Truce declared in textbook war;International News;News amp; Opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00

ATTEMPTS to solve the thorny political problems between Greece and Turkey - over Turkish aspirations to join the European Union and Greek hopes for an end to the division of Cyprus - may soon be helped by a change of atmosphere in classrooms on both sides of the Aegean.

Turkish and Greek officials have agreed to review each others' school textbooks, which have long been seen as a channel through which historical animosities have passed from one generation to the next.

"There is a tendency in Greek and Turkish schoolbooks for them to conceptualise each other in adversarial terms," said Professor Iltur Turan of Istanbul's Bilgi University, a process that goes way back to previous armed conflicts between the two countries.

In particular, Turkish history books have often skirted round the problem of Anatolia's Greek past and Turkish conquest, while Greek textbooks have highlighted it.

Turkey's victory in the war of 1923, when Greek armies almost reached Ankara, is given great weight in Turkey as the "War of Independence", but is portrayed as "tragic" in Greece.

"There is so much caricature in how we are represented, with cartoons of nasty Greeks," said Greek student Lakis Kofos, who is studying Greek-Turkish relations in Istanbul. "But in our text books, I guess we describe the Turks as 'barbarians'."

"We have nearly the same history," said Baris Altan of the Turkish History Foundation, which has been engaged in a project to rewrite school history books since 1995.

"But everything is looked at entirely from one side. We say that in 1923 we 'threw all the Greeks into the sea'; they say we 'occupied' all of Anatolia."

According to Sermet Atacanli, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman, an agreement signed by both countries at Thessalonika in October gave the task of revising the textbooks to a joint commission, which will report back with its findings later this month.

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