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Turkey hits out at Cyprus for removing schoolbook praising Ataturk

Cypriot education ministry initially told secondary school teachers 'to tear out page 36 before handing it to students'
Turkish soldiers carry a giant effigy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Ankara to celebrate the anniversary of Turkey’s Victory Day on 30 August 2021 (AFP)

Turkey has reacted angrily after schools in Cyprus were instructed on Wednesday to remove a textbook from the curriculum because of its praise for modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The education ministry of the Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus had earlier told secondary school teachers in an email to "tear out page 36 before handing it to the students" - an instruction that was leaked on social media.

After public criticism over the instruction for the page, which referred to Ataturk as "Turkey's greatest hero", the ministry decided to withdraw the English-language textbook outright.

The ministry defended its decision on the grounds that Ataturk was not a leader who should be lauded, AFP reported.

"Therefore, it is not possible to accept textbooks that promote or even praise his personality and 'leadership'," the ministry said in a statement.

"Ataturk's name is directly connected with crimes against humanity such as the Armenian genocide, which is unequivocally condemned by our country and by the United States, France and many others," it added.

Modern education, argued the ministry, is based on "respect for human rights and does not compromise with attempts to embellish such historical crimes".

'Unacceptable attitude'

Turkish troops seized the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 in response to an aborted coup in Nicosia that aimed to unite the island with Greece.

Cyprus, whose overwhelming majority is Greek Cypriot and has been a European Union member since 2004, has effective control over the southern two-thirds of the island.

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Only Ankara recognises Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.

In a statement regarding the treatment of the textbook, Turkey's foreign ministry said: "We strongly condemn this anachronistic, hostile and unacceptable attitude of the Greek Cypriot administration."

Cypriot MEP Niyazi Kizilyurek, the only Turkish Cypriot member of the European parliament, also condemned the move as the sort of decision "which we only find in totalitarian regimes".

"We have recently seen the Turkish government intervene in the teaching of history in Turkish Cypriot schools," said the MEP. "Unfortunately, in both communities, the education sector is anachronistic, and with these interventions, it becomes even worse."

Omer Celik, a spokesperson for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), also condemned the act, calling it a "primitive approach".

"The Greek Cypriot authorities' barbaric approach also indicates that they have no tolerance regarding coexisting with Turkish Cypriots," Celik said on Twitter.