Visiting a Gülen School in Batumi
I visited a Gülen school in Batumi, Georgia last week for EurasiaNet.org. The R. Şahin Friendship School is attended mainly by Georgian students, along with some Turks.
That reputation was not built easily. Once under Turkish control, both following World War I and during the Ottoman era, Batumi welcomes swarms of Turkish visitors, most of whom come to gamble in casinos, while a few seek investment opportunities. Some Georgians in the region feel vulnerable about the potential spread of Turkish influence. Those concerns erupted last summer, when angry protests broke out in the city against the influx of Turks and government plans to rebuild an Ottoman-era mosque.But the Batumi Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School-High School did not become embroiled in the xenophobic outburst.
Much controversy follows the Gülen Movement in Turkey and the United States. But in Georgia the R. Şahin Friendship School is not widely known to be attached to the movement. It is a much appreciated private school that offers high-level education to students regardless of their religion or nationality.
It was interesting to see the Gülen movement’s work outside of the Turkish context. Gülen himself and his followers continue to make headlines in Turkey. Most recently, a high-ranking member of the movement stated that Gülen might return to Turkey after a democratic constitution is put in place. It appears he was giving his personal opinion on the subject. Gülen has not made new statements about the possibility of returning to Turkey, which seems unlikely given his poor health and general tense situation in the country.