Secular Turkish Cypriot teachers aghast at plans for Islamic school

SECULARIST Turkish Cypriot teachers’ unions and educationalists expressed anger yesterday after a mainland Turkish religious association announced plans to open an Islamic school or madrassa in the north.

“They have judged our beliefs and come to the conclusion that we are not Muslim enough,” Turkish Cypriot teachers’ union (KTOS) boss Sener Elicil yesterday of the Theology and Islamic Institute Graduates’ Association’s (TIYEMDER) plans to open the religious high school on the island. He added that Turkish Cypriots were “quite happy with their beliefs”.

TIYEMDER’s plans became public earlier this week after its head Selahattin Yazici published on the association’s website a report he had sent to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for a religious school to be opened in the north. In the report he criticised the north’s administration for not making Islamic instruction a compulsory part of the school curriculum and bemoaned the fact that if children in the north want courses in Islam their parents have to ask for it in writing.

“For 35 years Cyprus has been neglected,” Yazici wrote, adding that his association had already begun fighting this neglect by handing out Korans to families in the north as part of a campaign to have a copy of the holy book in every household.

“In Cyprus the word religion is forbidden, and this is what we have to struggle against” Yazici complained in his report to Erdogan.

Turkish Cypriots are indeed renowned for their staunch secularism.

The report also hit out at the Greek Cypriots, saying that educational authorities in the south were “slyly” offering free education to Turkish Cypriots in order to make them “enemies of Islam”. As a way of opposing this, the association had hosted hundreds of youngsters from the north on religion courses held in Istanbul.

Turkish Cypriot secondary school teachers’ union (KTOEOS) Tahir Gokcebel head said yesterday he disagreed there was demand for such a school in the north, and expressed that the reasoning behind the establishment of one was part of a wider political and economic objective that involved spreading the influence of Fetullah Gulen, a moderate Islamic preacher known to be close to the Turkish PM.

Gulen, who resides in the US, is also believed to be connected to an educational conglomerate that has, amid much controversy, taken over the running of a major educational establishment in Famagusta.

“Gulen’s green capital model is clearly being imposed on north Cyprus, and this is unacceptable,” the union boss said yesterday, adding that the Turkish government was sending Imams to the north in order to spread the idea that religious schools were a necessity.

“Their aim is to raise people who believe in political Islam,” Gokcebel said, adding he belief that there existed a need to protect the “religiously tolerant” identity of the Turkish Cypriot community.