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Turkish Daily News: Discrimination in society has its roots in school books

A joint survey conducted by the History Foundation of Turkey and
the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) depicts an accurate picture
on
how discrimination has spread into the minds and daily lives of
people living in Turkey as a fact resembling ancient phobias
regarding threats directed at a country’s unity often described as
“the indivisible integrity of the state with its territory and
nation.”

The survey was a three-year project called, “Human Rights in School
Books.” The History Foundation scanned 190 primary and high school
books in which 4,000 discriminative items on the basis of religion,
race or gender were found. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey
(TÝHV) contributed to the project with its expertise and the Open
Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Turkey financially supported
it.

Hrant Dink, editor in chief of the bi-lingual (Armenian-Turkish)
Agos weekly, believes the History Foundation’s recent report has
crucial importance as a persons’ education determines their life. He
emphasizes, however, elimination of those discriminative items from
school books would not be enough but the basic challenge should be
against the mentality that legitimizes discrimination.

Ancient policy of 'otherization'


"The understanding of 'otherization' in school books is not
something new. Moreover, it's a consequence of the policy of
stereotyping in Turkey, which stands as a necessity for Turkey's
ideal definition of nation-state," Dink said in an interview with the
Turkish Daily News.

Dink said the education system in Turkey is presented as
"nationalist" but in more ways than one it served to dictate a racist
nationalism. "Thus efforts for having citizens, who perceive
incidents from the point of racism or nationalism, need an 'other' or
'enemy'," he said. In all institutions derived from the educational
system, one can observe its reflections, he added.

Nongovernmental organizations in Turkey have obviously started
being more influential in the European Union harmonization process.
The History Foundation's project is an example of those efforts
aiming to increase public awareness in society.

Dink emphasized that awareness starts with school books and
explained how his awareness improved while he was learning the
alphabet in primary school. There is a sentence in Turkish school
books for teaching the alphabet; "Ali, throw the ball to Ayþe."
During those years he faced the mentality of a system in simple
sentences, Dink has suggested an alternative sentence in order to
teach the alphabet; "Ali, throw the ball to Agop too."

Media's responsibility:

The phenomenon of multiculturalism in recent years has become much
more discussed in society, however, a certain resistance is also
observed. A December decision from the Press Council made just ahead
of the Dec. 17 Brussels EU Summit where Turkey was given a date to
start entry talks with the union, resembles both resistance within
society as well as some institutions' efforts to protect
multiculturalism.

An article in daily Birgün, Dink commented on Turkey's improvement
in the EU process, however, it sparked vicious reactions from another
daily, Yeni Çað; its headline from the front page was, "Look
at the
Armenian." The Press Council, upon a complaint from Dink, decided to
warn Yeni Çað, as it was motivating cruelty towards Dink.

"No person shall be denounced or ridiculed in publications on
account of his/her race, sex, social status or religious beliefs,"
said the related article of the Turkey-Code of Professional
Principles of the Press.

The fear of confrontation:


One can always find the necessary legal tools if there is a
sufficient will to act against discrimination. But the question then
comes; does that will exist in society? The answer isn't quite
satisfactory regarding implementation. Yet, Dink is not discouraged
saying that the awareness movement started by the civil society
spelled a positive start as it would lead to dealing with the sources
of the basic fault.

"The fear of confrontation is an essential fear, because issues we
are afraid of facing are hidden in the origins of our identities,"
Dink remarked. He said one was afraid that his foundations would be
jarred, if he faces his fears as it starts with the individual's
national identity and leads to questioning the state's identity, or
even the state's integrity.

Dink said this fear was understandable; however, it was not
possible to acknowledge. He likened the confrontation process to a
medical cure process as it was painful and necessary at the same
time.

"Consider it as continuous therapy; with every little experience,
you will avoid a greater catastrophe."

The EU harmonization process' role is only a "catalyst" role, Dink
concluded: "If the patient refuses to be cured, catalysts can do
nothing."

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