Turkish teacher kidnapped and abducted from Tajikistan

On September 16 in Tajikistan, unknown men kidnapped Turkish citizen, teacher and alleged Gülen supporter Koray Vural.

According to initial media reports, Vural was then forced on to a plane and forcibly returned to Türkiye. The abduction of Vural appears to be yet another example of Turkish authorities retaliating against alleged associates of the Gülen movement, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said in a statement today. In the statement, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee demanded that authorities in Türkiye credibly charge or immediately release Vural.

Around 09.30 in the morning of September 16, eight men approached Koray Vural as he was just getting out of his car outside the Ozyurt restaurant that he owns in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. According to eyewitnesses, the men took Vural away to an unknown location. When his close ones went searching for him with the local law enforcement, they were not given any information about his whereabouts. Turkish media report that he was then forced on to a plane in an operation allegedly orchestrated by the Turkish security services, and subsequently returned to Türkiye.

Koray Vural had been living in Tajikistan since 1994 and had obtained an indefinite residence permit in the country on the grounds that his wife is a Tajikistani citizen. At the time of his abduction, he was awaiting the outcome of his application to United Nations to be resettled to a third country. According to media reports, Turkish authorities target him for his alleged ties to the Gülen movement – he allegedly used to manage Gülen-associated schools in Tajikistan prior to venturing into business in 2016.

The Gülen Movement is illegal in Türkiye, where the organization is designated a terrorist organization by the Turkish authorities. Turkish authorities accuse the movement’s founder, Fethullah Gülen of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt that left over 200 people killed. Since 2016, authorities have imprisoned tens of thousands of alleged Gülen supporters in an unprecedented crackdown.

The forced return of Vural to Türkiye fits a pattern in which Turkiye hunts down critics abroad, especially anyone with alleged ties to the Gülen movement. According to a recent report by Freedom House, Turkish authorities have pursued critics and perceived opponents abroad in at least 31 countries in recent years, and 58 individuals have been forcibly returned to Türkiye since 2014. Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed concerns over Türkiye’s “use of some transnational repression tools, particularly following the July 2016 coupt attempts, and its consistent pursuit of anyone allegedly related to the ‘Gülen movement’”.

Türkiye and Central Asian states have a long history of assisting each other in carrying out transnational repression. Earlier this summer, Emsal Koc, another Turkish teacher with alleged ties to the Gülen movemenet, was forcibly returned from Tajikistan to Türkiye. Two years ago, in  July, 2021, a Kyrgyz citizen of Turkish origin, Orhan Inandi, was kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan and returned to Türkiye. According to Inandi’s wife, Turkish officials tortured him in pre-trial detention and broke his arm in three places. Turkish authorities on their side claim that Inandi was the leader of the Gulen movement in Central Asia and in June 2023, the Turkish Supreme Criminal Court sentenced him to 21 years’ imprisonment after finding him guilty of terrorism charges.

In recent years, Turkish authorities have forcibly returned to Turkmenistan several hundred Turkmen citizens, including peaceful activists and dissidents. A year ago, the Turkish authorities even cancelled the visa-free regime for citizens of Turkmenistan at the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan.

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Marius Fossum

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