Improve education for minorities, says report

75666421.jpg ISTANBUL – The government should take action against the difficulties minorities face in education, says a new report released by the Turkish branch of the London-based Minority Rights Group International. Education in mother tongue, access to education and mandatory religion courses are a problem for both recognized minorities and others

An international group has reported that Turkey needs to address its education and government policies that promote Turkish identity and nationalism in a manner that denies the rights of other ethnic and religious identities.

The report was released by Minority Rights Group International, or MRG, at a press conference in Istanbul yesterday. Current minority policy fails to address educational rights not only for Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities but also for diverse groups such as Assyrians, Kurds, Roma, Laz and Caucasians in Turkey, read the report titled, “Forgotten or Assimilated? Minorities in the Education System of Turkey.”

One of the main problems minorities are facing in the education system is a violation of the right to education in their mother tongue, read the report.

No public school uses a minority language as the language of instruction and no minority language is taught even as a foreign language at public schools, according to the report.

Apart from legal problems, minority schools also face administrative difficulties. The vice-headmaster assigned to the minority schools by the state’s National Education Directorate has more authority in the schools than the headmaster. “This means schools are being managed by two different heads,” said the editor-in-chief of Apoyevmatini, a Greek-language Istanbul newspaper, Mihalis Vasiliadis, at the press conference. Garo Paylan, board member of the private Armenian YeÅŸilköy Primary School, said minority schools face economic problems in employing teachers with a good education in language or other courses.

Another significant problem is the history textbooks that depict Armenians as betrayers. He mentioned the recent case when the Ministry of Education sent out to schools a documentary based on claims that Armenians killed Turks in 1915. The Ministry of Education has stopped the viewing of the film following reaction from minority communities.

Turkish identity and nationalism are promoted as fundamental values in the education system, while minority cultures are ignored, according to the report. The oath read in primary schools every morning makes children from minority communities feel worthless, said Vasiliadis, adding that the oath should not be required, at least for minority schools. The oath says: “I am a Turk, I am correct, I am hardworking … My presence is a present to the presence of Turks. Happy is the person who says ’I am a Turk.’ ”

“Every time when I was reading the oath I felt scared … I was a Kurd at home and I was becoming a Turk at school. I was confused,” an Alevi-Kurdish school teacher was quoted as saying in the report. The report encourages the government to remove articles prohibiting the protection of minority cultures and language from all the codes.

Another critical issue in the education system is religious education.

All school children must attend mandatory classes on religious culture and ethics. But the main teachings are based on the principles of the Sunni sect of Islam, instead of general teachings on the history of religions, according to Nurcan Kaya, London-based MRG’s Turkey coordinator and author of the report.

Only Christians and Jews are permitted to opt out but they must disclose their religion to do so, in contradiction to the main principle of the Turkish Constitution, which prohibits the forceful disclosure of religion, she said.

“Mandatory or selective, the religious textbooks should be written in a perspective covering all the non-Muslim religions and every sect of Islam,” said Serap Topçu, a lawyer from the Cem Foundation, one of the influential Alevi organizations in Turkey.

The report found that minority pupils in these classes were sometimes asked to observe Muslim rituals that were not listed in the curriculum, such as performing ablutions, prayer and attending mosque. The access to education is also a problem for some diverse groups in Turkey not officially considered minorities.

Official minorities

“Turkey recognizes only Armenians, Greeks and Jews as minorities, but no other minorities such as Assyrians, Kurds, and Roma people have the right to open their own schools or have education in their mother tongue at school,” Nurcan Kaya said.

“Assyrians do not have a school within the Turkish education system for we do not have the rights other minorities have,” said Muzaffer Ä°ris, board member of Mesopotamia Culture and Solidarity Association, or MEZODER. Around 30,000 Assyrians living in Turkey are trying to learn their mother tongue in churches in a very backward and unhealthy atmosphere, he said.

Kurds and Roma people also face difficulties accessing education, said the report, referring to a survey that revealed “Kurdish families displaced by conflict in the 1990s in provinces such as Diyarbakır and Istanbul, include more than half of the displaced children who did not attend any schools,” mainly due to poverty and the need to work. Roma children also do not attend or drop out of school mainly due to poverty.