Turkey's Failed Coup Attempt: The Charter School Connection

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FETHULLAH GULEN, COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA.ORG
  • Fethullah Gulen, Courtesy of Wikimedia.org
Some members of Turkey's military attempted a coup last week and failed. Game over? Not quite. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is arresting thousands of people who he says were connected to the coup. And he's asking the U.S. to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who lives in Pennsylvania and has a strong following here and in Turkey, including people who are now or have been part of the Turkish government. Secretary of State Kerry says he hasn't gotten a formal request from Turkey but will review any information he receives from its government. Gulen denies he is in any way connected to the failed coup.

Here's where the charter school connection comes in. Fethullah Gulen is connected indirectly—or directly depending on who you're talking to—to the Sonoran charter schools and other charters around the country. There are three Sonoran Science Academies in Tucson, including one on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and three Sonoran charters in the Phoenix area.

I began writing about the Sonoran Science Academies and their connections to Gulen in 2010, as did Tim Vanderpool in the Weekly and Tim Steller in the Star. The connection was even the subject of a 60 Minutes investigation in 2012. A group of people around the country believe the charters are too closely connected to Gulen and violate the requirement that public schools have no religious affiliation. They make a strong circumstantial case, but they've never proven a direct connection.

What we know is that the Arizona charters have a strong academic reputation, especially in the areas of science and math. We also know that many of their directors and administrators are of Turkish descent, and they have a number of Turkish teachers, some of whom have been brought to the U.S. on H-1B visas for the express purpose of teaching at the schools. We also know that the schools teach Turkish culture, though it may be in a similar way that a French school teaches French culture. Some say the schools have direct links to Gulen, which the schools deny.

Expect to hear more about the schools if the story linking Gulen to the failed coup stays in the news.

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