Berlin says it would raise a “completely unacceptable” issue with Ankara after reports emerged that teachers at elite gymnasium in Istanbul, co-funded by the German government, were ordered to stop telling students anything about Christmas rites.
“It is a great pity that the good tradition of the intercultural exchange in the pre-Christmas period was suspended at a school with a long history of German-Turkish tradition,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday, referring to the claims by German teachers in the prestigious Lisesi High School, which is supported by the German government.
The teachers said that they were reprimanded by the school’s Turkish administration for bringing up Christmas-related topics in class.
The email, sent by the German staff of the school, who are subordinate to the Turkish administration, was seen by DPA news agency. It says that “it ensues from the notice of the Turkish administration, that from now on nothing should be told,worked on as well as sung, about the Christmas traditions and the Christian festival in the classroom.”
The email was sent by the German administration to teachers, employed at the school at the expense of the German authorities, upon a meeting called on by their Turkish superiors. At the meeting the teachers were warned against disseminating “the rumors” among the students with their unauthorized Christmas-themed teaching.
Shortly after the memo was leaked to the media, the incident threatened to spiral into a full-fledged diplomatic row as the school’s conduct caused a stir in the German media and provoked sharp criticism from an array of high-ranking officials.
“If Germany is financing the teachers at this school, it has a say in what they teach,” Frank Josef Jung, MP from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, calling the reprimand issued to the German teachers “completely unacceptable.”
The Istanbul Lisesi was founded about a century ago and currently employs 35 German teachers, who are on the German government payroll. Although, the most of the curriculum is taught in German, all of the school’s students are Turks, Mitteldeuscher Rundfunk reported. Moreover, while being one of the best schools in Turkey, to study there, students are not required to pay tuition fees. Its graduates are eligible to continue their education at German universities.
Omid Nouripour, from Alliance '90/The Greens, called on the German government to confront their Turkish counterparts over the issue, and if this does not have a desirable effect, to cut the school’s funding.
“The federal government must make it perfectly clear to Ankara. If the Turkish government does not respond to this, then the funding for the school must be discontinued,” he said, as cited by n-tv.de news site.
Nouripour also filed a request to the German government to clarify the government’s response.
The German newspaper Die Welt went as far as putting a caricature of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the fictional character The Grinch on its front page under the caption, “Stolen Christmas,” alluding to the famous Christmas tale by Dr. Seuss “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Christian Democratic Union Secretary General Andreas Scheuer argued that the way the Turkish authorities handled the case is another sign “that Erdogan’s Turkey has broken all bridges to Europe.”
Der Spiegel reported, citing accounts of anonymous German teachers in Istanbul, that the so-called “Christmas bans” in one or another form is an increasing practice in Istanbul schools. The teachers are advised to not sing Christmas songs with pupils, and not to hang up Christmas advent calendars. The teachers are reportedly banned from speaking to the media about the curriculum.
The total “ban on Christmas” was preceded by another incident at the school, media reported, citing the German administration’s take on the events. Reportedly, the school’s choir participation in a concert at the German Consulate General in Istanbul was abruptly canceled last Tuesday just ahead of the scheduled festivities.
‘Reports not corresponding to truth, undermine relations’ – school authority
Following the media hype generated by the reports, the school replied with an official letter on Sunday evening in which it dismissed all the accusations, instead blaming the German administration for not complying with the school’s regulations.
It also accused the German media of producing reports “not corresponding to the truth” with the aim to present public with a “distorted opinion” and undermining German-Turkish relations.
“In the past few weeks, we have gained more and more information that some German teachers - without this being part of the curriculum – discussed texts about Christmas and the Christianity in the classroom,” the Turkish administration stated in a letter published on its official site both in German and Turkish. The administration further alleged that while providing this information, the teachers ignored the questions posed by the students, thus generating “rumors.”
“Without losing much time” the Turkish administration asked the school teachers to provide information on the subject and advised them to handle the topic with “sensitivity” to avoid “further speculations.”
As for the concert, the administration said it was German teachers themselves who canceled the appearance, arguing that before that the head of the German administration said at the meeting with the Turkish colleagues that he did not endorse “such a religious concert.”