March 11, 2013

Proposed Bangor charter school linked to Turkish imam

But Maine's commission rejected the Bangor plan over financial issues, its chairwoman says.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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But followers are not always as up front.

In a written statement, Sener, CTAA's regional coordinator, said his organization has "no relationship" with the Queen City Academy, the Pioneer school or "any other charter school."

No schools are currently listed as CTAA members on the organization's website, but an examination of older images of the Turkic American Alliance website captured by the Internet Archive in 2011 lists three Northeastern private schools as CTAA members: Connecticut's Putnam Science Academy, the Pioneer Academy of Science in New Jersey and the Amity school in Brooklyn. It also included an organization of which Queen City's Kilic was founding president: the Turkish Cultural Center in Boston.

Asked about the nature of the council's relationship to Gulen, Sener wrote: "Some of the board members and founders may or may not be inspired by his teachings. I can't measure all the people's inspirations."

Hendrick said Gulen's network has developed "a culture of strategic ambiguity" wherein it avoids answering direct questions about how its component parts relate to one another.

"If they can maintain ambiguity and leave people never really able to pinpoint who is what, it allows them flexibility to adapt and adjust to local conditions," Hendrick said. This evasiveness served Gulenists well during the 1970s and 1980s in Turkey, he said, where they were among the many targets of the country's surveillance apparatus. "The organizational strategies of the movement are the product of an environment where secrecy and non-transparency are not only perfectly rational and understandable but a neccessity."

Nonetheless, Jana LaPoint, chairwoman of the charter commission, said her group quickly became aware of the applicants' connections to Gulen and that it did some research into the imam and his network. Ultimately, however, the decision to reject the school's application last month had nothing to do with the ties to Gulen, because "the effect on education would have been speculative," she said. "For us it was the financials that were really very, very off," she said, noting that the school assumed it would receive a federal grant it had yet to apply for.

"We were absolutely aware of the ties," she said, "and we looked into Gulen as best we could."

Kilic said they planned to resubmit their application.

A CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE

Born in Turkey sometime between 1938 and 1942, Gulen has been living in the United States since 1999, when he faced charges that he was plotting to overthrow the Turkish state. Although he was acquitted of all charges in 2006, he has continued to live in Pennsylvania, and has permanent resident status here.

He continues to exercise considerable influence in Turkey. Last April, The New York Times reported from Istanbul that his followers had "provided indispensable support to the conservative, Islam-inspired government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan" and were thought to be proliferating within the country's police and judiciary. "A culture of fear surrounding the so-called Gulenists, however exaggerated, is so pronounced that few here will talk openly about them on the telephone fearing that their conversations are being recorded and that there will be reprisals."

In recent years, Gulen's activities in the United States prompted concern among consular officers at U.S. diplomatic posts in Ankara and Istanbul, as large numbers of visa applicants appeared "seeking to visit a number of charter schools in the U.S. with which consular officials were unfamiliar," according to a leaked May 2006 cable sent by the Istanbul consulate and published by Wikileaks.

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