New Turkish curriculum teaches children to be 'sacrifices'

Published in Turkish Daily News, 25 March 2008

Turkishness is hard to maintain, as I always point out. Not only does one have to keep up to date with shifting political moods in Turkey, but also one must share an unchallenged historical and teleological narrative. This constant effort at alignment with the officially sanctioned identities is a difficult process, especially for us Turks who dwell outside of our “motherland.” There is a real danger that we will “give in” to the erosion and, God forbid, loose our Turkishness.

Yet, we have not been forgotten and left alone in our identity problems. In addition to the efforts of our Foreign Ministry, the Turkish Directorate for Religious Affairs and Education Ministry do their “very best” to make sure that we have the resources to face the challenge.
All for the nation!

For example, the Education Ministry recently sent a proposed curriculum to be used in the supplementary schools where expatriate Turkish families send their children on the weekends. It is called “Draft Educational Program: Turkish language and culture lessons for Turkish children living abroad, Grades 1 to 10.” Its cover informs us that it was written in 2006 by a “special commission” in Ankara, formed by two Turkish language teachers, two religious education teachers, one Turkish history teacher, and, last but not least, a “program development expert.”

These seven education “experts” have obviously toiled hard and long considering our problems and developing a new generation of Turks in a foreign country. Amid all the important issues our children might face, they picked up one of the most “important” elements of being a Turk and sought to communicate this through a story to third grade pupils.

The “heart-warming” story is that of Mehmet, once again, but not an ordinary one:

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Mehmet was 20 years old when he was called in for his compulsory military service. His entire village sent him off to fulfill his duties with great jubilation. During a health check-up, his commanding officer recognized that one of Mehmet's hands was dyed in henna. When the commander asked why this was so, Mehmet told him that he did not know the reason but it was his mother's decision. So the commander asked Mehmet to write a letter to his mother and tell her that the commander wanted to know why she dyed Mehmet's hand.

Since the request for clarification came from the ranks, the mother responded with the following:

“My dear son, we received your letter. We were all happy. You ask about the henna I dyed on your palm. Send my greetings to your commander. I kiss him on his eyes. I pray for blessings. May God give all of you strength! Tell your commander this: We use henna for three different things: We dye beautiful girls, so that they can have a home of their own someday. We dye sheep, so that they can be sacrifices for God. And, my dear son, we dye the brave ones who leave for the army. We dye them, because military service is holy. Your grandfather was martyred in the Balkans and your uncle in Gallipoli. We dyed you because you too will fulfill this holy service to protect your nation.” The curriculum ends the story after the mother's response, informing us that this answer moved the commander deeply and brought him to tears.

From an exegetical point of view, the peak of the story is the symbolic preparation of Mehmet for being a “sacrifice” for our nation. This should set an example for all of our children at the earliest opportunity. The younger we impart this value, the more effective it will be. Thus, a 9-year-old Turkish child living in London should be groomed and prepared to daydream about tanks, bombs and being murdered. He should be raised as a non-questioning sheep, ready to lie on the altar whenever the orders for him to do so arrive.

Yes, their foreign (read gavur) education may be really good at teaching them to be critical thinkers and independent achievers in a global age. Yet, there are some things which a Western education can never give. Thanks to our “expert commission” and the spectacular efforts of our Education Ministry, the missing ingredient in the Turkishness of our children has been supplemented. Sleep well, commissioners of Ankara! You have saved our future!