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Turkish textbooks: Turning history on its head

New content added to this year's curriculum will sow more hatred in Turkish children against Jews, Greeks, Christians, Armenians, Greek Cypriots and the State of Israel—all based on misinformation, willful distortion and historical revisionism.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meet in Istanbul, April 20, 2024. Source: Turkish Presidency/X.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meet in Istanbul, April 20, 2024. Source: Turkish Presidency/X.
Uzay Bulut
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. She is currently a research student at the MA Woodman-Scheller Israel Studies International Program of the Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

Turkey’s Islamist government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preparing to further indoctrinate Turkish school children in propaganda regarding Israel, Greeks, Armenians, Cyprus and other issues of history and geography.

New content, named “Turkey’s Century Education Model,” was added to this year’s curriculum and only recently made available for public opinion by the country’s Ministry of National Education.

Additions were made in, among other subjects, the “History of the Revolution of Turkish Republic and Kemalism” and geography, specifically relating to Israelis, Greeks, Armenians, Cyprus and others.

Turkish history textbooks will include more content on “Palestine,” Israel and Zionism. The misleading chapter on the subject matter which already existed has now been expanded.

The topic, previously addressed as “the Problem of Zionism,” is now, in an expanded version, “Zionist movements, the Palestine issue and the transformation of colonialism.”

Islamists in Turkey do not teach school children that Jews have been indigenous to Israel for nearly 4,000 years—since the Bronze Age—and that the reestablishment of Israel as an independent state in 1948 was actually an anti-colonialist step.

“Zion” literally means Jerusalem. Zionism is a movement or idea that supports the Jewish right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland, the territory that is now the State of Israel.

Meanwhile, Turkish government authorities have targeted their own indigenous peoples of Anatolia, namely the Pontic Greeks and Armenians. In the twentieth century, Ottoman Turkey largely exterminated these peoples.

Serious scholars agree that Ottoman Turkey committed a genocide against Christians, namely Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. In 2007, the International Association of Genocide Scholars issued a resolution, which said, in part:

“It is the conviction of the International Association of Genocide Scholars that the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.”

According to Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, denial is the last stage of genocide:

“Denial is a continuation of a genocide because it is a continuing attempt to destroy the victim group psychologically and culturally, to deny its members even the memory of the murders of their relatives.”

The government of Turkey has aggressively denied this genocide ever since its founding in 1923. Many Turkish citizens have been tried in court for publicly recognizing the slaughter as a genocide. Two human rights advocates with Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD)—co-chairman and Lawyer Eren Keskin and member of the IHD Commission Against Racism and Discrimination Gulistan Yarkin—were recently tried and acquitted of charges of “insulting the Turkish state and nation” for saying what was done to Armenians in 1915 was genocide, during a 2021 commemoration event for the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

The Turkish government is also in denial about the history of the land of Turkey. Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians are indigenous peoples of the land, just as Jews are indigenous to Israel. Muslim Turks from Central Asia arrived in the Armenian highlands and Anatoli, which was the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire at the time, only during the 11th century.

Through military invasions, Muslim Turks seized the towns and cities where indigenous Christians had lived for centuries. Ottoman Turks finally invaded Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) in the fifteenth century, bringing about the destruction of the Byzantine Empire. After that, abuses against Christian religious and cultural heritage became widespread.

Hagia Sophia (Greek for “Holy Wisdom”), for instance, was built by Greeks in the 6th century as a church. Nearly 1,000 years later, Ottoman Turks converted the Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque, killing or enslaving the Christians inside. In 1930, the Turkish government converted Hagia Sophia to a museum, and in 2020, back into a mosque. This was the latest in a series of abuses against churches in Turkey and is part of a neo-Ottoman resurgence.

The new Turkish textbooks also claim Greek and Cypriot waters in the Aegean Sea as belonging to Turkey. Through a doctrine that the government of Turkey calls “the Blue Homeland,” they aim to seize Greek islands and maritime space in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. This doctrine will be taught in geography classes at middle schools.

Turkey has threatened to invade Greek islands since at least 2018.

The draft curriculum, which includes suggestions for teachers, also addresses the history of Cyprus, which Turkey illegally invaded in 1974. It suggests that students prepare a report on the “injustices suffered by the Turks in Cyprus” to present at the United Nations.

Apparently, in Turkey, black is white and white is black. Turkey has illegally occupied 36% of the Republic of Cyprus since it invaded the island country through a brutal military campaign. Greek Cypriots were killed, raped, tortured, unlawfully arrested, forcibly “disappeared” and put in labor camps. Their property and possessions were forcibly seized and distributed to illegal settlers from Turkey. The Christian and Jewish cultural and religious heritage of the occupied area has largely been destroyed. Yet, the new curriculum in Turkey seriously suggests that teachers instruct students to write papers about the alleged “injustices against Turks in Cyprus”?

Sadly, these textbooks will sow more hatred in Turkish children against Jews, Greeks, Christians, Armenians, Greek Cypriots and the State of Israel—all based on misinformation, willful distortion and historical revisionism.

Indoctrinating Turkish schoolchildren with these unjust biases—children who will oversee Turkish education and politics in the future—will only make Turkey even more aggressive in its foreign policy and more vicious to its minorities and dissenters at home.

This article was originally published by The Gatestone Institute and has been edited for length.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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