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Turkey Suspends Thousands of Teachers in Kurdish Areas

Demonstrators display signs during a protest against the suspension of teachers from classrooms over purported links with Kurdish militants in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Sept. 19, 2016.
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Educators in Turkey are at the center of a government campaign against Kurdish rebels.

More than 12,000 teachers have been suspended for suspected ties to the Kurdish Worker's Party, or PKK.

The campaign has affected schools in Diyarbakir, a city with a large Kurdish population. Almost one-fourth of its 17,000 teachers are suspended.

The teachers are accused of supporting terrorism because they took part in a strike last year. The strikers called for an end to fighting between the PKK and the Turkish government.

Saliha Zorlu is a leader of Diyarbakir's educator's union. She says that she believes there is a larger plan behind the government’s crackdown.

Her union, she explains, supports secularism in education and in Turkish society in general. Secularism is the belief that religion should not have a strong influence in education or other public parts of society.

If the union is not active, she says, the education system will change into a religious one.

"We are already seeing signs of this today," Zorlu adds. "During the attack on us, we saw that imams were appointed to state-run dormitories."

Dormitories are the buildings where students live.

Traditionally, Kurds in Turkey are religious conservatives. Religious groups that support the government have recently increased their activities in Kurdish areas. These activities include supporting calls for the region's return to its Islamic roots.

Religious activities are seen as an opposition to the secular PKK.

Like the rest of Turkey, there has been an expansion of religious schooling in the Kurdish region.

The government insists that the teacher's suspensions are about fighting terrorism.

The head of the ruling AKP party in Diyarbakir, Muhammad Akar, said, "In the upcoming days, those who made propaganda for the terror organization, who boycotted schools and who encouraged students to join the terrorists, will be separated from the innocent teachers."

He added "I can say that a significant percentage will be reinstated to their duties, and the others, those who are guilty, will be charged."

The arrests and suspensions of teachers are continuing to fuel anger and protests.

Idris Baluken, a parliamentary group leader of the pro-Kurdish party HDP, warns the suspensions are increasing tensions in the area.

The conflict between Turkey and the PKK appears to have a new front line: education. Children and teachers seem likely to be caught in the crossfire.

I’m John Russell.

Dorian Jones reported this story for John Russell adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

crackdown – n. a serious attempt to punish people for doing something that is not allowed

region – n. an area

imam – n. an Islamic religious leader

crossfire – n. shots that come from two or more places so that the bullets cross through the same area — sometimes used figuratively

reinstate – v. to return or re-establish