Zaman Pushes Back Against Envoy’s Claims

Phnom Penh’s Turkish-run Zaman International School took to the airwaves and internet on Tuesday to hit back against claims that its four campuses are overseen by a “terrorist organization” with links to last week’s attempted coup in Turkey.

On Monday, Turkey’s ambassador to Cambodia, Ilhan Kemal Tug, said that supporters of controversial cleric Fethullah Gulen were behind the failed coup on Friday, and that Zaman’s four campuses were overseen by members of Gulen’s “terrorist organization.” He added that he was petitioning the Cambodian government to close the institution.

Students walk out of a building at Zaman University in Phnom Penh's Tuol Kok district on Tuesday afternoon. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Students walk out of a building at Zaman University in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district on Tuesday afternoon. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Zaman—which runs a kindergarten, primary school, secondary school and university in the capital—posted a statement to its Facebook page on Tuesday disputing the accusations and calling on parents to show their support for the institution by using the social media hashtag  #ImWithZaman.

“The administration and teaching staff represent over 15 different countries…. During job interviews, affiliation to Gulen Movement is never asked to the applicants,” the statement said. “The link with Mr. Gulen had only motivational and inspirational nature.”

As parents and chauffeurs picked up students from Zaman’s secondary school in Chamkar Mon district on Tuesday, some expressed concern about the school’s future.

“I’m afraid that it will get shut down,” said Chheang Por, who was picking up his 11-year-old son from a summer school session.

“So far, I haven’t spoken to the school’s directors about it yet, but maybe I will take the time to talk to them,” he said.

Mr. Por said he listened to a radio segment about Ambassador Tug’s comments while driving to pick up his son.

“But I didn’t believe it at all,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any terrorist involvement here,” he said. “I decided to send my kids here because this school has a good reputation.”

Johnny Chung, 19, a recent graduate who was at the school to take a final exam, said that neither religion nor Turkish politics were ever discussed in the classroom.

He said he had never heard of Mr. Gulen until hearing news about the coup attempt and learning that authorities in Ankara had pinned it on the cleric’s supporters.

“It’s really ridiculous,” he said of the ambassador’s claims. “I was a little bit concerned because my brother is [a student] here…and I called to tell him that the school might get shut down and the reputation of the school might be slandered.”

Despite the concern and confusion, the Education Ministry remained silent on the issue on Tuesday.

“I have no comment,” said ministry spokesman Ros Salin.

Commerce Ministry spokeswoman Seung Sophari said Mr. Tug raised concerns about Zaman during a recent meeting with the ministry but made no formal request to have the schools closed.

Zaman University Provost Sok Udom Deth spoke about the issue on Radio France International last night, promoting the planned broadcast on his Facebook page by saying, “Zaman schools will continue to operate as normal. We invite the Ambassador to present evidences supporting his groundless allegation. #ImWithZaman.”

Mr. Tug was out of the country and could not be reached on Tuesday.

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