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Turkey, Arab world to dismantle prejudices, rewrite textbooks

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 4/17/2011 12:00:00 AM | SEVİL KÜÇÜKKOŞUM

Turkish-Arab relations have turned a new page with the opening of an Arab League office in Ankara, a move that heralds an effort to erase negative prejudices.

Turkish-Arab relations have turned a new page with the opening of an Arab League office in Ankara, a move that heralds an effort to erase negative historical preconceptions and work together closely in the future.

“Arab and Turkish people were far from each other, despite being neighbors and having a common history and the same aspirations,” Ambassador Mohammed Al-Fatah Naciri, the Arab League’s representative to Turkey, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview late last week.

Admitting that the mission to Ankara was “opened very late,” Naciri said both sides are now seeking to “end problems and start a new page in relations.”

“We have a lot of common interests that would fulfill our people’s [expectations],” he said, explaining that Turkey and the Arab League have co-launched an initiative challenging the way the history of the region has typically been taught on both sides.

“Ministers of higher education and deans of universities are coming together from Turkey and the Arab world,” Naciri said. “We are looking at our syllabuses, at the way history is written about Arabs in Turkey and about Turks and Ottoman in the Arab world. We are looking at how we can remedy this.”

There is a widespread negative prejudice against Arab people in Turkey, where much of the public believes that Arab nations betrayed the Ottoman Empire during its decline in the early 20th century. The same is also true for many Arabs whose ancestors lived for centuries under Ottoman reign. The current Turkish government’s efforts to improve ties with the Arab world have, however, created a drastically transformed environment that allows for the flourishing of the centuries-old connections and relations.

Changing the prejudices created by history books is a priority for the Arab League, Naciri said, adding that was one of the discussion points when the group signed a cooperation agreement with Turkey. He said Turkey and the Arab world are not mentioned in positive terms in each others’ textbooks, something the ambassador described as “bad literature.”

“This is one of the subjects we put as a priority; we have to review how we see each other,” he said. “There is a lot of bad literature that we have to remove. We won’t falsify history, but we have to review how we present the image of each party.”

[HH] Commission to be set up

A commission to be set up to address this issue will also work to improve knowledge of each other’s languages, Turkish and Arabic, to create diploma equivalences and to arrange for the educational systems in Turkey and Arab countries to work together and exchange professors and students, Naciri said.

Praising the role of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in the rapprochement between Turks and the Arab world, the ambassador said the first steps in this progress were taken by the late President Turgut Özal in the early 1990s, but that the desired outcome could not be accomplished at that time.

Naciri also addressed ongoing concerns that Turkey’s warming relations with the Arab world represent a shift in the traditional “Western orientation” of the European Union candidate country.

“I disagree with this argument,” the Arab League ambassador said. “Turkey is emerging as a regional power, producing more merchandise to sell. Turkey will want to trade with other partners; it cannot be dependent on only the European Union and the United States. What is wrong about that?”

Underscoring the importance of establishing close economic relations between Turkey and the Arab world, Naciri said this would keep relations from being “threatened by minor problems.”

[HH] Arab cooperation with TOKİ

Turkey and the Arab League will hold a ministerial forum this year that will focus on cooperation in higher education, industry and foreign policy, Naciri said. He added that social housing would also be on the agenda of the meeting, in which Turkey’s Housing Development Administration, or TOKI, will take part.

Noting that Turkey is a major player in the construction sector, Naciri said: “TOKİ came up with an initiative to cooperate. We are bringing technicians and experts [together] to exchange our experiences and cooperate.”

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