Discriminative discourse in history textbooks upsets Syriacs

September 26, 2011, Monday/ 17:41:00

High school history textbooks for 2011-2012 prepared by the Turkish Ministry of Education include anti-Syriac statements, resulting in disappointed Syriacs at a time when Turkey has been renewing relations with its minorities by eliminating unfair treatment in all sectors of social and economic life.

According to a report in the Radikal daily on Monday, the textbook presents Syriacs as traitors to the country not just in a given historical period but also today. “The Syriacs in the Ottoman Empire” is a very problematic part of the textbook in that sense.

It frames World War I as a breaking point in which Syriacs betrayed and stabbed the country in the back by cooperating with the great powers like Russia. Moreover, it also focuses on recent sociological aspects of the community’s relations with the state. The migration of Syriacs to Europe increased for economic reasons. But this fact is presented in the text from a negative standpoint in which Syriacs are instrumental elements for European political goals, manipulating them for Western interests in their relation with Turkey.

Due to the Lausanne Treaty, Syriacs became citizens of the newborn Republic of Turkey in 1923. The text also touches on the issue of Syriac genocide, labeling the speculations senseless and politically motivated to damage the Turkish position. “There was no genocide carried out against Assyrians in 1915 as has been claimed,” the text stated. Syriac writer Markuz Ürek criticized various aspects of the book. The first objection was that the history of Syriac people must be rewritten with the assistance of Syriac scholars and by taking their opinions into account. According to Ürek, the Syriac people want to live peacefully in this country rather than troubling Turkish society as claimed in the book. Ürek stated that the textbook would have been ideal if it had been written objectively rather than taking a one-sided and subjective standpoint.

“This textbook must serve the cause of uniting society rather than using a discriminative discourse that can only serve to further fragment society as some segments of society have felt excluded,” Ürek told Radikal. According to Ürek, in contrast to the narrative in the book, there was no Syriac revolt against the Ottoman state during World War I but rather self-defensive moves to protect against aggressive and hostile acts of Kurdish tribes in the Southeast. Syriacs are a minority who belong to the Syriac Orthodox Church and predominantly live in southeast Anatolia. Due to political pressure, Syriacs, like other minorities, faced serious problems during the Republican era. Only 15,000 are left in Turkey, after many migrated to Europe.

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