More than 100 Turkish schoolteachers and their families have been told that they have less than three days to leave Pakistan, where many of them have lived and worked for a decade or longer. The sudden expulsion comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting the country and appears to be an appeasement of his demands that schools linked to Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric and major political rival, be closed.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of orchestrating a coup attempt in July and refers to the cleric as a terrorist.
“We will eliminate this terrorist organization before it harms Pakistan,” he told the Pakistani Parliament on Thursday, referring to Gulen's movement.
Since the coup attempt, Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of people on suspicion of having ties to Gulen, and more than 100,000 civil servants have been removed from their posts. Erdogan has successfully pressured other nations to aid him in the crackdown, though the United States, where Gulen lives in exile, has refused repeated requests for the cleric's extradition.
Gulen-inspired organizations run schools all around the world, including in the United States. Turkey alleges that they are used to propagate an anti-Turkey mind-set. Education officials in dozens of countries have reported coming under pressure from Turkey to eliminate alleged Gulen sympathizers from the schools, though only Somalia, Azerbaijan and now Pakistan appear to have caved in.
A petition by the head of the PakTurk Educational Foundation, which runs the affected schools in Pakistan, is being considered by a high court in Islamabad. The petition says that more than 11,000 students receive education in the 28 schools, which employed 130 Turkish teachers and more than 1,000 Pakistanis. It also denies that PakTurk is affiliated with any political organization.
More than 100 of the schools' students in Lahore staged protests over the expulsions on Thursday, expressing solidarity with the teachers, who they said had dedicated their lives to the cause of education.
“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,” Hafiz Arafat, a lawyer, told the newspaper Dawn. “We have never witnessed anything irregular at these schools.”
Many of the teachers have apparently been in Pakistan for well over a decade and are struggling to pack up their lives by Sunday, the deadline for them to leave the country. One teacher told Dawn that he'd been warned that he would be arrested if he didn't leave by then and that he and his colleagues were worried that they might be arrested on arrival in Turkey anyway. Another unnamed teacher told the Express Tribune that he or she had worked in Pakistan for 16 years and had four children born in the country.
In all, more than 400 Turkish citizens will have to leave Pakistan.
At a joint news conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Erdogan thanked him for the expulsions and reassured PakTurk students, saying they would not suffer.