Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Your International Intrigue Update

Just a quick update on the Turkish Olympiad, which I have written about at length. In short, this event is an annual, international festival of primarily Turkish language and folk arts that in the past has been attended by students from Gulen-linked schools all over the world, including the United States.

I have previously described the religious nature of the event, which needs to be understood in its full context: the Gulen Movement in Turkey is a former partner in a now-dissolved archly conservative political alliance, and the Movement's religious basis is deeply connected to a strain of Turkish national identity politics as well as larger conception of a transnational "Turkic" cultural identity.

Recently, students at the local Gulen-linked charter schools, as well as from Gulen-linked charter schools and private religious schools around the region,  participated in an event in Rosemont that functioned as a sort of qualifying contest for kids hoping to attend the Turkish Olympiad in Turkey. The organizers of the event were careful not to mention the names of any of the schools, although it isn't difficult to figure out which groups were from which schools.  I even wrote about one of our local charter school contestants.

At the time of the Rosemont event, the Turkish Olympiad was already a much-reduced prospect, scheduled for May 30 - June 1 in Istanbul.

The very hot cold war between Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his former ally, Fethullah Gulen, appeared at that time to have taken a toll on the scale of the Turkish Olympiad, formerly an event that stretched over two weeks in multiple state-controlled locations. It was quite the spectacle in the past, as we reported: a glittering stage for the confluence of interests between a secretive social movement and its authoritarian political allies.

Then I lost track because I work in a school, and May is crazy.

Hadn't heard a word about the big event in Turkey, until this piece came out in the Gulen Movement's own Today's Zaman. Evidently they didn't even make it into Turkey.

The International Turkish Education Association's (TÜRKÇEDER) Language and Culture Festival, which brought together 95 students from 27 countries under the motto “Hearts United,” was held in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa over the weekend. 
The festival was an updated version of the Turkish Olympiads and it took place outside Turkey for the first time, after Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government refused to allow the event to occur in Turkey.
I haven't heard if any of the Chicago charter students participated in the event in Addis Ababa, but I'll report back when I learn more. I don't think that was every any doubt among basically sentient people that the event has always been a Gulen Movement production; however, it is still probably largely not understood by the public that the local charter schools are active participants in the event, or that the schools themselves serve as an American adaptation of the Gulen-linked schools all over the globe: schools that to one extent or another, further the interests of the Movement. Again, the kids pretty much have no idea about any of this, nor do the American staff, in most cases.

According to the Today's Zaman article (so, take that for what it's worth), the Turkish diplomatic corps was forbidden by the government from attending the qualifying events, which would include the Rosemont event.
In March, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu sent a message to Turkish ambassadors and diplomats serving abroad ordering them not to attend the overseas selections phase of the 12th Turkish Olympiads.
This would confirm my previously reported observation that the Turkish Consul in Chicago was not present at the Rosemont event, as he had been in similar past events. To sum up: the Turkish government appears to have forbidden its representative from attending an event organized by the local Gulen Movement organization for (mostly) charter school kids because in the eyes of the Turkish government, the leaders of that very same movement have pretty much tried to overthrow the government.

We've come a long way from bake sales and bobby socks.

So yeah. Let's not talk about that. 

Disclaimer: I have openly identified the media source as being part of the Gulen Movement, and this is a widely accepted characterization of Today's Zaman. It is a source I do not trust, obviously. But I think this article is pretty much telling it the way they see it.

My point is that it's strange, to say the least,  in America, for 150 publicly funded schools to be so closely (yet opaquely) connected to a foreign drama, and that we really don't have any understanding of how it went from a few Movement-linked private religious schools to the nation's largest public charter school network. And we don't have any credible prediction of what it will eventually mean in, as they say, the fullness of time. And also that it's probably a bad idea for this set of circumstances to exist without the public's knowledge.

New to the topic? Please see some of my previous posts.

Here, Have A School
Dispatch From The Parallel State

And yes, I "bake sales and bobby socks" is a bit of a non sequitur. I just liked the sound of it. 

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