ISLAMABAD/LAHORE/KARACHI: Scores of apprehensive parents made their way to the administration offices of Pak-Turk International Schools across the country on Wednesday, aghast at the news that the interior ministry had directed the Turkish staff to leave the country by November 20.
“We have been told that the institutions will not be closed but a new administration will take over,” said a worried father of two sons who study at a Pak-Turk school in Lahore
Advocate Hafiz Arafat, whose children go to a Pak-Turk school in Islamabad, said they were concerned. “My children have been studying here for eight years. I find it astonishing that the Turkish government is alleging that the schools are involved in supporting Fethullah Gulen’s ideology...We have never witnessed anything irregular at these schools,” he said, adding that it was hard to explain to children the politically motivated decision of expelling teachers they have grown accustomed to over the years.
Syed Ali, whose children also study at a branch in Islamabad, criticised the government’s decision: “This is a serious problem with [Muslims]. We mix politics with education,” he said, adding that the clampdown on schools had damaged Turkey’s image.
In August this year, Pakistan promised Turkey’s visiting Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that it would honour his request to look into the matter of the Pak-Turk International Schools’ alleged links with US-based cleric Gulen. Now, finding themselves in the midst of a political battle they want nothing to do with, hundreds of Turkish citizens, many of whom have lived in Pakistan since 1995, move to wrap up their lives at a few days’ notice.
Car dealers were called to the schools in Lahore on Wednesday to oversee the sale of vehicles owned by Turkish teachers and staff members. “We are selling them at throwaway rates after being ordered to leave the country within 72 hours. This is highly unfair,” said a Turkish teacher, who serves at an administrative post at a Pak-Turk school in Lahore.
Staff pin hopes on superior judiciary to overturn repatriation orders
He said government officials had stopped taking their calls. “However, we have been told that the police will arrest us if we do not leave by Nov 20,” he said, adding that they feared that they could be detained upon arrival in Turkey.
Talking to Dawn, a woman Turkish teacher demanded to know how the Pakistani government could hand them a ‘marching order’ without framing a charge sheet. “My husband and I moved here 11 years ago. My youngest son was born here one-and-a-half- years ago and has never visited Turkey. Pakistan is his country now,” she said, requesting not to be named as it might invite trouble for the family.
A top government official told Dawn that a team from the Erdogan government would arrive in a few days to take control of the Pak-Turk institutions in Pakistan.
“A body associated with the Turkish government will now run the affairs of Pak-Turk schools and colleges,” he said, adding that the Nawaz government had been under “extreme” pressure to act against the Turkish teachers and their families ahead of the arrival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The managements of the three main branches of Pak-Turk International Schools in Karachi were hesitant to speak to journalists. An administrative official at a branch in Sheerin Jinnah Colony said they had decided to pursue a petition in the high court, so they couldn’t interact with the press. A meeting at the Sheerin Jinnah Colony branch concluded that since the upper management was taking a legal route, they would have to keep a low-profile till the matter was resolved.
“We have been working peacefully for 21 years now. It is sad that our intentions are being judged,” the official added.
It is said that a pro-government educational foundation called Maarif, established about three months ago in Turkey, would take over administrative control of the schools in Pakistan as soon as the current administration left.
Despite the uncertainty, the official said, the staff members were “not fearful; rather they are not ready to hand over administrative rights without a legal fight”.
Students at the Pak-Turk H-8 Campus in Islamabad said a tearful goodbye to their Turkish teachers on Wednesday. For many, the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen to their teachers once they landed in Turkey was jarring. “I will miss my teacher, Maam Hajra,” said Wila-e-Zehra, a student at the school.
At the Raiwind campus in Lahore, 11-year-old Fatima (name has been changed to protect identity), sat with her classmates of grade five for the last time.
She was three years old when she arrived in Pakistan with her parents who were placed at teaching and administrative posts in the school. Over the years, she has become fluent in Urdu and calls Pakistan home.
“Perhaps I will wake up tomorrow morning and find out that this was all a bad dream,” a tearful Fatima wished.
Published in Dawn November 17th, 2016