ISTANBUL (Hurriyet) –Armenian schools in Istanbul are to receive updated textbooks after a decision by Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu. The current textbooks have not been revised since the 1930s.
Almost 24,000 books are to be distributed to students following the decision. Special permission is required to revise the content of the Armenian Language and Literature book, which has been the same since 1934.
Turkish and English CDs have also been added to the updated schoolbooks, which were distributed for free.
The biggest obstacle encountered in the revising was in the translation of books from Turkish into Armenian, as there were problems finding an interpreter with the capacity to make the translation.
The Turkish Armenian Minority Schools Teachers Fund (TEAOV) worked to overcome this problem with the help of 80-year-old retired Armenian teachers. The main person behind revising the books is a member of Istanbul’s Armenian society, Varujan Turaç. Turaç, who is also a parent, has sent lots of letters to the ministry petitioning to renew the books.
TEAOV Chairman Garo Garabetyan, who followed all developments and prepared the books for publication with a community from Ankara and Istanbul, explained the difficulties. “We needed to get special permission from the Board of Education and Discipline to print the new books. It continued in the same way for many years. Ankara used to ask for 18 copies of each book with the approval of a certified interpreter and notary to determine whether the book was suitable or not.”
Aram Kamburyan, TEAOV secretary since 1974, claimed that they had problems with the Education Ministry in 1998. “We wanted to update the science and math books at the very least. We asked to translate the books that are used in Turkish schools. But the publication of the books was halted because some translation mistakes were found.”
The Foundation now has to deal with revising the Armenian language and literature book used in high schools. Most of the writers of the original book have long died and it is unclear how they will update the books content. Furthermore, special permission is required to renew the content and publish the books. The book currently used, “Nor Tankaran” (New Museum), was published in 1934; the writer is Hrant Asadur.
Although there are many historical Armenian schools in Istanbul, most of these schools have been closed because of declining student enrolments. Istanbul’s Armenian community, which has a population of 50,000, has 16 schools, with only two of them being high schools. The number of Armenian students system-wide is 3,000, with 300 teachers. Since there is no department of Armenian Language and Literature at Turkish universities, teachers instruct students what they have learned in their homes and from their family.
Garabetyan said their schools were behind the times. “We have tried to do our best; this is all we can do. Our teachers’ knowledge of academic Armenian is insufficient; something should be done about the issue as soon as possible. Even if the borders open, we cannot bring teachers from Armenia. But with our foundation’s budget we can send students to departments of western Armenian language at universities in Yerevan. The eastern dialect of Armenian is spoken in Armenia but the Istanbul-based western Armenian is the one spoken by most Armenians worldwide.”
According to Garabetyan, the quality of Armenian language instruction is not the only thing lacking in Turkey’s Armenian schools. There are problems with Turkish language instruction as well. “This problem is gradually being overcome,” explained Garabetyan. “The main reason for this problem is Turkish deputy principals appointed to Armenian schools. Even though the principals of the schools are Armenian and their title is higher, these Turkish deputy principals were the only ones who were the decision-makers. The Armenian principals did not have a chance to influence the education. This is why Turkish language remained weak, just like Armenian. But this problem is being solved.”
TEAOV was founded in 1965 because teachers who taught in Armenian schools during those years were not considered civil servants and had no access to social security. “We wanted to secure their rights,” Garabetyan said.
He said among the other Armenian foundations, TEAOV was the first to obtain the right to possess property. “In the first year of the association, a lawyer named Garabet Ersan filed suit for the association and won. Therefore, we have an autonomous status among Istanbul’s Armenian foundations.”