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More sensitivity is required

Posted by Helen Wednesday, April 04, 2007 ,

As discussions in Britain on how to teach “emotive and controversial history” (on which there will be a posting, I promise), the subject takes a slightly different airing in other parts of the European Union.

The BBC reports that the Greek Orthodox Church, well-known for its sensitivity to others and its firm adherence to historical truth, is up in arms about a new history book. It would appear that, in order to improve relations with Turkey, the authors of a new history school textbook (you mean they have textbooks over there?) have softened the language in describing Turkey and its people.

This, according to the critics, particularly the Church, will corrupt children’s understanding of Greek history and Greek identity.

They are worried about the lack of imprecation and description of violence in two episodes of modern history: the Greek War of Independence and the Greek invasion of western Turkey after World War I followed by the successful reconquest of it by the Turkish army under Kemal Atatürk.

On the first one, the BBC says:

Once a year Greeks gather to celebrate independence. The ceremonies mark the day in 1821 when the war of liberation began and Greeks rose up against their rulers, the Turkish Ottoman empire.

It is a day of oral history for the young participants, when the country's elders recount details of Greek heroism and Turkish barbarity.
One assumes that even the elders no longer speak from memory about those battles.

The second episode is glided over:
But the new text book, which is devoid of animosity towards the Turks and omits stories of violence, takes a different approach.

This is obvious especially when it refers to the war of independence and what the Greeks call the great catastrophe of 1922 when they were driven out of western Turkey.

"There won't be any clear identity of what the Greek fights were all about and why did we want to rebel against the Turks," Jeni Tutsis, a teacher, told the BBC.

For those of our readers who are interested in that little episode let me recommend a fascinating account of it by Margaret Macmillan in her book “Peacemakers”. I doubt if the Greek Church will approve of that either.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has made a comment to the effect that the study of history was essential in order that the mistakes of the past not be repeated. Critics of the new textbook have taken it to mean that he is now siding with them but that is not altogether clear.