Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Miseducation of Turkey's Minority Children

A new report issued by the London-based Minority Rights Group International takes a look at the educational challenges faced by minority children in Turkey.

From a Reuters article about the report:
Nurcan Kaya, author of the report by Minority Rights Group International, said a failure to provide equal access to education for children from non-Turkish backgrounds could hamper the country's bid to join the European Union, which has called on Turkey to expand cultural rights for its ethnic minorities.

"The discrepancy between EU standards on education for minorities and those in Turkey will ultimately affect Turkey's efforts to join the EU," Kaya said at a news conference.

"The EU should give this issue greater priority during Turkey's accession process," she said.

Turkey only recognises Greeks, Armenians and Jews as minorities under a treaty that ended World War One and doesn't afford special rights to other ethnic or religious groups, including Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the population, Roma, Syriac Christians, Alevi Muslims and others....
....Officially recognised minorities operate their own schools and are able to teach some classes in Greek or Armenian, but are given as little as $1 per student annually in financial assistance from the government, said Garo Paylan of the Armenian Foundation Schools at the news conference.

Minority schools are unable to find properly trained teachers and updated textbooks, he said. A Turkish assistant principal employed by the Education Ministry is the main authority at the schools.

Religious education that teaches the Sunni Hanafi creed of Islam remains mandatory in state schools and non-adherents can only opt out of classes if they disclose their faith, which violates Turkey's secular constitution, the report said.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled last year that religion classes in Turkey's state schools violate pluralism in a case brought by an Alevi father.
The full report can be found here.
[UPDATE -- In a column in Today's Zaman, Andrew Finkel points out the report's "unflattering" conclusion: "Although the education system could be used as an effective tool to promote tolerance, multiculturalism and peace, it is deepening fears and hatred in its current state."]
On a related note, the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), recently released a report looking at the legal and bureaucratic hurdles faced by non-Muslim minority foundations in Turkey. Today's Zaman writes about it here. For some more background on the issue, take a look at piece I wrote a few years back for JTA.

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