Turkey condemns Cyprus over removal of school book praising Ataturk

Turkey condemns Cyprus over removal of school book praising Ataturk

The withdrawal of a book from Greek Cypriot schools over a reference to modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which was deemed too positive, has sparked criticism from Ankara. 

Cyprus’ Education Ministry this week removed the book which was used to teach English because of its praise for Ataturk while not referring to his “crimes against entire peoples”. 

The ministry initially told teachers “to tear out page 36 before handing it to students”. 

The page referred to Ataturk as “Turkey’s greatest hero”. 

The book’s removal prompted criticism on social media, accusing the ministry of censorship.

The ministry said the book is still available in the Republic of Cyprus but it does not need to be used to teach English.

“It’s not possible for books being used for instruction in our schools to portray Kemal Ataturk as a paradigm of a moral leader who ‘benefited the people’,” the ministry stated on Thursday. “Because, as it’s well known, Ataturk and the Young Turks are responsible for crimes against people like the Armenian Genocide, of the Pontian Greeks, the Assyrians.”

In response, Niyazi Kizilyurek MEP, the only Turkish-Cypriot member of the European Parliament, said it was 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 Kizilyurek. “Unfortunately, in both communities, the education sector is anachronistic, and with these interventions, it becomes even worse.”

Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay condemned the Cypriot decision, saying it pointed to Greek Cypriot intolerance of the Turkish community on Cyprus, who make up about 20 percent of the island’s population. 

“I’d like to remind the Greek Cypriot authorities that it is not possible to erase historical heritage by ripping pages out,” Oktay told the Turkish media. “This disrespectful act against Atatürk, the founder of our republic and in the eyes of our nation, is actually the most explicit manifestation of Greek Cypriots’ intolerance of Turkish existence on the island.”

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 and Brussels officially regards the whole island as EU territory. 

The Turkish-Cypriot community unilaterally declared independence for the northern third of the island in 1983. However, it is still only recognised by Turkey and Turkish troops remain stationed in the enclave. 

Bilateral relations with Ankara have been further complicated by the discovery of offshore gas. 

The discovery of gas in Cypriot waters in the late 1990s initially appeared to offer hope for reconciliation and the Greek Cypriot administration said a share of the proceeds would be held in a fund for the Turkish Cypriot community. 

 

 

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk would not necessarily be a big supporter of the current Turkish administration. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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