Cyprus Decision Over Schoolbooks Resurrects Turkish Hostility
09/10/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on September 8, schools in the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus were ordered to remove from a curriculum textbook language that praised modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a “hero.”
Turkey has reacted with threats and objection, a response stemming from its continued denial of its Christian genocide towards Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians. It was this genocide that paved the way for the founding of modern Turkey, and also the illegal Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974. Today, Turkey exports genocide across the world through military expansionism.
“It’s not possible for books being used for instruction in our schools to portray Kemal Atatürk as a paradigm of a moral leader who ‘benefited the people,’” the Greek Cypriot Education Ministry said in a statement. “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.”
George Gigicos, Chairman of The Orthodox Public Affairs Committee (OPAC) stated, “We stand with the Republic of Cyprus – an island of a millennia-old Hellenic heritage. The revisionist history that casts the death throes of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Turkish State as a peaceful transition — without reference or regard to the annihilation and displacement of millions of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Orthodox Christians — is the same propaganda that casts the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 as an act of so-called ‘self-defense.’ The mass destruction of Christian churches and shrines in Turkish-occupied Cyprus tell the truth. Turkish Cypriots — a direct legacy of Ottoman occupation — were never in danger or threatened by the Hellenic majority. They lived in peace and harmony in one country until 1974 and should do so again without interference from outside forces.”
Turkish aggression, harassment, and discrimination towards Greek Cypriots continues today. For example, a cultural activist and refugee victim of the 1974 invasion recently attempted to return home in the Turkish-occupied part of the island. The German magazine Der Spiegel joined her undercover in this attempt and wrote about the continued trauma of Turkey’s actions toward Cyprus.
Observing one of many experiences during their journey with her, they wrote, “It’s her church, at the end of Esperidon Street. The door is nailed shut. Tasoula Hadjitofi sticks her head through a hole where there was once a windowpane. She sees the bench where she sat as a child and the iconostasis she used to pray in front of. The icons are missing from the iconostasis. Tasoula Hadjitofi rattles the door. Then she freezes. She hears the engine of an approaching car, the driver shifts up a gear. She throws herself down on the flagstones of the church and lies there, her face in her hands. The car leaves a cloud of dust.”
The genocide that Atatürk participated in is the same genocide that destroyed the lives of thousands of Greek Cypriots in 1974. It is a continuation of the same genocide displayed today by Turkey across the region. In August, ICC warned in the report, Turkey’s Overflowing Influence: Religious Freedom Implications, “If this is how Turkey treats vulnerable communities outside of its own borders, then how much more so within.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said “We are watching Turkey flex its military and diplomatic muscles throughout the region, particularly right now in Afghanistan. Just a few weeks ago, Turkey’s President Erdogan stood in Cyprus and said that Turkey and the Taliban are the same. For the victims of the 1974 invasion, this is true. The trauma is still real, the consequences still exist. The ideology of Ataturk destroyed their lives; it is not right to bully genocide victims into praising someone whose viewpoint and actions brought only death and despair. Turkey still illegally occupies northern Cyprus, and they make it clear that they view their work in Cyprus as unfinished business. We should be concerned. And we should support the victims in their right to acknowledge the truth of their own history and current lives.”