Erdogan says young Turks who study in West return as 'spies' - but his own children studied in US

Raf Sanchez
President Erdogan's son Bilal (centre) and daughter Sumeyye (right) both studied in the US - Reuters

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that young Turks who study in the West come back as “volunteer spies” - even though three of his own children studied in the US. 

Speaking at an event in New York, the Turkish leader said: “Those who were sent to the West for education came back with only the West's culture, losing their identity. Those who the country waited for to solve its problems came back as the West's volunteer spies."

Mr Erdogan is the father of four adult children, three of whom have degrees from American universities. 

His daughter Esra and son Bilal both did their undergraduate studies at Indiana University, while other daughter Sumeyye has a master’s degree from the university’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. 

Mr Erdogan's daughter Esra also studied at Indiana University Credit: CEM TURKEL/AFP/Getty Images

Mr Erdogan met with the president of Indiana University in Istanbul in 2014 and the university said that both the president and his wife, Emine, had visited the university’s campus in Bloomington, Indiana 

The president’s daughters both wear Muslim headscarves. Some reports said they refused to study in Turkey because many Turkish universities banned the headscarf until 2010.  

Bilal also graduated with a masters in public policy from Harvard’s prestigious John F Kennedy School of Government. He was working on a PhD at Johns Hopkins University but it is not clear if he completed it. 

Many of the president’s most senior cabinet members also studied in the West. 

In his speech, Mr Erdogan lamented that for hundreds of years young Turks had been sent abroad to study but returned with Western ideas. “Those who look down on their own nation, those who despise their own values, be sure about that; even our enemies couldn't do damage like these so-called intellectuals did.”

Mr Erdogan’s comments led to frustrated outpourings on social media from some Turks who accused him of hypocrisy. 

Mr Erdogan regularly unleashes broadsides against the West in general and often the European Union in particular. 

Earlier this year, in the run up to a referendum that vastly expanded his own powers, he sparked an angry diplomatic back and forth with Holland and Germany, accusing both of being Nazis. 

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