13 June 2010

Turkey’s Minister of Education Does Something Almost Special

One step forward and one step backward, then one step forward and … : This how we can characterize the Turkish policy as regards to the education of the country’s minority students.

On 10 June 2010, Turkey’s Education Minister, Ms. Nimet Chabukchu, participated in the joint graduation ceremony of all the Armenian schools in Istanbul and personally handed the graduation certificates to the Armenian graduates.

According to Turkish daily Hurriyet, via Armenian Tert online daily, the ceremony was organized in the Bezciyan College in Kumkapi.

This was the first time in the history of Turkish Republic that the education minister was participating in the graduation ceremony of Armenian minority schools. And this was not the only novelty of the day.

In her speech, the Minister announced that from the next academic year, the Ministry will provide free textbooks in Armenian language for Armenian schools. "We provide textbooks on Turkish language and culture and we also are about to finish preparations to provide textbooks in Armenian language, free of charge. When the preparations end, you will get textbooks published in your mother tongue," she said.

The following day the Minister attended a joint ceremony of Greek schools in Istanbul. Like the Armenian ceremony, the Greek event was loaded with Turkish nationalistic rituals and rhetoric.

According to Zaman Turkish daily, Çubukçu was welcomed with flowers and Turkish flags, and she was ‘moved’ when a primary school student who had won a ‘contest for singing the Turkish national anthem’ sang the anthem at the end of the ceremony.

Speaking on behalf of the Greek schools across Istanbul, Zoğrafyon High School principal Yani Demircioğlu said in his opening remarks that Çubukçu’s visit was very important for the future of the Greek schools. “Our wish is that the result of your visit will be valuable in shedding light on history and will be a turning point for Turkey’s Greek schools.”

Speaking after the ceremony, Çubukçu said the ministry has been working on the problems experienced by schools in Turkey’s communities. In response to a reporter’s question over whether or not her visits to community schools could be called a community initiative, Çubukçu said: “Above all, I think we have opened the door to warm and sincere dialogue. … These schools are also Turkey’s schools. Our target is to provide high-quality education for the students who come through these schools. Therefore, I care about this cooperation [between Turkish authorities and the schools]. In fact, we did not think we were doing something special.”

Multiple Standards

If Armenians and Greeks are recognized as minorities according to the Treaty of Lausanne - and somewhat tolerated - the case of the other ethnic minorities remains unresolved in Turkey.

Despite AKP’s ‘Kurdish Initiative’ and claims of gradual democratization and Europeanization of the country, most minority students, including the Kurds, are not allowed to study their mother tongue. Plus, there are no signs of “warm and sincere dialogue” for these groups.

The cultural assimilation policy, one of the premises of the kemalist Thought, has nevertheless failed in the case of the Kurds as the community is large (estimated 12-18 million) and geographically concentrated. Smaller communities, however, are struggling hard to preserve their language and identity.

UNESCO has classified 15 languages spoken in Turkey as "endangered" and has criticized the country for not doing much to save them.

One of these languages is Laz, a Kartvelian language, spoken by approximately 200,000 people in Turkey. Aljazeera English channel recently aired an interesting story on the current situation of the Laz minority in Turkey (to read the script, please click here).

In parallel, Turkey does not hesitate to assist Turkic minorities in other countries. The most recent example of such a policy is its involvement in favor of Tatar education in Crimea.

During his visit to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine, on 6 May 2010, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the architect of ‘neo-Ottoman’ doctrine, announced that Turkey was ready to extend help for opening of new schools that offer education in the Tatar language.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of a school that was funded by Turkey's development agency, TIKA, Davutoglu said, "We want to see stability and peace prevail in the Black Sea and Crimean Tatars live in peace, security and prosperity. And for that, national identity and language should be protected."

Why do some communities living in other countries have the right to “live in peace, security and prosperity” and protect their national identity and language while those living inside the country may not do so?

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