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#MeTooSebat: Kyrgyz take to social media to debate controversial ‘Gulen schools’

The Chingiz Aitmatov Kyrgyz-Turkish High School for boys in Bishkek (Photo: Chingiz Aitmatov Kyrgyz-Turkish High School). Featured on Eurasianet.

The #MeTooSebat hashtag has been trending on Kyrgyzstan Twitter as former pupils of private schools inspired by the controversial Turkish scholar Fethullah Gulen share stories of oppressive teachers and institutionalised bullying, while others defend the schools’ reputation for academic excellence.

In winter there were cases when chatterboxes, who wouldn't sleep, were sent outside during the night in their pyjamas and forced to run several laps around the dormitory.

The hashtag has geopolitical connotations as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pressured Ankara's small Central Asian ally — and plenty of other foreign governments — to close all educational institutions linked to Gulen, his bitter rival.

The Turkish government says Gulen has long attempted to undermine the Turkish state from his de facto exile in the United States and was the mastermind behind a failed coup in the country in 2016.

The post-coup fallout saw Turkish diplomats coerce and tempt foreign governments from Azerbaijan to Angola into closing Gulen institutions.

A Kyrgyz twitter user jokes that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is paying users to tweet complaints about the school.

While many of Turkey's allies have responded to Ankara's call to close down the schools, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have sought a third way, allowing them to remain but renaming them and increasing government control over their management structures.

Turkey's leadership has indicated on multiple occasions that it is not satisfied by this approach.

On the back #MeTooSebat, at least one Kyrgyz lawmaker has already called for a thorough investigation of the schools, which have a reputation for secrecy, dismaying parents that view them as an affordable alternative to the troubled state education system.

Many Twitter users have pointed out that the bullying and other abuses reported in the high-performing institutions are no more than the tip of a giant iceberg of ills in schools across the country that authorities have regularly failed to confront.

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