The Turkish Context

The Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 out of a legacy of the multiethnic and multilingual Ottoman Empire. Despite the diversity of its population, the Turkish Republic has been characterized by the modernizers' organic vision of the society (Yeğen 2004). Education was considered a tool to foster a nation of unity. Turkish citizenship has privileged a republican model which emphasized the unity and indivisibility of the nation and sought to erase ethnic and language differences (Keyman and İçduygu 2005). Education in general and textbooks in particular promoted an ethno-religious (Turkish-Sunni Muslim) national identity while disregarding those who followed other religions (Armenian, Greek, Jewish minorities) and those who spoke a different language (Kurdish, Arabic, Circassian etc.) (Kadıoğlu 2007).

However, over the last two decades Turkey has been undergoing a major transformation due to the European Union accession process and the accompanying economic integration into global markets. In this process, non-Turkish and nonMuslim groups have attained a greater public visibility while claiming a right to equal citizenship. For instance, Kurds, who compose approximately 20 % of the Turkish population, have advocated more vociferously for mother-tongue education. The Alevi minority (a heterodox form of Anatolian Islam) has sought recognition of their cultural and religious rights. The increasing visibility and claims for recognition of non-Muslim minorities challenges the dominant definition of Turks as Muslim promoted in education, politics and public life. The last decade has also witnessed the emergence of newly organized ethnic groups such as Circassians and Lazikis who, worried about their linguistic annihilation, demand that their languages be included in the curriculum.

The AKP convened several workshops to address to the problems of minorities between 2009 and 2012. Under the title of “Kurdish expansion,” “Roma expansion” or “Alevi expansion,” these workshops aimed to set a reform agenda for the recognition of minority rights which has led to partial gains regarding minority rights. For instance, new elective Kurdish, Circassian and Laziki courses have been incorporated into curriculum. The most important step has been the initiation of “the Peace Process” in 2012 to resolve Turkey's transnational Kurdish problem. This process involves negotiations with the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, to end the armed conflict of the last 40 years. All these developments, unless reversed by a nationalist backlash, point to a “de-nationalization” or de-Turkification of citizenship in Turkey (Kadıoğlu 2007). They also signify the pressing need for Turkey to develop a new notion of citizenship for the equal inclusion of ethnic differences.

These developments cannot be understood without invoking the role of global processes and transnational institutions. The European Union accession process, as stated above, has been a catalyst for many political and educational reforms[1]. According to the Ministry of National Education, Turkey should have prepared itself for the European Union and to globalizing world (TTKB 2009). The official papers included several references to the importance of universal human standards in devising the new curriculum. It was noted that new textbooks have been written to raise citizens who adopt “universal values” as well as preserving “our own national culture and values” (TTKB 2009). The new curriculum opened up a space for developing a new citizenship education informed by global and cosmopolitan concerns. A close analysis of the textbooks, however, shows major problems regarding their perspective in linking national and universal values, especially in representing Turkey and Turkish culture with a securitization perspective in a globalizing world.

  • [1] It should be noted that the European Union process has slowed down due to exclusionary policies of major European powers and the ethno-religious discourse voiced by the AKP since 2011. Before 2011, the AKP's foreign policy involved a combination of efforts to become a member of the EU as well as to strengthen ties with Turkic-Islamic communities throughout the world. It formed new cultural centers in the Balkans and Central Asia to promote Turkish language and culture. This policy has been sustained in conjunction with reforms to take an active role in international politics as a future member of the European Union. However, after its third electoral victory in 2011, the AKP cadres adopted a more authoritarian policy and passed laws—such as prohibiting retail sale of alcohol after 10 pm and incorporating new elective Islamic courses into the national curriculum—without allowing for public deliberation. The AKP has responded to political protests against these policies with a Euro-skeptic discourse that goes hand in hand with an apologetic ethno-religious reactive perspective
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