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Turkey Blasts Cyprus for Ripping Out Textbook Page on Kemal Ataturk

Turkey Cyprus Ataturk
A statue of Ataturk, considered the “father” of modern Turkey. Credit: Melissa Maples, CC BY-NC 2.0

Turkey reacted angrily on Wednesday to the decision by the education authorities in Cyprus to rip out a school textbook page referring to the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

The move by Cyprus “reveals the radical level of the distorted mentality” against Turkey and Turkish Cyprus, said a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement.

“We strongly condemn this anachronistic, hostile and unacceptable attitude of the Greek Cypriot Administration,” the statement added.

Telling how Greek Cyprus for years trapped the Cyprus issue in a deadlock, Ankara said this latest action “demonstrates that they do not have tolerance not only to share the power and the wealth, but even to live together with the Turkish Cypriots on the Island.”

Cyprus’ authorities instructed schools to completely withdraw a textbook from the curriculum after teachers were told to rip out a page containing praise for Ataturk.

The education ministry had earlier told secondary school teachers in emails and phone calls to “tear out Page 36 before handing it to the students,” an instruction that was leaked on social media.

Page referring to Ataturk as “Turkey’s greatest hero”

After public criticism over the instructions to rip out the page referring to Ataturk as “Turkey’s greatest hero,” the ministry decided to completely withdraw the English-language textbook from syllabuses.

The ministry defended its decision on the grounds that Ataturk was not a leader deserving of admiration. “Therefore, it is not possible to accept textbooks that promote or even praise his personality and ‘leadership,'” the ministry said in a statement.

Modern education, argued the ministry, is based on “respect for human rights and does not compromise with attempts to embellish such historical crimes.”

Cypriot MEP Niyazi Kizilyurek, the only Turkish Cypriot member of the European parliament, condemned the move as the sort of decision “which we only find in totalitarian regimes.”

“We have recently seen the Turkish government intervene in the teaching of history in Turkish Cypriot schools,” said the MEP.

“Unfortunately, in both communities, the education sector is anachronistic, and with these interventions, it becomes even worse,” added Kizilyurek.

Reactions in Cyprus against the move

There was a reaction in Cyprus to the decision by the Education ministry to scrap the book. Many teachers posted critical comments on social media while others reported the case to their union.

Teacher’s union boss Costas Hadjisavvas, while admitting the ministry order was worrying, suggested there should have been “better monitoring before ordering the books to avoid the incident.”

The leading news outlet, Cyprus Mail said that the move smacked of totalitarianism. “It is the kind of order we would expect to be given by the ministry of a totalitarian regime which considers the suppression of information and keeping people in the dark part of its remit,” the paper writes.

It notes that the page that caused offence to the ministry was in an English language workbook for second year lyceum students – Oxford Discover Futures 3 – and featured an exercise centred on a short write-up about Ataturk. It was titled, “Turkey’s greatest hero,” which is not something that even the great intellects of the education ministry could dispute.

Nor could they dispute that Ataturk “showed leadership from a young age, attending military school and then entering the army as a captain.”

The paper adds that “it is disheartening that the Republic’s education ministry leadership can exhibit such a level of narrow-mindedness at a time when it has been promising to promote critical thinking in public schools. This incident suggests the education ministry remains much more comfortable imposing controlled thinking.”

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