David Lepeska’s article published in Boston Globe includes factual mistakes
David Lepeska wrote an opinion piece for the Boston Globe website on 15 May 2016. Lepeska’s article includes a false translation of a statement by Turkish president and lacks crucial background information about the rise of imam hatip schools whose curriculum differs from other schools in its religion classes.1
First, Lepeska quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as declaring “democracy, freedom, and the rule of law have absolutely no value any longer”. This statement, however, was incorrectly translated and published by major news outlets on 18 March 2016.
In his speech, Erdogan criticized the stance most Western countries have taken regarding the fight against terrorism. He explained that Turkey has often been told by Western countries not to conduct operations against terror organizations -- the PKK being the major one -- while Western countries themselves take many counter-terrorism measures. Therefore he said the warnings from the West about Turkey's counter-terror operations "do not have value for Turkey anymore". For the original speech and translation, click here.
Secondly, Lepeska wrote that Erdogan wants to raise a pious generation and tried to support his argument with an inaccurate number of imam hatip school students. He said: “Under AKP rule, the number of students in Islam-focused public schools, known as imam hatip schools, has leapt from about 60,000 to more than a million.”
To find out the correct number of students, first, some background information should be provided since the article pushes readers to believe that imam hatip schools have mushroomed as a result of Erdogan’s religious project.
In 1996-1997, there were more than 500,000 enrolled students at imam hatip schools. In 1997, the "post-modern" coup of February 28 brought along the closure of secondary sections of imam hatip schools. Moreover, a new coefficient system in the university entrance exams was introduced, which hindered the graduates of imam hatip school from studying undergraduate departments except theology. As a result of these changes, the number of imam hatip school students dropped dramatically.
In 2011, the unfair coefficient system was abolished, and graduates of imam hatip schools were given the right to study any undergraduate departments depending on their scores of university entrance exam. Likewise, the secondary parts of the imam hatip schools were re-opened. Thus, the number of students attending secondary imam hatip schools rose to 385,830 while high-school imam hatip schools have 546,443 enrolled students, the sum total being 932,273.2