Turkey’s minorities condemn ‘Our Pledge’ but fear speaking out

minorities-condemn-8216our-pledge8217-but-fear-speaking-out-2011-08-15_l1.jpgMembers of Turkey’s minority communities criticize Turkey’s “Our Pledge”, recited by school children every morning, yet say they are hesitant to speak out their thoughts

All children attending Turkey’s primary schools are expected to read aloud the “Our Pledge” every morning when they come to school. DHA photo

Representatives of Turkey’s minorities are critical of Turkey’s “Our Pledge,” the oath recited every morning by primary school students, but are hesitant to voice their opinions on the matter, according to community representatives.

Many commentators who spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News on the issue asked for their names to remain anonymous, fearing they could face a serious backlash in case they openly propagate their views as members of the Kurdish political movement have done.

“[The pledge is] an assimilating slogan that [aims for] uniformity; it is rhetoric that causes the individual to draw away from his or her own culture, starting in childhood. This situation is causing damage to the people’s [sense of] self,” B.Ş., a prominent Syriac Christian, told the Hürriyet Daily News by phone.

“Everyday I was forced to say ‘I am a Turk,’ whereas I had storms brewing in me not to say that I am a Syriac. Once, I yelled that I am a Syriac. For that reason, I was attacked with the [derogatory term] ‘gavur.’ This state of affairs has to come to an end,” B.Ş. said.

Protests against the pledge

All children attending Turkey’s primary schools are expected to read aloud the “Andımız” (“Our pledge”) every morning when they come to school. The oath begins with the phrases, “I am a Turk; I am honest; I am hardworking. Let my entire being serve as a gift to Turkish existence.”

The recitation of the pledge has been protested by pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, leader, Selahattin DemirtaÅŸ, who said that he did not want his children to recite the oath.

Armenian and Greek community leaders, however, said they have no opportunity to express their thoughts as comfortably as the Kurds.

“I am irritated by all pronouncements pertaining to nationalism. We cannot express our thoughts as comfortably as the Kurds. If we did that, we would completely attract all the wrong attention,” E.O., a prominent figure within the Armenian community, told the Daily News.

E.O. also said he experienced great difficulties during his military service, just as in school. If someone from his own community had requested him to take the oath “Let my entire being serve as a gift to Armenian existence,” he would still object to it, E.O. added.

A.P., who spent about 40 years of his life as a lecturer in Greek minority schools, agreed. “If you ask me whether it is necessary or not, I do not think it is right for [the oath] to be recited every day; not in terms of nationality, [but because] I do not think it contributes anything to the child in terms of [their] education,” A.P said.

Meanwhile, B.C., the manager of a minority school who preferred not to publicly reveal his community identity, said there were more pressing concerns. “We have much deeper issues than [whether] to recite [the oath] every day. Our priority is to solve those issues [first.],” he said.

On the other hand, Marissa Gormezano, a Turkish citizen of Jewish descent, who became a deputy candidate from the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, during the 2011 general elections but was not included on the final election list, disagreed with other minority representatives.

“When [modern Turkish founder Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk said, ‘Happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,’ he was defining everyone who is a Turkish citizen. The opposing stance [rests on] a narrative that corrupts [Kemalist] nationalism,” Gormezano told the Daily News