French teachers face deportation over diplomatic row with Turkey

More than a dozen French professors at a top Turkish university face the threat of deportation after being denied a work permit while a diplomatic feud rages between Paris and Ankara.

Six of the instructors at Istanbul’s prestigious Galatasaray University told AFP that they felt trapped in a sometimes personal war of words between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Frenchman Emmanuel Macron.

The two leaders have had a stormy relationship and have fought over everything from Turkey’s muscular foreign policy in Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean to France’s treatment of its large Muslim communities.

The situation of teachers leads to further diplomatic overtones as the university, located in a scenic location overlooking the Bosphorus, was founded in 1992 by agreement between the then French President François Mitterrand and Turkey’s Turgut Ozal.

The university was founded as a “flagship of Franco-Turkish cooperation” in 1992. Instead, it has become a symbol of enmity between the two NATO allies with Macron becoming a song critic of Erdogan’s press to the disputed eastern Mediterranean.

Language skills tit-for-tat

The line began in September when French instructors were denied new work permits, which must be renewed annually, after the Turkish Council for Higher Education (YOK) suddenly changed the rules and demanded that they first pass an advanced B2 level of Turkish language skills.

When the teachers saw it as mere formality, they followed. But in December, they were told that only six instructors who reached advanced B2 level would be allowed to stay and leave about 15 others in limbo.

The professors said that they suddenly discovered the new criteria in December and did not have time to prepare.

“This level, which is very high, is not necessary, because our lessons must be given in French,” the teachers said in a joint statement.

Without a residence permit, French instructors cannot open bank accounts, sign leases, buy public transport cards or have the right to return to Turkey if they travel abroad.

The new language requirement seemed to come in response to France’s decision to introduce a similar rule for French language skills for foreign teachers and imams from several countries, including Turkey.

Protests over the appointment of a new principal

The dispute comes against the backdrop of growing diplomatic tensions between France and Turkey, which have had personal overtones between the leaders of the two countries. In September, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health” during a series on Islam in France.

In the same month, Macron said that the Turkish people “deserve something” other than Erdogan’s policies.

As the dead end draws to a close, French protesters find support from their Turkish colleagues and students, who are outraged at what they see as the government’s growing involvement in campus life. Students and professors at the nearby Bogazici University have been protesting since the beginning of the year against Erdogan’s appointment of a loyalist as rector.

Protesters have demanded that the new rector Melih Bulu resign and that the university be allowed to elect its own president.

( Jowharwith AFP and AP)