Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Turkey's Ministry of (re)Education

Following an outcry, the Turkish Ministry of Education has put a halt to the distribution of a documentary which purports to tell the “true story” of the Armenian issue – that being that it was Armenians who slaughtered Turks in the early part of the 20th century, and not the other way around. The documentary, “Sarı Gelin -- The True Face of the Armenian Question,” was sent around to primary schools all over Turkey, and shown to students with the intention that it be used as an “educational” tool. “Sarı Gelin,” or the “Blonde Bride” in Turkish, is the title of a famous Anatolian folk song of Armenian origin.

From Hurriyet:
The documentary was criticized by academics for reflecting the official ideology of the Turkish Republic about the incidents of 1915 and undermining the claims of an alleged Armenian "genocide". The documentary mentioned the 1915 incidents. It is mostly criticized as unscientific and weak in its claims because it exaggerated the deaths of Turks while undermining Armenian deaths in an attempt to dismiss Armenians claims of "genocide". 

"The students were forced to watch that documentary, which indeed had no scientific background. That would only increase hatred and discrimination against the Armenians," the History Foundation of Turkey said in a written statement on Tuesday. 

Also, 500 Armenians and intellectuals have sent an open letter to the prime minister protesting this incident, daily Radikal reported yesterday. The letter asked the prime minister to exempt at least Armenian schools and Armenian students who attended the same classes with Turkish students from watching the documentary in order to "prevent them feeling guilty, ashamed and excluded from the others."

According to a report in Taraf (in Turkish), the decision to distribute the film was actually made by Turkey’s National Security Council, which has a committee that works on countering “false genocide claims.” Following a 2007 decision by the committee to distribute the film, Turkey’s General Staff bought 56,388 copies of the film – which show images of Armenian gangs attacking Turkish villages and of piles of corpses that are supposed to belong to Turks murdered by Armenians – which were then given to the Ministry of Education and sent around to school districts across the country. (An English-language version of the film can be watched online here – unless, of course, you are in Turkey, since the government’s ban on YouTube means the video is not accessible.)

This is the second time in recent months that the Turkish Ministry of Education has been involved in a pedagogical controversy. In January, during Israel’s attack Gaza, the ministry issued a directive for all students to observe a minute of silence for the Palestinians killed in the offensive. "This show of respect damns not only the cruelty in the Palestine, but also shows solidarity with the Palestinian people," the directive said.

Critics called the directive manipulative and an injection of politics into the educational system. “How can we describe such an action other than condemning it as a gross violation of [the] rights of children and [the] exploitation of them for some political reasons?” wrote Yusuf Kanli, a columnist with Hurriyet’s English-language edition.

No comments: