Turkish Public Education System to Offer Class in Christianity

November 10, 2014 by Open Doors in Asia

The Turkish Public Education System is preparing to offer an elective course in Christianity. The new curriculum has been authored in a unique collaboration between Christian leaders in Istanbul representing different communities. The authoring committee is made up of nine clergy members with Greek, Armenian and Syriac Orthodox backgrounds, as well as Catholics and Protestants.

One, Pastor Behnan Konutgan of the Bible House in Istanbul, reported that the Ministry of Education gave the authoring committee the green light to continue developing the Christian religion curriculum this month. The committee has already prepared draft textbooks for children in fourth and fifth grade; ages nine to eleven. The committee plans to next write textbooks for students in eighth and ninth grade.

The creation of this new curriculum raises many questions about its implementation, such as how and where the classes will be taught. “There are more questions than answers,” stated religious freedom expert, Mine Yildirim. “If the Ministry of Education is not willing and ready to become flexible, such courses will be only a possibility in theory and never in practice.” Flexibility would involve collecting students from different schools to fulfill the required quota of 12 students needed to offer an elective course. Yildirim said the Ministry of Education could also consider conducting the class with fewer students, enabling the curriculum to address the needs of the Christian community.

World Watch Monitor spoke with a Syriac Orthodox Christian in his twenties who asked to remain anonymous. His entire primary and secondary education took place in Istanbul’s public schools. He said that there were usually up to three Christians in his classes, and during religion class, they sat together in the school canteen. He said he thought the proposed Christianity elective would currently be practically impossible to implement in Turkish private and public schools.

In an interview with the human rights online publication Bianet, Garo Paylan, an administrator at Turkish Armenian schools, asked a significant question, “Who will teach the course [in public schools]?”

Other concerns have also arisen. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), of which Turkey is a signatory, ruled in September that the Turkish education system’s mandatory religion classes are not fair to students who do not follow the country’s majority Sunni Islam and must amend its policies, according to a recent verdict of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). They ordered Turkey to allow students to be exempt from classes upon parental request, without requiring them to disclose their religious beliefs.

The government’s announcement about offering an elective in Christianity came very shortly after the ECHR ruling. Adding confusion to the reasons for the elective, many have noted that Christians and Jews are already exempt from the compulsory course referenced in the ECHR ruling, and Christians only represent a small minority of the population.

Dogan Bermek, Vice President for the Federation of Alevi Foundations, told WWM he thought the decision to offer a course in Christianity was a smokescreen to appease the ECHR and get “the Europeans off their case.” Students are currently required to take a religion course that the school system claims presents religion in neutral terms. Others disagree saying the curriculum imposes Sunni Muslim rituals in class that many Turks—including non-Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists—don’t espouse.

Though the decision of the ECHR is technically binding, top Turkish leaders brushed off the court ruling, provoking criticism and protests. According to Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, Prime Minister Davutoglu defended the Islamic religion curriculum, saying, “it is a requirement for an atheist to know about religious culture, just like I should know about Marxism even though I’m not a Marxist”.

In the meantime, curriculum preparation for the course on Christianity continues to move forward.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Father, we pray for the education system in Turkey; that a fair and unified decision will be made. We pray especially for the children; that they will not be confused by decisions that may not be in their best interest. We thank You for the upcoming course on Christianity, but pray that Christ will be central and that the curriculum will be biblical. We pray for the teachers who will teach the class; that qualified Christians will be found. We also pray for Christian parents; that they will have open relationships with their children, so that conflicting information from school might generate good discussion at home, and God-honoring growth in their children’s faith. In the name of Jesus, who is the focal point of our faith, Amen.

Join others in praying.