Erdogan’s Neo-Ottoman Language Reform Sparks Outrage

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a remodeling of the national school curriculum by making Ottoman Turkish a compulsory subject for high school students to enrich their understanding of their cultural heritage.

The proposal is just another addition to a movement to steer the Turkish populace towards Islam, and which has generated criticism from those who perceive the decision as an attempt by Erdogan to return Turkey to an Ottoman similar state. The classes were mandated for religious school students and were optional in secular high schools.

“There are people who do not wish Ottoman to be taught and learned. Regardless of whether they want it or not, Ottoman will be taught and learnt in this country.” stated Erdogan in a meeting of Turkey’s religious council.

He claimed that the language, which is vernacular Turkish imbibed with many Persian and Arabic words and phrases, was essential to allow young Turks to be able to research their histories through the writings in documents and on gravestones. The claim was criticized as pushing Turkey backwards.

Regardless of the country’s promise of “constitutional secularism”, the series of steps taken by Erdogan to Islamize the youth have pushed the country’s educational system, one of the most influential areas for future control of the country, towards the Sunni faith. The move has initiated heated arguments and debates throughout the country. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP), stated that the decision limited people from thinking broadly.

“The primary characteristic of education is to make sure that our children are able to ask qualitative questions. What you are doing with this is preventing our children from asking questions. They want to convert Turkey into a medieval country”, he said during his speech on December 6th.

Other steps initiated by Erdogan to instill devotion in youth for his “New Turkey” regime was to recommend religious classes for children in nursery schools, but some religious ideas were deemed too extreme for children at that age and the proposal was rejected. Other reforms included allowing children from the fourth grade to take two years off to memorize the Quran, as well as banning courses in the tourism industry that were focused on the training of preparing alcoholic beverages.

Opposition party speaker Selahattin Demirtas expressed his anger at the continuing absence of Kurdish in Turkish schools. “Even if your whole army comes, they can’t force my daughter into Ottoman lessons,” said Demirtas in response to the language reform.

Statistics have reflected an increased prevalence of the Islamic movement within the educational system, from 90,000 students graduating from 453 imam-hatip high schools in 2004 to 474,000 students graduating from 952 similar schools in 2014. The movement has received major criticism from parents, who classified it as an action by the government to further degrade the country’s education system.

Ayse Karvan, a mother of two, commented:

“The education system is in shambles, but instead of introducing real reforms, the government is pushing through irrelevant backward subjects that do nothing more than brainwash children with their ideologies”.