Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Turkish Embassy calls for closure of Zaman schools

Turkish Embassy calls for closure of Zaman schools

Turkish Ambassador to Cambodia Ilhan Kemal Tug speaks yesterday in Phnom Penh about the attempted coup in Turkey.
Turkish Ambassador to Cambodia Ilhan Kemal Tug speaks yesterday in Phnom Penh about the attempted coup in Turkey. Heng Chivoan

Turkish Embassy calls for closure of Zaman schools

With an attempted coup against the government of President Recep Erdogan quashed only days ago and more than 7,000 alleged conspirators now under arrest, the Turkish ambassador to Cambodia yesterday pressed the government to take action against local schools affiliated with the man it claims responsible.

At a hastily called noon press conference, Ambassador Ilhan Khemal Tug called on the Kingdom to shutter the Zaman International School and Zaman University in Phnom Penh.

Turkey expects Cambodia to “halt all support” of the schools, Tug said, and for the schools to “end all activities” because of their association with cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen’s Gulen Movement, which Turkey has designated a terrorist group since 2013.

“This was more than a treacherous plot,” Tug said at yesterday’s press conference, which was held at the Turkish Embassy and identified Gulen as the coup’s mastermind. “It was a terrorist campaign”.

Once a key Erdogan alley, Gulen has been labelled a terrorist by Turkey since the relationship soured in 2013 and a systematic campaign undertaken to root so-called Gulenists from positions of power, particularly the judiciary, media and police.

The Zaman schools – which have had a Cambodian presence for nearly 20 years – were founded by Atilla Yusef Guleker, a former journalist in Turkey and a member of the Gulen Movement.

Guleker wrote for the newspaper Zaman, which was closely politically aligned with Gulen until its takeover in March by the Turkish government.

In a statement to the Post yesterday, Ejder Kilic, chairman of Zaman Co Ltd, which runs the local schools, said that while the organisation acknowledged a “spiritual” connection with Gulen, he “has never had any official link, ownership or involvement in the school administration, he has never taken a part in any sort of decision making process in forming or running the schools”.

“The schools are licensed by Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, running under Zaman Co Ltd which is also a registered company in Ministry of Commerce,” Kilic’s statement continues. “So the schools are Cambodian schools which are regularly inspected, paying taxes duly and operated by its School Board.”

Members of the Gulen Movement have founded schools in countries around the world, including more than 100 schools in the US, where Gulen currently lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania.

Spokesmen for the ministries of education and foreign affairs both declined to comment yesterday. Seung Sophari, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Commerce, said Turkey had “warned them” about the school previously.

“[The Turkish Embassy] warned us once before that the school was involved with people who wanted to topple the government,” she said, adding that “no action has been taken yet” as Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak is out of the country.

On its website, the school touts the fact that the prime minister approved their university licence in 2010, while at the relocation of the group’s high school, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An served as chairman at the new building’s inauguration ceremony in 2011. He expressed his desire at the time that the school would serve to improve bilateral relations between Turkey and Cambodia.

A motorist passes a Zaman International School in Phnom Penh yesterday after the Turkish ambassador called on the Cambodian government to close the schools.
A motorist passes a Zaman International School in Phnom Penh yesterday after the Turkish ambassador called on the Cambodian government to close the schools. Hong Menea

“High-level [Turkish] Government officials participated in Grand Inauguration Ceremonies,” Zaman’s Kilic said yesterday, pointing to the attendance of then-Turkish deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc.

“These officials were and still [are] current government members in Turkey,” he said. “We have never experienced any animosity from the Turkish Government so far in our knowledge until [yesterday’s] press conference.”

Relatives of students, meanwhile, expressed fears over the possible implications of any closure.

Sata Morat, president of the Cambodian Student Association in Turkey, whose nephew and brother are currently studying at the Zaman International School, said the closure of the school, which he termed one of Cambodia’s best, would be a sharp blow to their prospects.

“The quality of education and the certificate from Zaman is equivalent to other international schools in the US or Europe, so it would be difficult to find another school to replace it. I’m worried it will affect the studies of my nephew and brother . . . If we cannot find another similar school, it will affect the quality [of their education].”

Just last year, Hun Sen awarded cash prizes to a number of Cambodian Zaman students for their performance at the “Genius Olympiad 2015” academic competition in New York.

Additional reporting by Hor Kimsay

A previous version of this article stated that the Ministry of Commerce had not taken action against Zaman schools because Prime Minister Hun Sen was out of the country. In fact, Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak is out of the country. The Post apologises for any confusion caused.

MOST VIEWED

  • US imposes sanctions on Oknha Pheap and Kun Kim

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed strong dismay on Monday over the designation of Cambodian tycoon Oknha Try Pheap and General Kun Kim under the US’ Global Magnitsky Act. “It is very disturbing when the public figures of a country become the

  • Mother, daughter killed in hotel fire

    The bodies of a mother and daughter were found locked in an embrace after they were killed in a hotel fire in Phnom Penh at around 3:30am on Wednesday at the Phkar Chhouk Tep 2 Hotel and Restaurant in Phsar Doeum Kor commune, in the capital’

  • EBA withdrawal a destruction of EU achievements, PM says

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the EU’s possible suspension of its Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement amounted to a destruction of its achievements in the Kingdom and the demise of the opposition group. Hun Sen made the remarks while addressing more than 6,700 students during

  • US told to refrain from interfering in Sokha case

    Senior Cambodian officials said on Thursday that the US can monitor Kem Sokha’s trial as it wishes but would not be allowed to interfere in court procedures. The point was made in response to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments on Wednesday

  • Europe expected to consider EBA efforts, impact

    The government said it expects the European Commission to consider its efforts to comply with the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) regulations and the impact on one million workers should access to the agreement be suspended in February. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

  • Sri Lanka’s LOLC Holdings plans to sell Cambodian unit

    LOLC Holdings Plc, Sri Lanka’s second-largest publicly traded company by revenue, plans to sell its 70 per cent stake in Prasac Microfinance Institution Ltd, which also counts Hong Kong’s Bank of East Asia Ltd. as a shareholder, LOLC deputy chairman Ishara Nanayakkara said. Nanayakkara