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November 2020
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School Books are Turkish, Muslim, Male, Heterosexual and Racist


The findings of the second project of monitoring Turkish school books for human rights violations, run by the History Foundation and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, have been published as a book.

“…The father is the person who makes the living for the family. The mother is the father’s hepler, and she provides the food, child care and love in the family.”

This sentence from a high school Health Studies book, published by the Ministry of Education, is cited in the book reporting on the findings of a project looking at human rights violations in Turkish school books. This is the second time that the History Foundation and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) have written such a report.

The book is entitled “Human Rights in School Books II” and emphasises that human rights violations begin in school books.

In many school books the children are told the following:

The father is the head of the household and the provider, while the woman is his hepler. Her duty is to look after the children, cook, clean the home. The Turks are “superior to everyone else”, they are “male, strong, brave and fighters”. AIDS is a disease which affects promiscuous people and homosexuals.

The report draws attention to the fact that there are clear human rights violations in many of the books.

Turkish, Muslim, heterosexual male identities are glorified at the expense of other identities and nationalities. Concepts concerning basic human rights are presented in a misleading manner or manipulated.

Examples of entries in textbooks are:

Superiority of Islam and Turks

“Islam is the religion which attaches most importance to cleanliness.” (Z. Sert (2007) Lise Health Studies, p. 11, Ankara: Ministry of Education Pulications).

By emphasising that Islam is the cleanest religion, other religions are presented as inferior. Thus, religious discrimination is practised

“We are Turkish, we are superior to everyone else.” (M. Ulusavaş (2007), Middle School Traffic and First Aid, p. 47. Ankara: Ministry of Education Publications).

By representing the Turkish nation as superior, other nations are discriminated against.

“The groups most at risk of contracting AIDS are: people having unsafe sexual relations, people with more than one sexual partner, homosexuals, drug users, those dependent on blood products and health personnel.” (E.A. Kolukısa (2006) Primary School Social Studies 6, p. 147, Ankara: A Publications).

This sentence encourages prejudices towards both people who are not heterosexual and those who cannot live with one partner.

Non-Muslims degraded or made invisible

“Sink it in the Black Sea and let the anchovies eat it, but…is there any use for anchovies fed on gavur (derogatory term for non-Muslims) meat?” (N. Özdemir (2007) Primary School Music 6-7-8, Teacher’s Guide Book, p. 148, Istanbul: Ministry of Education Publications).

This sentence contains a hurtful expression targetting non-Muslims and is also degrading.

Related to this issue is the choice of names that the characters in school books have. They are always Muslim and Turkish names, such as Ömer, Zeynep, Mustafa, Mehmet, Meral, Sema…In vain does one look for Armenian, Kurdish or Jewish names, such as Agop, Zilan, Baran, Moşe, Roni or Nayat.

Pupils warned of “threats”

“Countries in the region and developed countries with an interest in the region are uncomfortable with the fact that Turkey is becoming stronger…Turkey’s geopolitical characteristics make it a target for more internal and foreign threats. Turkey is facing and will always be facing internal and external threats.” (N. Yavuz (2007) Primary School Turkish Republic History of Revolution and Kemalism 8, p. 170, Istanbul: Prizma Publications).

This is a quote which exemplifies the constant emphasis on Turkey having enemies. Far from instilling values of peace, the book “warns” students of the threat of “external powers”.

“No nation has shown as much respect to the beliefs and traditions of foreign elements as our nation. One can even say that it is our nation which is respectful to the religion and nation of members of other religions.” (E. Genç (2006) Primary School Social Sciences 6, p. 105, Ankara: Ministry of Education Publications).

Only moral if religious

“For no one; we are Allah’s subjects…our hearts are full of belief, our strong arms….”(A. Kapulu (2007) Primary School Turkish 4, p. 29, Ankara: Koza Publications).

According to the report of the History Foundation, religious beliefs are presented as positive suggestions in school books. Traditions are shown as incompatible with a critical mind. When religion is described as a “culture”, morality is reduced to religiosity.

“Negative processes such as psychological depression, moral ruin, a loss of common values, damage to social and cultural fabric, alienation from national and moral feelings are all signs of beliefs that are not based on divine inspiration.” (A. Ekşi (2007) Religious Culture and Ethical Studies 9, p. 16, Ankara: Ministry of Education Publications).

Women: Mother, Wife, Spender, Cook and Cleaner…

Many of the textbooks are a product of the male-dominated mentality which aims at reproducing certain gender roles. While men are fathers, breadwinners, providers, economcial, strong and clever, women are spendthrifts, cleaners, cooks, emotional and powerless mothers.

“My mother bought a blanket from a door-to-door salesperson. But when my father came home in the evening, he said that the blanket could not be paid with this month’s budget, and said we would have to give it back.” (E. A. Kolukısa (2007) Primary School Social Studies 6, p. 22, Ankara: A Publications).

This sentence shows a woman who cannot make decisions, as well as a male-dominated family.

“Burak invited his friends home. His mother baked apple cake for the visitors” (A. Duatepe (2007) Primary School Mathematics 5, p. 161, Istanbul: Koza Publications).

Critical thinking discouraged

The report further emphasises that school books make it impossible for children to develop critical thoughts.

There are frequent expressions that show that Turkish culture cannot be criticised. When the books speak of the qualities that children should acquire, the authority referred to is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rather than science.

“Atatürk’s characteristics of loving his fatherland and nation will be discussed.” (A. Özdemir (2006) Primary School Life Studies, Teachers’ Guide Book, p. 43, Istanbul: Ministry of Education Publications).

“Patriotism” is presented as a quality that students are supposed to learn.

“Throughout history, the name of the Turks was used together with the word ‘soldier’. This is why the sentence ‘Every Turk is born a soldier’ has become a set phrase among our people and other nations.” (E.A. Kolukısa (2007) Primary School Social Studies 6, p. 22, Ankara: A Publications).

The project started in August 2007. 139 primary and middle school books, which had been revised in the last years to reflect changes in the curriculum, were examined for human rights violations. (BÇ/AG)