The government closed the Turkish college “Mehmet Akif”, when the new school year had just started, making 159 students and their parents face the consequences. A verification made by Faktoje confronts the government’s justifications for closing the educational institution for lack of license with the not-so-accidental developments since January this year, when Turkish President Erdogan gave an ultimatum to the Parliament of Albania for immediate measures against the influence of Fetullah Gülen. Meanwhile, Turkish pro-government media reports describe the “Mehmet Akif” college as connected to the terrorist organization Feto, which raises questions about the reasons for the Ministry of Education’s decision-making.

————————————————————————————-

“We expect Albania to take immediate measures against Feto in the country and not let our relations be darkened because of this. And I hope that in the future visits I will make to Albania, this issue will be definitely solved”, said the Turkish President, Rexhep Taip Erdogan in a speech held in the Parliament of Albania on January 17 this year, the same day Turkish-funded houses built in Kurbin for the homeless after the November 2019 earthquake were inagurated.

Prime Minister Edi Rama responded to this statement by the Turkish President on January 20, saying: “There are no debts between friends and brothers.”

But 8 months after such statements, the Ministry of Education and Sports announced on September 22 the closure of the private pre-university educational institution “Mehmet Akif Ersoy”.

The decision to close the college sparked many debates in the country, while the pro-government Turkish media wrote, among other things: “Mehmet Akif Ersoy College in Tirana was known for its proximity to the terrorist organization FETO”.

But what are the official reasons that led to the closure of this educational institution? Faktoje addressed a request for information to the Ministry of Education and Sports (MES) on September 3, where we also asked them about the reasons for this sudden decision-making, when the school year had just started.

Request for information sent to the Ministry of Education, dated September 23, 2022

In its official response to Faktoje, MES refers to the Decision of the Council of Ministers, which also mentions the obligations that this educational institution has towards its students.

“The Council of Ministers, based on Article 100 of the Constitution of the Republic of Albania, Articles 42 and 70 of Law no. 69/2012 ‘On the pre-university education system in the Republic of Albania’, amended by decision no. 614, dated 22.09.2022, “On the closure of the activity of the private pre-university educational institution ‘Mehmet Akif Ersoy’, which conducts also lessons in foreign languages”, Decision no. 614, dated 22.09.2022 of the Council of Ministers was published in the Official Gazette no. 126, dated 23.09.2022″, the Ministry of Education and Sports officially announces.

MES also adds: “The local educational institution, responsible for pre-university education, under whose jurisdiction the school is located, has the duty to:

  1. a) to set up a working group within 3 (three) days from the entry into force of this decision and take measures to close the activity of the private pre-university educational institution ‘Mehmet Akif Ersoy’;
  2. b) take measures for the transfer of students to other institutions of pre-university education for all students registered in this educational institution;
  3. c) administer the documentation related to the teaching activity carried out by this private pre-university educational institution”.

The Decision of the Council of Ministers (DCM) also specifies, among other things, that the college has the obligation to return the payments made by students, as well as cover the financial costs for the transfer of students to other schools.

Screenshot from DCM No. 614, dated 22.9.2022

Regarding this decision, Faktoje also spoke with the director of Legal Affairs of the ‘Gulistan Foundation’, Mr. Mirsad Lika. He told Faktoje that the decision was announced through the media.

“Through the media, we were notified today (September 22) about the DCM on closing the activity of our institution without being officially given the reasons for the decision, which primarily affects quality education in Albania.

The non-public high school ‘Mehmet Akif’ has been part of the ‘Gulistan’ Foundation for 26 years in Albania, strictly complying with the country’s legal framework, while carrying a great history of success as it has consistently ranked at the top of list of the best schools.

Until now, thousands of students have been educated in our school. They represent the intellectual elite of the country today. In addition to the school teachers and support staff, the government decision affects directly 159 students and their families from all over Albania”, says Mr. Lika.

But what were the reasons for the decision? The Foundation’s legal director explains: “At the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, we felt we had to move from the building on Kavaja Street in Tirana, to another one, in the area of Mëzez/Kashar.

In order to turn this building into an environment that meets our standards, we acted according to the legal provisions by notifying the Ministry of Education and obtaining permission from the local government institutions to carry out such works.

During this period, until the end of August, we have had regular inspections and correspondence with the responsible authorities, we have not encountered any problems and we have not been informed of anything that does not go well with the continuation of work normally.

On September 14 of this year, a working group of the Ministry of Education arrived at our school to carry out inspections on the legal compliance of our activity. Surprisingly, today, September 22, we were notified by mail by the Ministry of Education that our institution does not meet the criteria for continuing its activity. The Gulistan Foundation will follow all legal procedures to enable the normal continuation of the educational activity”.

According to the explanation of Mr. Lika, referring to the decision, the school has moved to a building that has not been approved by the Ministry of Education, while the procedures with the Ministry started on 10.06.2022.

“Legally, the Ministry had the obligation to take the decision before the beginning of the school year, that is, before September 12, so that the learning process of the students would not be affected. Currently, the students have been transferred to other public or private schools accordingly”, says the director of Legal Affairs of the Gulistan Foundation.

Faktoje asked Mr. Lika whether we could see and take pictures of the internal premisses where the teaching process took place in this college, but what the Director of Legal Affairs of the Foundation made available to us were some images from the Facebook page of “Mehmet Akif” college.

Screenshot of shared video – the interior of the new college building

Educator and political scientist Ilir Aliaj emphasizes that by closing “Mehmet Akif” college, the government has violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

“As it is widely known, education is one of the basic elements of Human Rights, and to protect these rights, the European Convention on Human Rights was approved in 1950, of which Albania is a member since 1995.

Thus, immediately after the adoption of the European Convention of Human Rights, Protocol 1 was also approved, and its article 2 talks about the undeniable right to education and how the Convention protects it. In this context, there have been a number of cases before the Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, with the Court considering the right to education “as freedom of thought, conscience, belief and freedom to receive impartial information”.

There are certainly many other court cases about closure of educational institutions or even obstacles to education, but I think that the Albanian government has violated the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as the Chapter on Human Rights of the Foundation Treaty of the European Union, which is part of the Treaty of Lisbon. Although we are not part of the EU, we are obliged to respect this Treaty from the moment we signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU”, Aliaj argues.

Education expert Ndriçim Mehmeti says that the closure of the college has a negative impact on pre-university education.

“A negative and unfortunate irreversible impact on the quality of pre-university education for children, who will not have the opportunity to follow a contemporary program and do not know which school to go to, with our schools having a very questionable level given their teaching quality, as well as their poor infrastructure (not only in terms of buildings, but also in terms of the modern laboratories). Also, the nearly 30-year successful history of an elite institution of pre-university education has been severely damaged or rather erased with a piece of paper, and this is passed off as nothing bad by the government, but also by society. With this decision, we forget that we have lost two main things: The opportunity to produce a group of elite students, without forgetting the contribution of other public and private schools, and the second is that we will most likely pay a big, financial bill, after the judicial process that was opened by the leaders of the school “Mehmet Akif Ersoy”.

Mehmeti says that the decision to close “Mehmet Akif” college is a revenge against quality education.

“Education is the last thing the government cares about, and this is evident from the budget it allocates to this vital sector. There is also a clear strategy launched by the government for years to de-educate the Albanians and in this context, this school has become a problem for the high quality it offers, as the numbers speak for themselves. Our country has received a number of international medals thanks to the preparation, program, and quality of education offered by ‘Mehmet Akif’ college, as well as by ‘Turgut Ozal’. Also, 18 medicine students in this academic year come exactly from this college. In this view, I think that this was a direct revenge against quality education as long as we are not given any stable and convincing reasons to date”, argues the Education expert.

On October 3, Prime Minister Edi Rama declared that “Mehmet Akif” college changed the building without obtaining the approval of MES.

Meanwhile, on October 7, the Court rejected the lawsuit of the “Mehmet Akif” college, leaving in effect the government’s decision to revoke its license.

The Turkish government and Feto’s “terrorist organization”.

Regarding the closure of “Mehmet Akif”, Faktoje addressed a request for information to the Turkish Embassy in Tirana, where, among other things, we asked if the closed institution is related to the activities of Fetullah Gulen.

Request for information sent to the Turkish Embassy in Tirana, October 12, 2022

As of the publication of this article, we have not received a reply from the Turkish Embassy.

In July 2016, a group of soldiers tried to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They were accused by the Turkish leader of being part of the so-called Gulenist Movement, a socio-religious group led by Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in exile in the US since 1999. However, Gulen himself has denied any connection to the event and has repeatedly called for an international commission to investigate the failed coup attempt.

In recent years, Albania has deported several citizens to Turkey, decisions that have sparked a lot of debate in the country.

In January 2020, Albania deported teacher Harun Çelik to Turkey. At the time, his lawyer told the media that “His client had left Turkey as a supporter of the Gülen movement because of threats to his life.”

In September this year, journalist Ahmet Emre Olur was deported to Turkey, although he had stated that his life was in danger there.

On October 11 this year, Prime Minister Edi Rama paid a visit to Turkey, where he met with President Erdogan. Rama shared on social networks moments from his meeting with the Turkish leader, but did not give details of the conversation between them.

The EU progress report, made public on October 12, emphasized, among other things that “Turkey continues to exert pressure on Albania to dismantle the so-called Gülen movement in the country”.

Screenshot from the progress report