WASHINGTON, DC-Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) urged the Turkish Government late last week to rescind an April, 2003 decree forcing teachers and students alike to participate in a centrally organized campaign of Genocide denial, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In a July 28th letter to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, Rep. Pallone expressed his “deep concern of your government’s recent decision to mandate the teaching of denial of the Armenian Genocide to students of all ages. This act is a disturbing development and contrary to recent overtures by the your government that Turkey seeks to improve relations with Armenia.” The Congressman’s letter went on to cite the strong criticism registered by the European Parliament and various human rights associations against the mandate. On June 5th, a resolution adopted by the European Parliament discussing the status of Turkey’s accession to the European Union expressed concern “about recent instructions set up by the Turkish Ministry of Education forcing primary and secondary schools to participate into a denial campaign of the minorities oppression during the history of Turkey, especially against the Armenian community.”
Rep. Pallone also expressed dismay about the detention and subsequent arrest of a Turkish teacher who had questioned the decree at a May 30th government sponsored seminar on “teaching genocide denial” in the town of Elbaly in the Kilis region. Having asked a question about international recognition of the Genocide, Mrs. Julia Akpinar and five additional teachers were detained. Akpinar was later arrested and only allowed out on about $1,000 bail. Judicial proceedings are pending against Akpinar, who has been removed from her teaching position.
TURKISH EMBASSY RESPONDS WITH DENIALIST RHETORIC
Turkish Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Naci Saribas fired off a quick reply to Rep. Pallone’s letter defending his Government’s decision to teach Genocide denial, calling it a “belated effort to enable students to inform themselves about their own history.” The letter continues this line or argumentation, stating that “the allegation of genocide in this case has not, to date, been historically or legally substantiated.”
In a further indication that Turkey seeks to normalize relations with Armenia only on the basis of its continued denial of the Armenian Genocide, Saribas pointed out that, “with this understanding, Turkey has been actively pursuing reconciliation through dialogue with Armenians both in Armenia and in the Diaspora with a view to finally putting this issue to rest in a mutually acceptable manner.”
According to an April 14th decree by Education Minister Huseyin Celik, the Ministry “must include the subject of the claims of an alleged genocide as part of the history and social studies education.” To that end, Minister Celik called on all primary and secondary school teachers to participate in local conferences organized to “instruct that the claims of the Armenian Genocide are groundless.” The decree also mandates that all high school students must participate in a centrally organized essay contest refuting the Armenian Genocide, with the best essay to be published in an Education Ministry Journal.
The Education Minister’s decision has been roundly criticized by a variety of human and civil rights organizations. This week, a coalition of 170 European organizations urged the European Union to suspend all education assistance to Turkey. The EU has projected a $100 million aid package for education programs in Turkey from fiscal year 2003-2009. Speaking on behalf of the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (formerly ANC of Europe), Chairwoman Hilda Tchoboian argued that “European aid must not finance the Turkish education system, as long as it disseminates in its schools values that oppose the principles upheld by Europe, just as we would not finance teaching the denial of the Jewish Holocaust or justification of apartheid in South Africa.”