On Wednesday, Cyprus’ Education Ministry removed an English language workbook from the school curriculum for “inappropriately” lauding Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The ministry’s decision to withdraw the book “until a solution is found” comes after an earlier instruction telling teachers to “tear out page 36 before handing it to the students”.
The Oxford Discover Futures 3 book contains an insert on Ataturk, the first president of the Turkish Republic almost a century ago, in an exercise called ‘Turkey’s greatest hero’.
There are passages on the famous Mexican communist artist Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera.
The instruction to ‘tear out the page’ was sent by email to secondary education English teachers.
It was leaked to social media, causing a storm of protest by teachers asking why they should resort to such a practice.
It is understood the order came from the minister’s office and was conveyed to English teachers by high school education inspectors.
The decision to withdraw the book was solely on the reference to Ataturk, citing crimes against minorities carried out by the Young Turks movement led by him.
The ministry on Wednesday justified its decision saying the reference in question praises Ataturk as an example of leadership and a ‘hero’.
“Ataturk’s name is directly connected with crimes against humanity such as the Armenian Genocide, which is unequivocally condemned by our country and by the United States, France and many others.
“Crimes equal to the genocide of the Pontian’s and Assyrians, but also the criminal ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Hellenism in Smyrna and elsewhere,” the announcement said.
Modern education, argued the ministry, is based on “respect for human rights and does not compromise with attempts to embellish such historical crimes”.
The ministry’s earlier instruction to tear out the page in question had teachers accusing it of resorting to ‘book burning’ tactics used by the Nazis and other brutal regimes.
On Facebook, a university professor posted a photo of a Taliban, sitting at a laptop with a Kalashnikov, with the caption ‘a circular has just been sent’.
Meanwhile, MEP Niyazi Kizilyurek, representing opposition party AKEL and The Left in the European Parliament – GUE/NGL group, said he found the decision “unacceptable”.
Kizilyurek, the coordinator of the Left group in the Education and Culture Committee of the European Parliament, expressed “complete disagreement with this move, which we only find in totalitarian regimes”.
“We have recently seen the Turkish government intervene in the teaching of history in Turkish Cypriot schools and demand a teaching that reinforces the ‘national views’ of the students,” said the MEP.
“Unfortunately, in both communities, the education sector is anachronistic, and with these interventions, it becomes even worse,” said Kizilyurek.