Ottoman language classes to be introduced ‘whatever they say,’ vows Erdoğan

Ottoman language classes to be introduced ‘whatever they say,’ vows Erdoğan

Ottoman language classes to be introduced ‘whatever they say,’ vows Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrives at a meeting of the Directorate General of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in Ankara, Dec. 8. AA Photo

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has waded into the heated debate over the possible inclusion of Ottoman language classes in the high school curriculum, vowing that the classes will be introduced “no matter what they say.”

“There are those who don’t want Ottoman [language] to be learned and taught. This is a very big danger,” Erdoğan said on Dec. 8, delivering a speech at “5th Religion Council” hosted by the Directorate General of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in Ankara.

“Whether they want it or not, Ottoman [language] will be learned and taught in this country,” he pledged.

According to decisions taken by Turkey’s National Education Council, which closed its annual meeting over the weekend, Ottoman language classes will be compulsory for imam-hatip religious vocational high schools and elective for other high schools.

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) apparent enthusiasm for the Ottoman language courses has been widely interpreted as a further sign of its wish to impose its particular interpretation of history and values in Turkey’s education system.

“There are those who are uneasy with this country’s children learning Ottoman. But it is actually nothing stranger than ‘ageless Turkish.’ With it, we will learn realities. They say, ‘Will we teach children how to read gravestones?’ But a history and a civilization is lying on those gravestones,” Erdoğan said.

The president also suggested that pressure on freedom of expression in this country “actually dates back to two centuries ago.”

“Since the Tanzimat up until today, for around last 200 years, certain issues could not be discussed freely, with self-confidence and courage,” Erdoğan said, referring to the Tanzimat reform era in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. “Let alone freely discussing matters of religion; religion and pious people were systematically subjected to all kinds of criticism, insult and abuse.”

Later in the day, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu accused the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) of “acting with enmity toward their own history,” while also describing the debates over the Ottoman language courses as simply “a storm in a teacup.”

“The student who wants to choose [the Ottoman language class] can do so. The student who doesn’t want to, doesn’t choose it. This is the proposal. What is this allergy for history? What is this enmity for culture? It is not possible to understand,” Davutoğlu said.

In response, the CHP said Erdoğan did not have a problem only with the Republic or the principle of secularism, but rather a problem with the transformation that began in the 1800s in the Ottoman era.

“You will on the one hand speak about science and technology, while on the other hand you will make irrelevant 18th and 19th century decisions. Even the Ottomans would not make these decisions,” CHP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Akif Hamzaçebi said at a press conference later on Dec. 8.

“The transformation that the Ottoman [Empire] carried out from the beginning of the 1800s is a transformation that he [Erdoğan] could not accept,” Hamzaçebi added.