Turkish educator says Demirel stood with Turkish schools abroad
Turkish educator Süleyman Alptekin has said that Turkey’s ninth president, Süleyman Demirel, who died on Wednesday at the age of 90, won people’s hearts with his open support for Turkish educators and Turkish schools abroad inspired by the views of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen. Alptekin was flown back to the country in Demirel’s plane after being seriously injured in an accident in Bangladesh in 1997.
“The [former] president paid an official visit to Bangladesh in 1997 and inaugurated the Turkish Hope School in Dhaka. I had lost a leg after being run over by a bus in an accident two weeks before his visit. While he was there, he was told about my condition and then immediately ordered that I be taken to his private plane and returned to Turkey. When I heard of his death, I remembered all the times that he stood with us,” Alptekin told Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview on Friday.
Alptekin added that Demirel not only had him brought to the plane, but also gave him his private sleeping compartment. “They took me to the plane and Demirel came in. He looked at me and told the people around us that the place allocated to me was too narrow and that I needed to be moved to his private sleeping compartment. Officials told him that this would be impossible because my stretcher would not go through the door. But the president told them to break the wall and enlarge the door. They did so, and I came back to Turkey in his private sleeping compartment,” Alptekin stated.
During the Turkish Olympiads of 2013, Alptekin and a group of students from the Turkish Hope School in Bangladesh visited Demirel at his residence in Ankara. Demirel said Alptekin was doing a very important job teaching Turkish to the students in Bangladesh. “That’s why we have love, compassion and appreciation for these [teachers in the Turkish schools],” Demirel added.
“During the Feb. 28 [coup] era, there were people within the [Turkish Armed Forces] TSK who did not want Turkish schools to operate abroad. But the president took on the criticism and supported the educators and schools. He occupied an important place in our hearts. As educators who spent most of our lives abroad, we owe him a lot,” Alptekin explained.
The Feb. 28, 1997 coup, also known as the postmodern coup, refers to the forced resignation of a coalition government led by a now-defunct conservative party, the Welfare Party (RP), by the military on Feb. 28, 1997, on the grounds that there was rising religious fundamentalism in the country. Demirel, who was president at that time, has always been considered the most prominent figure in the coup. After Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s resignation, Demirel appointed Mesut Yılmaz, rather than Tansu Çiller, to be prime minister, in accordance with the demands of the TSK.
Alptekin also recalled that Demirel was the principal guest at a dialogue meeting of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), of which Gülen is the honorary president, soon after the 1997 military intervention into politics, which led to the oppression of many religious groups at the hands of state institutions guided by the military. Demirel, who was president at the time, said he was the president of all the people of Turkey, without any discrimination. Upon receiving a plaque from Gülen in remembrance of the event, Demirel also noted that the community represents the unity of the people of Turkey.