The removal of a book from Cyprus high school classes over a disputed reference to modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on Thursday triggered a war of words between Turkey and Cyprus’ Education Ministry.
This week, the Education Ministry pulled the book used to teach Grade 11 English because it said it was too effusive in its praise of Ataturk, saying his legacy was marred by “crimes against entire peoples.”
The book was formally ordered withdrawn after English teachers were told the “rip the page” regarding Ataturk from the book.
That provoked a flurry of denouncements on social media and elsewhere criticizing the ministry of censorship.
The ministry defended its decision, insisting that the book is freely available in Cyprus, but that doesn’t mean it should be used for teaching English.
“It’s not possible for books being used for instruction in our schools to portray Kemal Ataturk as a paradigm of a moral leader who ‘benefited the people’,” the ministry said in a statement Thursday. “Because, as it’s well known, Ataturk and the Young Turks are responsible for crimes against people like the Armenian Genocide, of the Pontian Greeks, the Assyrians.”
In a fresh statement on Friday, the education ministry rejected Turkish criticism, pointing out they had no say in the matter.
In fact, it is outrageous for the Turkish state, with its well-known attitude towards Cyprus, to make demands relating to Ataturk or the Republic’s education.
“The selection of the book that will be used as a teaching aid is the responsibility of the education ministry. Not choosing one of the many books because it is deemed inappropriate, is certainly not censorship,” the ministry said.
The statement said an investigation will look into possible oversight.
The Turkish foreign ministry “strongly” condemned the decision as “anachronistic, hostile, and unacceptable.”