Hidden Agenda? Parents Raise Concerns That a Tucson Charter School Has Ties to a Turkish Nationalist Movement

From the Tucson Weekly

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson Weekly)–No one can knock the numbers. In recent years, students at Tucson’s Sonoran Science Academy have secured stellar scores in math, science and other categories. The academy has earned glowing mentions in national magazines such as U.S. News and World Report, and in 2009, was deemed Charter School of the Year by the Arizona Charter School Association.

But some parents of children who attend the academy on West Sunset Road believe it harbors goals reaching far beyond academia. They suspect the Sonoran Academy of being part of a confederation of learning institutions secretly linked to, and advancing, the cause of Turkish scholar and Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

While most of those parents have resisted coming forward, fearing reprisal from an organization they say is known to target critics, one parent did agree to speak to the Weekly if we pledged to keep her identity hidden. The parent says she represents others at the academy who’ve become suspicious about the striking similarities of its educational programs to those of other schools around the United States which are operated by Turkish-born staff members.

She says teachers and administers freely circulate among these schools. At the same time, says the parent, the Sonoran Academy seems constantly to be bringing Turkish educators into the United States, and subjecting students to substitute teachers while the teachers await work visas.

According to this parent, all of these ties may lead covertly back to the Gulen movement, named for the scholar, who founded a network of schools around the world and now lives in exile in Pennsylvania. She says several Sonoran Academy parents believe the school has a hidden agenda to promote Gulen’s brand of Turkish nationalism, advance sympathy for that country’s political goals such as winning acceptance into the European Union, and discourage official acknowledgement of Turkey’s genocide against the Armenians during World War I.

“We found one document, in Turkish, that talks about the purpose of these charter schools,” says the parent. “They refer to them very explicitly as schools (belonging) to their movement. They’re calculating, and they say if they can have something like 600 schools, then every year, they can produce 120,000 sympathizers for Turkey.

“I sent my kids to this school because I wanted them to meet regular Muslims and to see them as ordinary people,” she says. “But when I find that my kids are to be turned into genocide-deniers, that’s very disturbing to me.”

Fatih Karatas is principal of the academy’s middle school. He calls such claims ridiculous.

“We don’t have any kind of connections or any kind of relations with that movement or group. A public school cannot be affiliated in any way with other institutions or groups because of the regulations, because of the charters.”

He also says his school has a diverse staff, native to countries ranging from Turkey to Mexico, which he considers a benefit. “But we’re not promoting a certain ideology. … These are defamatory allegations that are not based on any proof or evidence.”

Still, the Sonoran Academy isn’t the first Turkish-American-run charter school in United States to be accused of links to Gulen. Parents at the Beehive Science and Technology Academy in Holladay, Utah, have also raised concerns that their school is linked to this movement. And according The Salt Lake Tribune, one Beehive teacher was fired when his lesson plan about World War II and the Holocaust prompted a discussion in which the school’s principal purportedly questioned that genocide.

Although Utah’s State Charter School Board cleared Beehive of deliberately promoting Gulen beliefs, lawmakers there have continued to probe its finances. The school-board investigation revealed that Beehive received loans from administrators at other Turkish-American schools, and from executives of the Accord Institute, a California-based organization with a Turkish-American staff. Accord provides educational consulting services and develops education models for programs for schools including Tucson’s Sonoran Academy. But Karatas, calls the institute a “private organization,” and says he’s unaware of any ties between Accord and Gulen.

Other connections raise more questions. They include the Pacifica Institute, which operates the “Turkish Olympiads,” in which Sonoran Academy students are encouraged to participate. The Olympiad contests range from essay writing and singing to poetry composition. According to its Web site, the institute was formed by Turkish-Americans in California with a mission of promoting cross-cultural awareness.

In December, the Pacifica Institute co-hosted a Gulen conference with the University of Southern California, and actively promotes Gulen beliefs on its Web site.

Indeed, the Gulen movement’s own Web site seems to lay the groundwork for claims made by the Tucson parent. It discusses the group’s rapidly expanding, worldwide educational facilities which have “made Gulen’s network the most influential Turkish-Islamic movement both in Turkey and abroad. … In the field of education, this part of the identity is however not stressed and teachers from outside the (movement) work at these schools as well. They may be non-Muslims and in many cases the pupils have never heard of Fethullah Gulen.”

The Tucson Weekly was provided with a list of Turkish staff members that have rotated through various schools and the Accord Institute—another strategy promoted by the Gulen Web site.

Of course, all of this could be purely coincidental. But the Tucson mother says many parents feel increasingly betrayed by what they consider the Sonoran Academy’s ongoing secrecy.

“Other parents say, ‘I could almost be OK with this if they were out in the open about it.’ But the (school) has done such a phenomenal job of keeping this a secret.”

However, Karatas suggests those who make such claims are flirting with trouble.

“I’m hoping that they know that these are defamatory allegations which may put them in trouble later on. These are excelling schools. … I hope they are aware of what they’re doing.”


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  1. grigor malayan said:

    The U.S. Government is providing all this foreign aid to Turkey by our tax monies in turn to be
    bought out by turkish money. Yes America, the turks have fooled us all along and accepting  money goes a long way!

  2. Pingback: Hidden Agenda? Parents Raise Concerns That a Tucson Charter School … | Armenia News Station

  3. Pingback: Hidden Agenda? Parents Raise Concerns That a Tucson Charter School … | Drakz Free Online Service

  4. ARA said:

    How i it that we as taxpayers have a bunch of idiots in the dept of education and govt that allow this! We have to pay a fortune for our children and yet foreigners come here and get from the money taken out of my earnings? WHo is stupid here? Is it all of Congress or what? we need to catch illegals and jail them-not exilt them- JAIL-

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  6. Stephen said:

    Hi guys,
    I’ve read more about almost everything stated in his page.
    I’ll start with the so-called genocide. I purposely used the term so-called because there’s no certainty. A lot of historians explain the event as follows:
    After 600 years of ruling, Ottoman Empire became weak, and many nations such as Greeks, Arabs, started to get their freedom back from Ottomans. Armenians also wanted to establish their own country. They got support from French, Brits, even from Americans. They got money, they got guns, even soldiers. And eventually Armenians became rebels against local Ottomans. They killed Ottoman officials, and local civillians. Well, I need to ask, even today, in 21st century, do you know ANY governtment who will not take any measures against such an act of violance? According to historians, before Ottoman government set a solution (military or not), local Turks fought back. As a summary, Armenians killed, and got killed during WWI. So, you’re in a war, you started another war (war in a war), and got killed by the locals. Later, Ottomans gains the control and relocates all the Armenians to where today’s Armenia is. After reading all those, I can’t consider it as a genocide. First of all, there isn’t any single official document to support that Ottoman Government or military systematically, and/or purposely killed the Armenians. Most of them died in local fight-backs, and during the relocation. Anyway, that was “past”, and what I care most is today, and my child’s future.

    According to my research, today, even Turks are bored of this radical islamist, Gulen.
    Most of them do not want him back in Turkey. Non-muslim Turks (atheists, Jews, Christians, etc)
    consider him as a threat for Turkish Republic.
    On the surface, he’s humanitarian, but nobody except his scholars believes this. I don’t believe either.
    If you’re humanitarian, join your forces with red-cross or something.
    If you’re humanitarian, why do you keep your movement, your members secret? Come forward, and let’s see who you’re and who you are not.
    And I used the word “radical” because, he’s trying to spread islam, and he’s doing it under-surface,
    not like any other missionaries.

    I do hope that FBI closes his schools.
    P.S. His teachers are not illegal immigrants in the US. They including himself are all legal.
    It comes to my mind that, our government supports him to gain control on Muslims, not only here, but also in Turkey.

  7. Mark Anthony said:

    I guess it all depends on which historians you are talking about. There are certainly a lot of historians who believe that the Armenian Genocide was a genocided indeed. Stephen, where’s the part where you mention the Turkish soldiers walking women, children, and old people across countless miles of rough terrain until they die? Shooting and killing those who were too infirmed to continue the journey.

    PBS: http://video.pbs.org/video/1469571951 This is only one documentary, made by “historians” that mentions the Armenian Genocide as just that–a genocide.

  8. Mark said:

    Here’s something I found with a little research:
    “The members of the Gulen movement pretend to be modern and secular but their secret agenda calls for the conversion of secular democracy in Turkey into an islamist republic, similar to Iran.”
    Apparently most Turks in Turkey do not support Gulen movement and see him a fanatic islamist. He’s infact wanted by the court, that’s why he can’t go back to Turkey.
    Sounds like these schools may be doing a lot of good things but all of that is overshadowed by Gulen’s own doings.