Turkey: New school text book encourages religious discrimination

Turkey’s Ministry of Education has introduced a school text book which Christian Solidarity Worldwide says encourages discrimination of the country’s small Christian community, despite growing international concern over increasing violence against non-Muslims in Turkey.

The book, Primary Education, History of Republic Reforms and Ataturkizm, Lesson Book 8, is aimed at thirteen year olds and was published this year by Devlet [State] Books.

The controversial text describes missionary activity as a threat to national unity by destroying national and cultural values through converting people to another religion. The text accuses missionaries of using natural disasters, such as earthquakes, to serve their own interests and warns children of the subversive aims of missionaries as well as tips on how to recognise their activities.

A spokesperson for the Alliance of Protestant Churches of Turkey said: "To the Turkish State and society, the words ‘missionary activity’ encapsulates not only the work of foreign missionaries, but all Christian activity in the country.

"The state and various groups have for years, through endless disinformation, spread the belief that Turkish Christians are part of a secret foreign plot to destroy Turkey.

"This is the same twisted mindset that has led to numerous attacks on our churches by young people who are convinced that we are CIA agents or similar."

Local Christian communities form less than one per cent of Turkey’s population of 70 million people. Concerns are growing that the education system is further marginalising the indigenous Christian population.

The Turkish Government has used state-initiated campaigns to influence public opinion over Muslim apostates and Christian activities in Turkey since the year 2000. The authorities have informed security and military forces about missionary activities, sponsored and disseminated reports, conducted seminars, preached sermons in mosques, published sensationalist articles in the press and ordered state officials to speak publicly about the dangers posed.

In 2006 and 2007 there were a number of fatal attacks against Christians, including the grotesque murders in April 2007 of two Turkish Muslim-background Christians and one German missionary in Malatya. Shortly after these murders, Niyazi Guney, from the Ministry of Justice, declared before the Justice Commission at the Turkish Grand National Assembly that missionary activities in Turkey were more dangerous than terrorist attacks and likened their activity with the end times of the Ottoman Empire.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Alexa Papadouris said she was "deeply concerned" over the "destructive content" of the compulsory school text book.

"It is extremely distressing to see that the Turkish Government has not taken proactive steps to address increasing attacks on Christians, but instead continues to promulgate disinformation about the small Christian community," she said.

"CSW calls on the European Union to urge the Turkish authorities to respect and promote religious freedom for all, at every level in Turkish society, particularly in the media and in educational material.

"Moreover, we call on the European Union to continue to address with Turkey the issue of violent attacks against religious minorities, seeking guarantees that the perpetrators of violence will be brought to justice through the courts in accordance with due process of law.”