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Officials: Saudi Arabia closed Turkey language schools for political reasons

March 16, 2021 at 12:26 pm

People chant slogans and hold posters in protest of Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen during a protest outside the Saudi Arabian consulate on November 11, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]

A number of Turkish officials have said that Saudi Arabia’s decision to close Turkish language schools in several cities across the kingdom last year was a “purely political” move, local media reported.

A spokesman for the Turkish Ministry of Education, Ahmet Emre Bilgili, said: “Despite all efforts made, the Saudi authorities closed all Turkish language schools in the cities of Makkah and Madinah,” adding that other schools have encountered many difficulties.

For his part, a member of the opposition Republican People’s Party, MP Otko Shaker Ozer, who is also a member of Parliament’s Subcommittee for Turks Abroad, rejected the Saudi decision, saying problems between the two countries should not affect or harm Turkish citizens in the kingdom, stressing that it is a “very sad” decision.

He explained that several complaints had been received from Turkish citizens residing in Saudi Arabia, over the difficulties they face in educating their children in Turkish language schools and called on the Saudi authorities to reverse their decision and reopen the education institutes as soon as possible.

An official from the Turkish Ministry of Education said the Saudi decision was “purely political”, stressing that there are no reasons to close Turkish language schools.

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He added that Saudi Arabia has ended Turkish educational activities in the kingdom  in a way that does not comply with international rules, describing the decision as “arbitrary”.

He stressed the need to end the suffering of Turkish children in Saudi Arabia, adding: “It is not acceptable for any country to prevent citizens of other countries from teaching in their schools in their own language.”

Over the past few years, relations between Saudi and Turkey have been increasingly strained by diplomatic differences and by each other’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, and especially by Turkey’s support of Qatar following the blockade imposed on it by the kingdom, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt in 2017.

Relations reached breaking point with the murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Following months of investigations into the murder and a UN report concluding that Saudi agents killed Khashoggi under the direct command of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Turkey has repeatedly called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Consequently, the kingdom has been pushing a campaign to encourage its tourists to boycott Turkey through all possible means, including the purchase of products, consumption of foods, sale of properties, dealings with Turkish companies, and especially tourism to the country. The campaign has garnered support amongst Saudi royals and figures, a famous case being when Riyadh’s influential governor Faisal Bin Bandar declined an offer of Turkish coffee, triggering a call for a boycott of Turkish products.

In August 2019, Saudi’s Ministry of Education made a series of modifications to its history books, altering the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and referring to it as an “occupation”.