthem alongside images from the night of the coup showing tanks and war planes firing in the capital Ankara.

One video shows the moment when people took to the streets in their thousands in Istanbul and Ankara to counter the coup attempt, which claimed nearly 270 lives, among them 24 putschists.

In schoolyards, students observed a minute of silence for the victims and a prayer was said. 

Authorities have blamed the coup attempt on Erdogan’s arch-enemy, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, and followers of his moderate Islamic “Hizmet” (Service) movement which encourages its members to work in the public sector.

Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the United States, strongly denies any involvement in the coup, and the mass crackdown on his alleged supporters has sparked alarm among Turkey’s Western allies.


‘We are teachers, not terrorists’ 


Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned teachers not to “tolerate” those working for Gulen — whose movement it refers to as the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) — or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Dear teachers, never tolerate among your colleagues those who serve FETO or the separatists,” Yildirim said in a televised speech during a visit to a school in the eastern province of Erzincan.

Union Chief Ozev warned that children’s education could suffer if inexperienced teachers were called in to fill the staffing shortages after the crackdown.

Speaking to AFP, he said the school year was likely to be characterised by “general chaos” due to the fact “there are 40,000 to 50,000 vacancies and no preparation on the side of the ministry of education”.

Cigdem, a teacher in Istanbul, attacked the sackings and suspensions as opportunism as she defended her colleagues.

“We won’t let them do that, we will not let down our schools. We are not coup-mongers or terrorists, we are teachers.”


‘Don’t touch my teacher’ 


Tens of thousands of staff in the education sector have been suspended or dismissed for alleged links to Gulen, while another 11,500 teachers suspected of links to the PKK were suspended earlier this month.

The PKK, which has waged a insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, is considered as a terror organisation by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.

There have been almost daily attacks by the PKK since a two-year ceasefire collapsed in July 2015, while Turkish authorities have stepped up their military campaigns in the restive southeast in response.

In Kurdish-majority Diyarbakir, nearly 100 teenage students held a sit-in to protest against the suspensions in the city’s main square shouting slogans including “We want our teacher back”. 

One student wore a T-shirt reading “Don’t touch my teacher”, and was among nearly 30 detained forcefully by police, an AFP correspondent said.


The detentions came after the students refused to stop their demonstration, which is banned under the three-month state of emergency imposed a few days after the failed putsch. 

207 users have voted.

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
2 + 13 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.