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Education system in Turkey ignores minorities, says new report

16 March 2009

In the report, Forgotten or Assimilated? Minorities in the Education System of Turkey , minority communities accuse the education system in Turkey of working to assimilate them and promote Turkish identity and nationalism in a manner that denies the rights of minorities.

Since the Turkish Republic was established in 1923, minorities have been perceived as a threat to the ‘indivisible integrity of the state with its territory and nation’ enshrined in the Turkish Constitution.

Turkey recognizes only Armenians, Jews and Rums as minorities, and denies other minorities the right to open their own schools. No minority language can be used at public schools as the language of instruction.

Nurcan Kaya, Minority Rights Group’s (MRG) Turkey Coordinator and author of the report, says, “Turkey has to change its minority policy and recognize the existence of diverse groups such as Assyrians, Kurds, Roma, Laz and Caucasians. It must guarantee their education rights and take affirmative action where necessary.“

All schoolchildren must attend mandatory classes on religious culture and ethics. Only Christians and Jews are permitted to opt out but must disclose their religion to do so, a contravention of the Turkish Constitution.

The report found that minority pupils in these classes were sometimes asked to observe Muslim rituals that are not listed in the curriculum, such as performing ablutions, prayer and attending mosque.

Turkey’s most disadvantaged communities, such as displaced Kurds and Roma, remain extremely marginalized, including in education. Demolitions of Roma areas for ‘urbanization’ projects have left many Roma displaced and hundreds of children unable to go to school.

The report found that more than 30 per cent of the children of internally displaced Kurdish families living in Diyarbakır and Istanbul do not attend school, mainly due to poverty and the need to work.

Nurcan Kaya adds, “These conditions exacerbate the discrimination, harassment and humiliation that children from minority communities already face in Turkey, to such an extent that they often hide their ethnic and religious identities. Many minorities fear that ultimately their unique cultures will disappear.”

The European Union (EU) accession process has had some positive impact on the education rights of minorities in Turkey, but much remains to be done. MRG calls for the EU to put more emphasis on minorities in Turkey in its accession progress reports, and urges the Turkish government to consult with minorities on measures to promote and protect their access to education rights.

The report, which includes interviews with teachers, pupils and workers in minority NGOs and looks in detail at the issues of language, religion and discrimination in education and textbooks, recommends a complete review of the curriculum to remove discriminatory and nationalist expressions and to promote multiculturalism, tolerance and peace.

Notes to Editors

1. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

2. A copy of the report can be downloaded from the MRG Website, here.

3. This report was prepared and published as part of a Project entitled ‘Combating discrimination and promoting minority rights in Turkey’, with the financial support of the EU. The contents of the document are entirely the responsibility of MRG and in no way represent the views of the EU. For further information about the EU, please visit the official website of the Union.