Target: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey
Goal: Praise Turkey for allowing minority Greeks to be educated in their native language
Turkey deserves to be lauded for embarking on a path of recognizing minority rights. Its recent step to allow the reopening of Hagia Todori, a Greek-language elementary school on the island of Gokceada, is a policy reversal that marks a major change in its treatment of the Greek minority. For 50 years the school has been closed because of the country’s fear of Greek nationalism. As the country of Greece is just across the Aegean sea from the Turkish mainland, the state was wary of the possibility that the island’s population of 6,000 might want to break away and seek annexation by its longtime rival.
Although the status of Turkish as the only language authorized to be taught within the state is still enshrined in article 42 of the constitution, the Ministry of Education’s decision to grant the school permission to operate is a symbol of Turkey’s new commitment to minority language education. The country’s parliament has given further signs of the seriousness of this commitment by seeking to amend the article in order to remove the ban on educating ethnic minorities in their native languages.
The right of minorities to speak their native language in Turkey provides a way for them to retain a connection to their past and preserve the identity that links them across the generations to their ancestors. We have to remember that the language issue in Turkey is not to be confused with the problem of immigrants who are trying to keep the language of their original homeland upon arriving in their new country. As part of the Ottoman empire up until early 20th century, the land that is now part of the Turkish state has been a multi-ethnic territory populated by Turks, but also by Greeks, Armenians, and other ethnicities. These ethnic minorities are not foreigners; they are long-term inhabitants of the land who have a right to continue speaking the language they have spoken for centuries.
This is particularly true of Gokceada, an island whose original name Imbros testifies to its status as a long-term bastion of Greek language and culture. The crackdown on education in the Greek language has been one of the policies pursued by the Turkish state to strip the territory of its Greek character. By revisiting its previous decision to discourage education in a minority language, Turkey is no longer forcing a different culture to perish and be absorbed into the majority.
Let’s applaud the Turkish state for its belated effort to recognize the rights of minorities to preserve their cultural identity by enjoying the right to be educated in their native language. Sign this petition to praise the Turkish Ministry of Education’s decision to permit the reopening of the Greek-language elementary school in Gokceada.
Dear Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey
The Ministry of Education’s decision to permit the reopening of a Greek-language school on an island that has historically been populated by Greeks speaks a lot to the new willingness of your state to allow its minorities to freely celebrate and promote their ethnic culture without encountering opposition from the government. This is a wonderful way for Turkey to establish itself as a country that respects minorities and to break with its past in which it has often taken onerous measures to suppress the rights of ethnic minorities. The island of Gokceada, a stronghold of Greek culture whose original name is Imbros, has seen its Greek population dwindle from the second half of the twentieth century, with the Turkish state’s forced closure of Greek schools along with various repressive measures designed to drive out the natives and replace them with settlers from the Turkish mainland.
The permission to reopen Hagia Todori, a Greek-language elementary school, is perhaps the reversal of this history of repression; we hope this means that Turkey’s minority populations will be gradually granted more rights to use their language in educational and administrative contexts. Hopefully this step is one of many more to come that will initiate a more open approach with the country’s ethnic minorities, who have lived on the territory of Turkey for centuries and may gradually be allowed to feel welcome to celebrate their cultures, instead of feeling like they have to give it up to comply with regulations that only make room for the majority culture of Turks.
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Photo credit: Ggia via Wikimedia Commons