The teaching of the putsch attempt of July 2016 in the Turkish schools: towards a new representation of the social in Turkey?

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The title page of the school prospectus 2017-2018 of the Turkish Ministry of Education
The title page of the school prospectus 2017-2018 of the Turkish Ministry of Education

By Camille de Felice

Translated by Anis Arioua

After few weeks of the event of July 15, 2016 during which a section of the Turkish army had sought to seize power by force, During the school year 2016-2017, students of high and elementary schools noticed that a special commemoration program has seen include in their curriculum a special commemoration program consisting of reviewing the putsch attempt and the popular mobilizations that followed. [1].

While the first week was almost exclusively devoted to activities about the « 15-July »[2] – often referred to as the « Legend of 15-July » or even « Victory of Democracy of 15-July »[3] in the speeches of the government and in the press, the first day of classes has nonetheless had the particularity, like A theater play, of being entirely determined by the Ministry of National Education. With a relatively small margin of maneuver, the teachers had to respect the precise directives that the ceremony dedicated to the 15-July held in all schools of Turkey must be almost identical : the discourse, written by Ankara, the theater plays reproducing the events of the putsch, exhibition with photos of the « heroes » of July-15, recitation of poems, and, finally, distribution of a brochure detailing the official version, validated by the regime, of this unavoidable event of the Turkish socio-political life today.

This first day of school set the tone for a whole year of celebrations that was extended until October 29, 2017. Among the organized activities, I can mention the writing of letters in which students could freely express their emotions and impressions, the visits the « places » of 15-July or namely squares and streets, occupied by the population who were mobilized by the government’s calls to defend and claim democracy, the visits to families of heroes and local « martyrs », making boards with citations, drawings and pictures of those who « made 15-July by sacrificing themselves for their country and to preserve democracy » as well as the production of short films, available on the internet site of the schools, including the Ministry of National Education.

During this year of activities, organized in the schools, the government produced a new brochure to be distributed in schools for the beginning of the 2017-2018 scholar year featuring schoolchildren’s works. In parallel with the publication of this special fascicle, the events of the 15th of July have begun to be integrated into the regular curriculum, since sub-chapters are devoted to this subject in the textbooks, in particular in social sciences, but also of Turkish and religion. Nevertheless, the integration of this subject in the schoolbooks has not been carried out homogeneously; only books, published after 2016 included it in the program. However, it is to be expected that gradually the 15-July will be included in other manuals, including those of history, in the coming years.

Eda Saygi 15-7 panosu (1)

In addition to the teaching in the schools, of this attempted putsch, certainly elevated to almost the rank of new year zero by several personalities close to or members of AKP, it is a new representation of the society that is promoted by this way. Indeed the school remains the ideal place, which each authority seeks to seize for ideological purposes in order to impose a representation of the social legitimizing the domination of a group on another one or even by others.

In this case, this involves writing a new history of contemporary Turkey. In fact, when writing history which is an inevitable process during the construction of historical facts, some elements are silenced, the forgetfulness, which is necessary to the foundation of the nationalist discourse according to the sociologist Anthony D. Smith. [4]

The historian Francois Audigier emphasizes the fact that through the disciplines of the social sciences, especially the triad history-geography-civic education- there is a will of the authority to achieve ideological objectives by not only seeking to communicate concepts and values to the next generation but also to transmit, in an underlying way, a shared representation of the given world, to place a consensual referent, acceptable for all. Because of the compulsory nature of the school for the entire population of a state, it remains a privileged place for the fight for symbolic power and the enforcement of a certain representation of the social. The lessons taught are de facto the dominant and orthodox theories of a society at a given epoch.

Eskisehir Burcu Ekinci 28.09.2017 ilk ders 15 temmuz

The introduction of references to July 15 in some schoolbooks is a part of a larger range of school reforms that can be traced back to 2012 and to many notable changes that were approved at that time. When changes occur at the program level, there are also variations in the selection paradigm of what will be taught which are taken into consideration. While retaining a majority of the essentials of the Turkish school traditions, there is a desire to establish the 15th of July as a fundamental date, constitutive not only of Turkish history but in a more transcendent way of its destiny and identity ; being comparable – and in fact compared – to the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, to the victory of Canakkale during the Great War or to the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Education represents for all governments a space to invest in order to establish a certain representation of the social and so, in this case, some idea of Turkey. In this, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the actual Turkish president, poses himself as a competitor of Mustafa Kemal, by looking to establish his own vision of Turkey but also the national and civic identities. His ambitious aim to overcome and supplant the legendary figure of Ataturk and to reconnect with the Ottoman tradition, that assigned to the territory of Anatolia and to Turkish people, a status of a regional leadership even of the Muslim world.

[1] DE FELICE Camille, L’enseignement du 15-Juillet dans les écoles turques : rupture ou continuité dans le processus de fabrique du citoyen républicain ? Observatoire de la Vie Politique Turque, décembre 2017

[2] 15 Temmuz Destanı

[3] 15 Temmuz Demokrasi Zaferi

[4] SMITH Anthony D., Nations and nationalisms in a Global Era, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1995

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