Four preschool children dressed as wounded Independence War-era soldiers carry a doll resembling a baby drenched in blood as part of April 23 Children's Day events, showing there is much more to be done to eliminate the influence of militarism on education
Discussions about militarism in schools in Turkey are nothing new. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government recently passed a bill to end National Security courses -- intended to teach children how to be patriotic citizens -- in Turkish high schools, which are usually taught by retired military officers. However, the photograph showing four pre-school aged children dressed as wounded Independence War era soldiers marching through Antalya's Cumhuriyet Square as part of the April 23 Children's Day celebrations, carrying a doll covered in fake blood on a makeshift stretcher has shown that much more needs to be done.
“We absolutely have to rid our education system of blood and weapons and militarism,” said Yusuf Tanrıverdi, head of the Free Education Professionals' Union, told Today's Zaman. Tanrıverdi, whose organization has long campaigned against reenactments in schools and biased phrases against other nations in textbooks, said: “How can young children relate to war and blood? Glorifying warfare instead of democracy, human rights and love is not worthy of being human. We have long noted that schools are designed as military barracks. In most schools, there are ‘ammunition rooms' filled with costumes for reenactments. The National Education Ministry (MEB) has to do something about this." He said educators need to be trained in human rights and democracy, and officials need to be more sensitive about these.
“The MEB should issue a declaration banning activities such as this [the reenactment depicted in the photo] on special days. Children should do children’s things on Children’s Day.”
Tanrıverdi also said the psychology of violence -- for example domestic violence, or fan violence at Turkish stadiums -- is deeply related to the educational upbringing of the children. He said high school gangs, an increasingly growing problem in Turkish schools, was also a product of the culture of worshipping blood and warfare. “Teachers still think there should be blood in patriotism. Can’t you love your country without blood and killing? We should be teaching about fostering life and love.” He noted textbooks included too many phrases glorifying military heroism, but had few words to say on the country’s intellectuals, scientists or philosophers. “The educators are prisoners of this system as well. Something should be done about this,” he noted, urging the ministry to act.
However, this is not likely to happen any time soon, according to Serdar Değirmencioğlu, a professor of developmental psychology from Cumhuriyet University. Değirmencioğlu, who served as an expert witness in the trial that started when Turkey’s Armenian community challenged in court an anti-Armenian documentary titled Sarı Gelin (Yellow Bride) distributed by the General Staff in Schools, notes that although the government appears to be supporting de-militarization in education, in reality the militarist understanding is actively being supported. “This is something that is being systematically supported. The most serious [acts of militarism in education] take place during National Police Week.” He said over the past ten years, reenactments on the Day to Commemorate the Martyrs of the Çanakkale War, combined with nationalist poetry, followed similar themes. Like Tanrıverdi, he highlighted the militaristic overtones found in school buildings. “About half of the schools built by the Mass Housing Administration [TOKİ, a government agency directly under the prime ministry office] are named after soldiers killed [in clashes with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. Normally, if you have a child, you wouldn’t want her to go to a school named after a dead soldier or see her in a place associated with death,” he noted.
Değirmencioğlu noted that the “purpose” or “point” of involving children at a young age in militaristic and pro-warfare activities was meant to trigger emotional rather than rational reactions in younger generations. “When these are instilled at the age of five to seven, they create strong reactions against an ‘enemy,’” he said, noting that enemy could be a particular ethnic or cultural group. He noted that most children still cannot differentiate very clearly between fact and fiction before the age of six.
“Consequently, if a serious step is to be taken, the curriculum and the way our schools work should be restructured in a way that will be geared toward peace,” he noted, reiterating his skepticism about the government’s intention to take such steps any time soon.