Unions want extremism to be culled from syllabus

6th June 2003 at 01:00

TEACHERS' unions in the north of Cyprus have called on Greek and Turkish education officials to eliminate racism and extreme nationalism from the school syllabuses on the divided island.

Their demands follow the surprise easing of travel restrictions by the Turkish Cypriot authorities in late April. The new regulations allow Greek and Turkish Cypriots to mix freely for the first time since the north of the island was occupied by Turkish troops in 1974 following a Greek-inspired military coup.

The union hopes to build on the new atmosphere of reconciliation and to establish links between teachers and students across the divide.

"Teachers will play an important role in creating lasting peace," the Cyprus Turkish Teachers Union said in a statement.

The union wants to see joint sporting and cultural events, language lessons in Greek and Turkish, and a joint committee to examine aspects of the curriculum that "provoke fanaticism and confrontation".

The primary teachers' union in the south of the island, the Pancyprian Organisation of Greek Teachers, said that while it broadly welcomed the initiative, it needed to study the proposals in detail before it could respond.

The Greek Cypriot teachers' unions are traditionally less politicised than their Turkish counterparts and cautious about endorsing multi-cultural education.

Since 1974, a generation of Cypriots has grown up knowing virtually nothing of their compatriots on the other side of the island.

Their perceptions have been shaped by what they have learned in the classroom, where, at least until now, teachers have been actively discouraged from promoting multi-cultural values.

The island's recent history is a particularly sensitive issue. Greek and Turkish Cypriot textbooks concentrate only on the distress of their own community, refusing to acknowledge the responsibility each side may have had for causing it.

It is all the more surprising that the recent easing of travel restrictions has proved so popular. So far, Greek and Turkish Cypriots seem to welcome the chance to get to know one another again. But without any political settlement to resolve the many disputed claims over property and land, much could still go wrong.

For the Turkish Cypriot teachers there is, therefore, some urgency. Their statement concludes with a warning against those nationalists on both sides "who will undergo any evil act to prove that the two communities cannot live together".

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