Baku, January 30 – Moscow is taking steps to close the elite lycees Turkey created in Muslim regions of the Russian Federation in the 1990s out of fears that these schools are spreading radical Islam or providing cover for Turkish espionage. And that plan has prompted Ankara and Kazan to consult on how to prevent this from happening.
The Russian education ministry has set a letter to its counterpart in Tatarstan saying that Turkish citizens teaching in the Tatar-Turkish lycees in that Middle Volga republic do not have the necessary pedagogical training, according to Zvezda Povol’zha (http://www.islam.ru/rus/2008-01-28/#19469).
The paper said that Moscow also demanded that these schools end their English-language instruction in science and the humanities, a call that the paper said contradicts Russian law and points to a Russian government plan to close these schools and expel the Turkish teachers who have been working there.
Parents whose children are upset have told the paper that they plan to appeal to Russian president-designate Dmitry Medvedev and to file suit in an effort to block a move to shut down schools that have been among the most elite and effective training institutions in Tatarstan and elsewhere.
And the paper added that Turkey’s president, Abdulla Gul had telephoned Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev in order to discuss what they might do to prevent this from happening, a report that if confirmed is certain to exacerbate rather that reduce Moscow’s concerns about these schools.
Although these lycees have been extremely popular in the places where they have been set up, Russian officials have repeatedly suggested in recent months that they believe that instructors in them are promoting the ideas of Said Nursi, a Muslim leader whose works Russian courts have declared extremist, or are working as spies.
Several years ago, Russian officials closed several of the lycees in Siberian regions, but the move against them in the Middle Volga both reflects Moscow’s growing concerns about both their supposed Islamist influence and espionage activities and raises the stakes because Tatarstan is far more important politically.
Despite the rapidly warming ties between Moscow and Ankara given tensions between Turkey and the United States. Russian security officials signaled at the end of last year that they were concerned about the activities of the lycees in the Middle Volga region.
In December, Rustem Ibragimov, an FSB counterintelligence official in Bashkortostan said that these lycees were involved with what he called the “activization of foreign intelligence services” in the Middle Volga and the spread of Islamist radicalism (http://nvo.ng.ru/spforces/2008-01-18/7_missionery.html).
On the same day he made those remarks, militia officers raided several locations in Naberezhniy Chelny and confiscated works by Nursi and Turkish radical Faitulla Gulen, an indication that the Russian authorities believed they had good reason for concern about the spread of Islamist ideology via these schools.
And then two weeks ago, Russian military and security officials had told “Nezavisimoye voennoye obozreniye” that they are increasingly worried that Turkey is conducting espionage activities against Russia through these schools, an effort they said had to be stopped (http://nvo.ng.ru/spforces/2008-01-18/7_missionery.html).
By casting the issue of the closure of the lycees in terms of the qualifications of the instructors and having the education ministry take the lead, Moscow clearly hopes to minimize Western and Turkish coverage of its plans and to minimize their impact on its relations with Ankara.
But the conversations between Gul and Shaimiyev show just how important these institutions are to Turkey and the reaction of parents of those enrolled in them highlight how valuable they see them to be. And consequently, the Russian government almost certainly will pay a high price both at home and abroad if it does not reverse course.