ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Turkey’s Education Ministry has halted the distribution of a controversial documentary denying the Armenian genocide that was sent to all elementary schools after its move incited fierce reactions among academics and intellectuals in Turkey.
The ministry had distributed "Sari Gelin–The True Face of the Armenian Question," a documentary film developed by the Turkish Army’s General Staff, to all schools around the country, requesting that all students see the film. The Ministry had asked school directors return a "conclusive report" to the related administration by Feb 29, 2009, detailing how students react to the film.
The film had immediately incited outrage and protest from NGOs and individuals throughout the country who are warning that the showing of the material in schools will instill hatred in an entire generation, the Turkish Bianet news agency reported Wednesday.
In a statement released Thursday, the Education Ministry reversed its previous position, saying that the film was sent to schools for the benefit of the teachers, not the students.
There was no directive suggesting watching of the documentary was compulsory in schools, the statement said. "But some schools used the film inappropriately."
The film is named after a well-loved folk song, “Sari Gelin” (Blonde Bride), a song whose melody is known in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. But the film has nothing to do with promoting intercultural understanding.
The full title of this “documentary” is “Sari Gelin: The Inside Story
the Armenian Problem”, and it was sent out to primary schools in June 2008.
Academics criticized the documentary for reflecting the official ideology of the Turkish Republic, which denies the 1915 Genocide.
The Turkish History Foundation denounced the film as propaganda rather than a documentary. The foundation is currently working on a project to identify human rights violations in school books, and argues that this film represents just such a violation. It has also called on the Ministry of Education to halt the viewings.
"The students were forced to watch that documentary, which indeed had no scientific background. That would only increase hatred and discrimination against the Armenia’s," the History Foundation said in a written statement on Tuesday.
“This documentary is using a language of hostility and discrimination to sow seeds of hatred in a society where a hostility towards Armenia’s exists already,” The foundation added. “The ‘justified reasons’ for this hostile attitude towards people who are ‘not one of us’ is built on manipulative and selective ‘argumen’s’ put forward in the film. The young pupils watching this film will accept those claims as the truth.”
“All these children and their families are citizens with equal rights in this country. It should be expected from the Ministry of Education that it would respect such sensitivities in its practices,” The History Foundation added. “A safe environment, and societal peace, can only be created when education practices are in tune with such an understanding of citizenship. Damaged children’s brains can only stand in the way of societal peace.”
The education trade union, Egitim-Sen, has demanded that schools immediately stop showing this film. Trade union leader Zubeyde Kilic told Bianet Wednesday that their report on the film would be published within a week, and that they may go to court in order to prevent further screenings at schools.
According to Kilic, the film would teach 12 million children, aged 6-14, to hate Armenia’s and anyone who is different. It would “create a generation fed on hatred.”
“These children are at an age when they accept information without interpreting it, when they accept what they are told as the truth, and when things are stored in their memory,” She said. “It will be impossible for a child watching this film not to feel hatred for Armenia’s.”
“As for the Armenian children (i.e. citizens of Turkey who will also be exposed to this film), they may be marginalized or discriminated against afterwards. This worry may lead to them hiding their identities,” Kilic said.
Kilic is calling for an education that would teach the events of 1915, as well as other controversial parts of Turkey’s history, in a way that would heal wounds. “But this film encourages conflict.”
Some 500 Armenia’s and intellectuals also sent an open letter to the prime minister protesting the ministry’s move, daily Radikal reported on Wednesday. The letter requested the exemption of Armenian schools and Armenian students, who attended classes with Turkish students, from watching the documentary in order to "prevent them feeling guilty, ashamed and excluded from the others".
Human rights violation
Aris Nalci, a writer for the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, reports that schools have started showing the film. He says that the Armenian schools, which have also received the DVDs, are worried. Some heads of school have said that their teaching staff watched the film and decided that it would create traumas among children.
The journalist cites psychologist, Dr. Serdar Degirmenoglu, who says that children at that age would not be able to recognize bad propaganda material. The militaristic tone of the film is supported by images of mass graves, bones and skulls. Old men, who are calculated to evoke feelings of sympathy, are interviewed. The psychologist expressed his hope that the unsuitability of such a film for such an age group would be realized.