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Turkish gov’t to transfer $177 million to controversial Maarif Foundation

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The Turkish government will transfer TL 5.7 billion (approximately $177 million) in taxpayer money to the Maarif Foundation for 2024, which will increase the amount of funds it has received from the state budget to TL 11.6 billion between 2019 and 2024, according to a presidential decision.

Published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday, the decision says the funds will be transferred from the 2024 budget of the Turkish Education Ministry to finance the educational activities of the Maarif Foundation abroad.

Maarif, which was established prior to a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 through legislation in the Turkish parliament, has targeted the closure of educational institutions established by followers of the faith-based Gülen movement since the abortive putsch as part of the foreign policy of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which labels the movement as a terrorist organization and accuses it of orchestrating the failed coup.

The Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, strongly denies involvement in the failed putsch and any terrorist activity.

The Maarif Foundation has so far taken over hundreds of schools worldwide that had been established by followers of the Gülen movement as part of the government-led crackdown on the group.

It is now the only organization that has the right to open schools in a foreign country on behalf of the Republic of Turkey. It runs schools for all age groups, from pre-school to university.

In a statement in 2021 Birol Akgün, chairman of the Maarif Foundation, announced that the foundation had taken over 216 schools affiliated with the Gülen movement in 44 countries and had signed 77 protocols to take over schools linked to the movement in 45 more countries.

Since its establishment, the Maarif Foundation has received an increasing amount of funds from the state budget, while its area of operation has expanded simultaneously.

The transfer of a large amount of funds to the Maarif Foundation for educational activities overseas has led to criticism given the fact that the Turkish education system is overwhelmed with problems, including an insufficient number of teachers, overcrowded classrooms and teachers waiting to be appointed but aren’t due to the lack of government resources.

Critics also say the transfer of a large amount of funds to the Maarif Foundation does not comport with austerity measures recently announced by the government in a bid to tame the country’s skyrocketing inflation and reduce public spending.

When the schools were run by the Gülen movement, they were funded by donations from the movement’s followers and did not depend on taxpayer money to continue their operations.

The takeover of the Gülen-linked schools by the Maarif Foundation led to protests from the students and their parents in many of those countries where the schools were praised for their academic achievements.

Most Turkish teachers in those schools had to flee, fearing arrest or extradition to Turkey and took refuge in Europe, the US or Canada.

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