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Concept Schools linked to Turkish cleric

The Turkish immigrants who lead Concept Schools reject the idea that they run “Gulenist” schools.

But records show extensive ties between Concept and organizations affiliated with the influential Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The organizations include the Niagara Foundation and the Chicago Turkish American Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored trips to Turkey for Illinois politicians.

The three Concept schools in Chicago are among more than 150 U.S. schools tied to the worldwide Gulen movement, according to Joshua D. Hendrick, a sociology professor at Loyola University Maryland and author of a recent book on the movement.

“They’re absolutely related,” Hendrick said of the charter schools and the other Turkish groups in Chicago.

Among the ties:

◆ The board president for Concept’s Chicago Math and Science Academy, Edip Pektas, is secretary of the Turkic American Federation of Midwest, an umbrella group for the Niagara Foundation and the Turkish chamber. “The Turkish American community is a smaller community in the region, and whenever there’s an activity, my name comes up,” Pektas said to questions about ties between the school and other groups.

◆ CMSA’s former treasurer Hasan Ali Yurtsever was president of the Gulen-affiliated Rumi Forum in Washington, D.C. In a 2007 interview at Georgetown University, Yurtsever said Gulen was a close family friend.

◆ Another former CMSA board member, Murat Surucu, was on the board of a Gulen-inspired group in California before moving to Chicago.

◆ Yavuz Burak Canbolat was the Turkish chamber’s treasurer at the same time he was CMSA president, from 2009 to 2011.

◆ Concept vice president Salim Ucan was principal of the Science Academy of Chicago, now located in Mount Prospect. That private school was started by Niagara Educational Services, which created the Niagara Foundation.

Niagara Foundation officials say they broke with Niagara Educational Services in 2009. But records show the Niagara Foundation’s president and another current board member were on the Niagara Educational Services board while it was owed loan payments by Concept’s real estate arm and while it leased a building to a Concept school in Ohio.

Despite the connections with Gulenists, Ucan said, “Concept Schools is not affiliated with, nor does it promote, any political or religious agendas.”

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