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Overhaul to end history lesson bias

CYPRUS

History teaching methods in northern Cyprus are being revamped to end the spread of anti-Greek Cypriot propaganda among Turkish Cypriots.

"The lessons learned should not provide one-sided enmity," said Erbil Akibil, the education minister for the unrecognised government in the north. One old textbook, for instance, describes how Greek Cypriots "gouged out eyes and filled bodies with holes".

"This kind of language not only breeds hatred, it can also cause lasting psychological damage to young readers," Dr Hasan Alicik, director of Turkish Cypriot educational planning and programming development, who is overseeing the changes, told the Cyprus Mail.

Teams of university historians and school history teachers are working on six new textbooks.

The aim is to introduce history teaching that offers different perspectives and encourages children to research and discuss historical events objectively and draw their own conclusions.

Next week, it will be 30 years since Turkish troops divided the Mediterranean island following a coup backed by Greece. Today, 40,000 soldiers continue to occupy the northern third of the country.

Optimism about a proposed settlement was raised last year by the opening of the Green Line dividing Greek Cypriots in the south from Turkish Cypriots in the north. But hopes were dashed by an overwhelming Greek Cypriot "No" vote in separate referendum for a peace plan backed by the United Nations.

However, a strong "Yes" vote among Turkish Cypriots reflected a political sea-change, aided by Turkish premier Recip Tayyip Erdogan's support for a reunited Cyprus, which ousted hardline separatists from power.

The new "prime minister" in the north, Mehmet Ali Talat, tried to revamp school textbooks himself in the mid-1990s but they were dropped when he left the education ministry.

Mr Talat leads a split parliament, but his rise to power has given teachers hope that the authorities will no longer block their involvement in international educational peace programmes with Greek Cypriots.

The Greek Cypriot education minister, Pefkios Georgiades, was cautious about overhauling textbooks before Greece and Turkey have done so - because in the south these books are supplied by Greece. But he is keen to find ways to emphasise the common culture that unites Cypriots.

Teachers' groups have also warmed to suggestions that Cypriot pupils in the north and south could benefit from cross-community schemes similar to those in Northern Ireland which focus on enquiry-based history, education for mutual understanding, the study of similarities and differences in their cultural heritage and joint curriculum projects.

"This is a turning point after the referendums, (showing) that we are going to push forward to the solution," said Mr Akbil. "In the long run, we hope this will contribute to the peace of the island."

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