The Istanbul Bar Association has lodged a legal complaint in Ankara against Turkish Education Minister Yusuf Tekin, following his recent statements in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) regarding the ministry’s protocols with certain religious sects. The complaint, filed with the Ankara Republic Prosecutor’s Office, accuses Minister Tekin of activities contrary to the principles of a secular, democratic, and social legal state.
A series of actions and statements made by the Turkish government, particularly by the Education Minister Yusuf Tekin, has fuelled a debate over the involvement of religious sects and groups in Turkey’s education system, with various organisations, including women’s rights groups and educational unions, condemning the ministry’s approach and stressing the importance of secular, scientific education free from sectarian influence.
According to critics, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s policies, including the commercialisation of education and a noticeable increase in religiosity, laid the groundwork for the controversy. These policies were characterised by forming agreements with various religious sects and groups, which were seen as a way to integrate religious elements into the educational system.
The issue came to a head during budget discussions in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) when Minister Tekin announced that the Education Ministry (MEB) had signed a significant number of protocols with various organisations, including those he referred to as NGOs, but which were widely recognised as religious sects and congregations. “We have 2,709 valid protocols as of 2023 at the Ministry of National Education… Among these, what you call ‘sects, congregations’, we call ‘NGOs’, and we have a total of ten protocols with them… We will continue to make protocols with them. Because they prevent children from joining the mountains [becoming militants]… You are upset because the NGOs we have protocols with prevent your children from joining the mountains. To prevent our children from joining the mountains, to not train human resources for you, I will continue to sign protocols with those NGOs,” Minister said.
Minister Tekin’s statement is seen as a nationalist dog whistle in Turkey. His assertion implies that the cooperation between the Education Ministry and various religious sects and congregations (which he refers to as NGOs) serves to prevent children from becoming militants, specifically, from joining the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group banned in Turkey and several other countries. This claim is controversial and has been criticised as it suggests a link between educational policy and anti-militancy efforts, which some view as a politicisation of education. The opposition to this type of cooperation centres on the concern that it effectively outsources a public service (education) to private institutions whose ideology aligns with the government’s, potentially compromising the secular and independent nature of education.
The minister’s statements and the government’s approach provoked a strong response from various segments of society. Critics, including educational groups, women’s organisations, and former government ministers, raised concerns about the impact of these agreements on secular education, the potential indoctrination of students, and the undermining of democratic principles.
In addition to the Istanbul Bar Association, groups like Veli-Der (Parents Association) initiated legal actions against Tekin, claiming constitutional and legal violations.