Cablegate: Turkish Culture Wars Heat Up
DE RUEHAK #5669/01 2711328
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 281328Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9053
INFO RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 1374
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 1158
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 005669
EUR/PPD: CFITZGERALD, INFO EUR/UBI, ECA
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KPAO KISL SCUL TU
SUBJECT: Turkish Culture Wars Heat Up
1. (SBU) Summary: Starting with a front page article in the
liberal newspaper "Radikal", secular media outlets in Turkey raised
alarms over a set of translated children's classics that allegedly
feature "Islamist influence". The works were approved by the
Ministry of Education, which prompted editorials and stories about
creeping Islamism in Turkish primary education. The media storm
over these books - mostly accurate translations coming from
Islamist-oriented publishing houses -- demonstrated the passions of
the continuing "culture war" in Turkey. End Summary.
2. (U) In an August 19 front page article, the liberal newspaper
"Radikal" drew attention to a new box set of "100 Basic Classics"
for children released recently by an Islamist publishing company.
The article claimed that the firm, Damla Yayinevi, inserted Islamic
and Turkic references into fairy tales and other pieces of classic
western literature. Several examples were given in the article,
from a religious greeting in an Oscar Wilde novel to a Turkification
of Heidi's grandfather's name.
3. (U) The book sets were certified by the Ministry of Education,
giving schools the ability to purchase them directly. The article
noted that since each of the books is under ninety-six pages, they
were not required to conform to several standards applied to normal
books - for example, volumes of this length in Turkey are not
required to list the translator, and there is no requirement for an
International Standard Book Numbering (ISBN) code, making them
harder to trace back to the original publishing house.
4. (U) Following the "Radikal" article, several other secularist
newspapers jumped on the bandwagon. On August 20, "Hurriyet" ran an
article entitled "Islamic Makeup for 100 Basic Works" which pointed
to several instances of Islamic influence in the books' translation.
5. (U) "Sabah" newspaper restated the arguments of the previous two
articles on August 22, but then went further by tracking down a
translator who worked on the set. Ismail Bilgin, a geologist with
the Istanbul Municipality who translated "Pinocchio" in his spare
time, told the paper, "I used [this language] naturally. Where is
the suspicion in that? In a ninety-six page book Allah is mentioned
five or six times. It's wrong to focus on that. If there are
errors, I will return and correct them."
7. (U) On August 30, Education Minister Celik responded to the
growing criticism with statements denying that his ministry was
attempting any ideological manipulation of the translated texts.
Instead, the Minister placed responsibility on the publishers,
saying, "These tactless publishing houses will be made to do the
right thing." In a speech to teachers, Celik announced that the
books sets would be reviewed again by the Ministry's Education and
8. (SBU) The publishers of these volumes are widely considered to
be Islamist. Damla Yayinevi, the main focus of the "Radikal"
article, publishes not only secular textbooks for children, but also
volumes such as "Our Prophet's Life" and "Islam and Science". On
Damla's website, owner and founder Mehmet Dogru says that his
"experiences, education, and exalted Islam" led him to pursue a
career in publishing. Nehir Yayinevi is another Islamist publisher
singled out by the "Radikal" article. It is more openly Islamist,
publishing many books focused on Islam for children, including "I
Love Allah" and "The Six Part Islamic Interpretation Set".
9. (SBU) In spite of the social leanings of the publishers,
however, the charge of deliberate manipulation of these works is
debatable. Quick comparisons of the English versions of these works
with the examples of "Islamism" cited by the Turkish press shows
that the translations are by and large accurate. Since most of the
books were written over 100 years ago, they depict the more
consciously religious order of the day. In "Heidi", for example,
the main character is often heard praying and engaging in religious
discussions with her elders. The translation of these books merely
puts these passages in context for younger readers used to hearing
"Allah" instead of the more secular "Tanri", the religiously neutral
term for a deity.
10. (SBU) Emin Gurkan, who oversees textbook publishing for the
Ministry of Education, told PDOff that he didn't consider this
"issue" to be a scandal. He said, "There were over 200 titles
authorized for publication by the Ministry of Education, but none
are required reading. The Ministry has never checked the
translations for accuracy. Mostly they just look to see if the
names match." Gurkan stated that the secular media is "cherry
picking" books with a more religious bent to begin with, while
ignoring several other books in the series about Chinese communism
and liberal thought. "The columnists of Turkey have their own view
of secularism," he commented, "but that is not necessarily the view
of the state. The rules about checking translations for accuracy
have slipped somewhat under this government, bt that is probably
not a function of ideology"
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11. (SBU) Comment: The recent "battle of the books" reflects
ongoing tensions between social and ideological communities and
groups in Turkey. "Kadrolasma", or "cadre-ization" is a word that
came into vogue in Turkey in the 1970s. It has been used by the
secular elite since then to describe in alarming terms the
infiltration of government ministries (in particular the Ministry of
Education) by ideologues. Charges of "kadrolasma" are a frequent
staple of the secular press, often leveled at Islamists,
nationalists, and right-wing politicians in general. This latest
uproar over translations is yet another iteration of Turkey's
"culture war", pitting secular elites bent on preserving the
ideological purity of the education system against Islamist
influence. End Comment.