Secularists are saying that this move by the Turkish president is due to his pursuit of an Islamist agenda and to push back the secular reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first Turkish president, who firmly brought about the separation between state and religion. Atatürk abolished the Ottoman language in 1928 and Latin alphabet was used in place of the Arabic alphabet, likewise removing many of the Greek, Persian and Arabic loanwords so that the new Turkish language would be closer to the spoken language of the people.
Approval from the education council
The National Education Council of Turkey voted to make the Ottoman language classes compulsory in religious high schools in the country. It will be offered as an option in other high schools. The majority of the members of the Education Council are backed by the Islamic government of Erdoğan. The Council had likewise agreed to ban classes on bartending, which was part of tourism training in Turkish high schools.
There were other controversial proposals that the Council voted on, including the introduction of “values” in pre-school and religious culture classes that would be compulsory starting in the first grade. It was previously included in the fourth grade curriculum.
The President argued that the Ottoman language is necessary to reunite the links to their past, citing as an example the inability of many modern Turkish people to read their ancestors’ tombstones. Speaking to a religious council meeting that was recently held in Ankara, President Erdoğan stressed that Ottoman Turkish is not a foreign language but an ageless form of Turkish that needs to be taught to the younger generation. Many of his critics will also find more ammunition on his being openly Islamist because he declared that the religion has a guardian and until the end this guardian will protect the religion.
Turkey’s main religion is Muslim, although officially the country practices secularism.
Very few speakers
The President claims that their history lies in the tombstones of their forefathers. The Ottoman Turkish was used for close to 600 years by the rulers of the Ottoman period. Atatürk built the new Turkey from the ruins of that empire. And it can be argued that even right after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, there were already a scant few that were able to speak the language, and most of them were members of the former ruling dynasty.
President Erdoğan had been inviting criticism since he assumed office in August. He had made some controversial pronouncements, such as men and women are not equal but rather equivalent or that Muslims discovered America. With his no-argument approach to the implementation of Ottoman Turkish in religious high schools, his critics will have more to say against him. Selahattin Demirtas, an opposition politician said that he would not let his daughter learn Ottoman Turkish even if a whole army comes to his house. His HDP party fought hard for the rights of the 15 million Kurds in Turkey. Kurdish, although recognized is not yet taught in the state schools in the country.
Other teacher groups such as the Egitim-Sen union of academics and teachers accused the country’s National Education Council of trying to change the shape of the school system using religion as an excuse.