The Culture of Secrecy
July 15, 2010
One noteworthy aspect of the Gulen Movement and its organizations and schools is the culture of secrecy that pervades them.
At the publicly-funded Gulen charter schools in the United States, the name Fethullah Gulen is never spoken. Even though some of the schools are linked to each other, this is never mentioned to parents. For example, in an application for a new Lotus School of Excellence charter school in Colorado, it was stated that
"Magnolia Foundation, the parent organization of Magnolia Science Academy (MSA) in Los Angeles, formed a coalition with the best math and science charter schools in Arizona (Sonoran Science Academy) and Nevada (Coral Academy of Science) and institutionalized its education program. Accord Institute for Education Research conducts research and improves the joint education program of these top performing science schools in their states. The Accord Institute is currently serving schools in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado."
Yet if parents at these schools were asked about such a coalition, they would probably respond that they had never even heard of the schools in the other states. In fact, many parents do not even know about other Gulen schools in their own state.
Despite the affiliation with Accord and the fact that these western schools pay Accord membership and other fees, most parents at these schools know virtually nothing about Accord and have no idea what services the Accord Institute is providing to their school. Certainly they have no idea of the amount of money that is being transferred from their local school to the Accord Institute in California.
Some school websites do not even list the names of teachers, administrators, or board members. Examples are Truebright Science Academy in Philadelphia and Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School. On the websites of the Harmony Science Academy in Texas, it is necessary to have a username and password to find the names of teachers and administrators. For some Gulen charter schools, it is impossible to even find a street address on their website. For example, anyone looking at the Triad Math and Science Academy website would not even know what state this school is located in without going to some trouble to infer it from some clues, such as statements in the school newsletters. [Note added Dec 26, 2010: since this page was written in July 15, 2010, a physical address was added to the Triad website.] Many Gulen charter school websites contain no links to their governing board, and it can be very challenging to find the names of the board members.
All of this is very abnormal for American public schools, where all such information is invariably easily accessible from school websites.
Many parents at Gulen charter schools have noted that the Gulenist teachers and administrators seem to appear and disappear in the middle of the night. Even individuals with whom they thought they had some friendly relationship vanish one day without a trace and without even saying goodbye. Gulenist teachers and administrators scrupulously avoid mentioning any previous positions they have held, and never discuss their plans to leave the school and take on new positions. The vast majority of parents at Gulen charter schools are completely unaware of their school’s connection to the Gulen Movement. They generally attribute these strange behavior quirks on the part of the Gulenists, who are all foreign (mostly Turkish, with some from other central Asian countries) as due to cultural differences. In fact, it is not. It arises from the Gulenist culture of secrecy. The purpose of never mentioning any affiliation outside the school is to disguise the fact that the school is run by the Movement. This approach is deemed necessary so that when any questions or accusations arise, the Gulenists can deny that their school has any affiliation with any other school or organization.
Even within each geographical area where the Gulen Movement is establishing a chain of schools, parents are usually left completely uninformed as to the expansion plans. Typically, as a school chain becomes more established, new organizations are created to add levels of bureaucracy above the schools. Again, parents are not informed of the creation of these organizations or given details about their relation with the school.
Gulen non-profits also employ the culture of secrecy. Some of these non-profits do not even have a website. Many do, but it can be difficult or impossible to find any names of board members or employees on the website. For example, on the Atlas Foundation website, the only name of a person affiliated with the organization that can be found is Catherine Eustis. Of course, other names can be tracked down by looking at news stories posted on the site, but that is a very indirect and clearly unintentional means of disclosure.
Many students from Gulen charter schools participate in the Turkish Language Olympics. There are several regional Olympics in the United States, each serving a geographical area, and the finalists from these regional events go on to the international event in Turkey. In most regions of the U.S., it is extremely difficult to identify any website that explains these competitions in English, or gives details about the location and schedule of the regional events here in the US or the event in Turkey. Parents are given such information only on an as-needed basis, usually at the last minute when their child needs to attend the event. This is highly atypical of the way that normal scholastic competitions are run in the United States.
The Turkey (a.k.a. “Europe”) trips organized and sponsored by seemingly every Gulen charter school are similarly mysterious. Most parents probably shut their minds off from analyzing them too deeply, since the more one thinks about the financial aspect of these trips, the more one realizes that something does not make sense. At typically around $1200, these trips are barely costing more than a discount round-trip ticket to Turkey, yet they include food and lodging for a week as well as several flights within Turkey. Parents that wish for more detailed information in advance may become extremely frustrated as it seems that many aspects of the trip, such as the travel agency providing the tickets, the detailed itinerary, the names of the lodging providers, etc, cannot be divulged. The expectation on the part of the administration is that parents and/or students will simply show up, get in the "multicultural" spirit, chalk up the secretiveness to cultural differences, and not ask what are clearly embarrassing questions.
Another rather extraordinary example of the culture of secrecy is provided by the lists of winners for Gulenist competitions such as ISWEEEP and the Turkish Olympics. These lists give the students’ names and their state or country, but they never mention the name of the schools the students are from. This is remarkable, as the winning of a competition is clearly a source of pride for a school, and therefore in scholastic competitions in the U.S. and indeed around the world the school name is always given with the student name when listing winners. We believe that the omission of school names is deliberate, and that the purpose is to prevent anyone from noticing that the vast majority of winners are from Gulen schools, either the U.S. charter schools or the Gulen schools around the world.
As part of the overall tactic of making it very difficult to track Gulenists as they move from one Gulen school or organization to another, many Gulenists change their names. This can be subtle, such as changing the spelling of a first name from “Ozkur” to “Oscar,” or "Ahmet" to "Ahmed." Other Gulenists have switched from using their first name to their middle name, or vice versa. Some Anglicize their first names; thus, for example, someone with first name Gultekin starts going by “John.” Suleyman Karaman, who is involved with the Magnolia Science Academy charter schools in California, used the name "Solomon Karaman" when petitioning for a new charter school in Oregon. In some cases, Gulenist individuals abbreviate or alter their names beyond recognition (Alpaslan Ozdogan, a.k.a. Alparslan Ozdogan, is now going by “Al Oz” at the Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania charter school). And in the most extreme cases, a number of Gulenists around the U.S. have completely changed their names to sound more typically American. Engin Karatas of the Horizon Science Academies in Ohio is now using the name “Engin Blackstone.” Mustafa Konas of Sonoran Science Academy became "Marc Jones."
At the Fulton Science Academy, the school newsletter of December 21, 2006 states:
“Some staff members were using alias names since their names are hard to pronounce for students and parents. FCBOE [Fulton County Board of Education] wanted us to let our parents, staff and students know the original names of those 8 staff members and use their original names on the FSA school website directory as well as on individual teacher’s websites. Those staff members are Mr. Gurkan Ekicikol (Zach Davis), Mr. Yucel Aktas (Joseph Whitestone), Mr. Mehmet Aksoy (James Dawson), Mr. Emre Akbaba (David Condor), Mr. Ahmet Dastan (Matthew Dastan), Mr. Murat Cetin (Mike Goodman), Mr. Osman Demirel (John Littlefield) and Mr. Fethi Goktepe (Timothy Bluehill). These staff members will start using their original names in their classrooms at the beginning of the 2nd semester.”