By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
A decade ago, two Turkish Islamist leaders -- Recep Erdogan (now President) and prominent Sunni cleric Fethullah Gulen -- were the best of friends. Their common enemy was the Turkish military. But as Erdogan solidified his dictatorial rule by castrating the generals, he turned against his old ally, Gulen, to monopolize his grip on power. Erdogan purged and jailed hundreds of Gulen followers: journalists, judges, police, and state officials.
To expand its global investigation into the activities of Gulen-led organizations, the Turkish government hired, for $50,000 a month, the London-based law firm of Amsterdam and Partners. The law firm will also provide legal advice on the Erdogan regime’s request for Gulen’s extradition from his self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
“We have been retained by the Republic of Turkey to expose allegedly unlawful conduct by the Gulen network worldwide,” stated Robert Amsterdam, founding partner of Amsterdam & Partners LLP, during a recent press conference in Washington DC. “The activities of the Gulen network, including its penetration of the Turkish judiciary and police, as well as its political lobbying abroad, should concern everyone who cares about the future of democracy in Turkey.”
The high-powered lawyer’s insincere lament regarding “the future of democracy in Turkey,” is preposterous, as Erdogan himself has single-handedly demolished all vestiges of democracy in Turkey!
In a recent press release, Amsterdam claimed that “The Gulen network, which operates more than 100 charter schools in the U.S., has become the subject of federal and local law enforcement and regulatory investigation in the United States. According to separate cases filed against Gulen-affiliated schools, the group has allegedly engaged in systemic abuse of the American visa system.” The lawyer representing Turkey also asserted: “Globally, the Gulen network operates thousands of schools and has an agreement with the African Union to open 1,000 new schools in the region.”
Erdogan’s long arm has now reached all the way into Texas, going after Harmony Public Schools, the largest charter school system based in Houston, which has 30,000 students and operates under various Gulen-affiliated non-profit organizations.
Last November, Amsterdam and Partners filed a 90-item public information request that would cost Harmony $4.5 million to complete. Even after the lengthy list was shortened, it would still cost Harmony $690,000 to compile and provide that information. The Texas Attorney General will now have to decide the appropriateness of the Turkish request.
This week, Amsterdam and Partners is expected to file a 30-page complaint with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) against Harmony schools. Jim Arnold, an Austin-based lobbyist, also hired by Turkey, sent an e-mail to the Texas Governor’s office stating that the complaint “will outline a series of allegations concerning Harmony's financial operations as well as their alleged misconduct, and request a comprehensive investigation by TEA.”
In response, Soner Tarim, chief executive officer and co-founder of Harmony Public Schools, told the Houston Chronicle that the targeting of his schools by the Turkish government is “mind-boggling and politically motivated.”
Meanwhile, Amsterdam and Partners has filed similar complaints against the Gulen-affiliated Magnolia Charter Schools in California, “urging the California Department of Education to conduct a full investigation of the charter network's financial practices,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
In a strongly-worded letter, Cong. Brad Sherman complained about the Turkish government’s attacks on Magnolia Charter Schools: “President Erdogan is a repudiation of everything that good American schools stand for. He has personally done tremendous damage to democracy in the Republic of Turkey.”Cong. Sherman also wrote in his April 26 letter that “Amsterdam & Partners was being paid $600,000 a year to disparage Magnolia Public Schools” and that “at various times, President Erdogan's government has assisted ISIS. Accordingly, I cannot think of a worse source of information about American education than President Erdogan and his paid agents,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
Tarim told the Houston newspaper that regretfully “The Turkish government is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless time attacking these American schools, forcing Harmony to match the effort. The money and energy would be better spent on students.”
Armenian-Americans can sit back and watch with great interest this costly and scandalous court battle between the Turkish government and Gulen’s organization. Let them waste their money and energy by fighting each other rather than wining and dining U.S. officials on all-expense paid extravagant junkets to Turkey and lobbying members of Congress against Armenian issues!