Friday, May 3, 2013
ANCA Desk: Combatting the Gulen Movement in Lancaster
This week, I would like to highlight the efforts of a dear friend to the Armenian cause, Rev. Susan Minasian, the interfaith chaplain of the Franklin & Marshall College who was instrumental in fighting a proposal to open a Gulen charter school in Lancaster, Pa.
Gulen schools were first introduced and are currently run by the Academy of Business and Entrepreneurship Charter School (ABECS), a group that follows the teachings of Turkish Islamist Fethullah Gulen, also known as the Gulen movement. The Gulen movement is a form of Turkish propaganda that has implemented its policies across the United States. Gulen, who has been self-exiled in the Poconos region since 1998, is the ideological head of the movement.
The first Gulen school opened in 1999. U.S. officials were made aware of the movement’s involvement in charter schools in 2006, when they noticed a large number of Turkish men seeking visas to work at the schools. Board members of the Gulen charter schools are primarily Turkish, and the schools’ curriculum focuses on math, science, and technology, and largely ignores or neglects world history and current events.
The schools have been criticized for importing teachers and for not providing a comprehensive view of history, which includes education on the Armenian Genocide and Armenian history in general.
Unfortunately, ABECS has been successful in establishing Turkish-themed charter schools in many of the states, and public money received from those schools is used to open more charters that push the Gulen agenda. As of last year, 135 schools are reportedly in operation within 26 states.
When the proposal to build the school in Lancaster was made, Minasian challenged the values of the charter school by speaking out to the local Lancaster media and making statements at all of the hearings held earlier this year.
She noted that the opposition to the charter school was not about ethnic bias, but about serious concerns regarding those who deny genocide and waste taxpayer dollars to incorrectly shape young minds. “Just as we would not want Holocaust deniers leading our schools, we would not want genocide deniers shaping or leading our educational institutions,” she said at one meeting.
“It doesn’t matter where you live, you can be an advocate for justice,” she told me. “One voice can teach many people. I don’t worry that there are only 15 other Armenians around me in Lancaster, and I don’t use that as an excuse in my spiritual journey toward justice.”
The School District of Lancaster ultimately rejected the proposal last month. The 8-0 vote, with 1 abstention, ended the months-long debate over the merits of the school, which would have opened this fall. In addition, several letters of support from legislators have been rescinded, in most cases because they were signed by low-level staff and executives who didn’t know they were officially backing the ABECS proposal.
Minasian is extremely humble and insisted she didn’t do this on her own. She emphasized the importance of her network in Lancaster, who defended justice by calling out the charter school’s curriculum. She credits fellow Lancaster residents and colleagues for taking a stand against the ABECS proposal. Minasian works consistently to find allies who care about Armenian Genocide recognition.
Her story is inspiring not because it’s unusual, but because she is so motivated to create change even with just one voice.
People like Minasian who stand up for what’s right embody what grassroots activism is all about. I believe Minasian’s attitude is one we should seek to duplicate all over the ANCA Eastern Region On behalf of the ANCA-ER and Armenians everywhere, I want to thank her for being entrenched in a lengthy battle to fight the Gulen movement from taking root in Lancaster.
With more positive outcomes like this, the sky’s the limit on what we can collectively or individually achieve. Each victory is a victory for all Armenians.