Education official says students too young to understand 'controversial subject'
Evolution will no longer be taught in Turkish secondary schools after being described as a “controversial subject” by the government.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has personally approved the change, which will be part of a new national curriculum being published later this month.
The head of the education ministry’s curriculum board, Alpaslan Durmuş, said a section on Darwinism would be cut from biology classes from 2019.
“We have excluded controversial subjects for students at an age unable yet to understand the issues’ scientific background,” he told a seminar in Ankara, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
“As the students at ninth grade are not endowed with antecedents to discuss the ‘Origin of Life and Evolution’ section in biology classes, this section will be delayed until undergraduate study.”
Mr Durmuş said pupils at elementary schools would still be given an “evolutionary point of view” and learn evolutionary biology from year five.
Claiming the curriculum was being “simplified”, he said the government was attempting to educate children in line with “local and national values”.
Academics from Turkey’s most prestigious universities have reportedly criticised the proposals, pointing out the only other country to exclude evolutionary theory from schools was Saudi Arabia.
The omission was first noticed in January, when the Turkish government first announced its new primary and secondary school curricula.
The education ministry said a draft would be discussed and criticism taken into account before the publication of the final version, including a possible replacement chapter entitled “Living Beings and the Environment”, with all references to Darwinian theory removed.
Other changes included a decrease in the amount of homework and allowing more time for children to play, and the life of Turkey’s secularist founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk being given less focus.
Mustafa Akyol, a senior fellow at the Freedom Project at Wellesley College, said the change appeared to arise from advice given by Egitim Bir-Sen, a conservative education union.
Writing in a column for Al Monitor, he said debates about the theory of evolution date back to the late Ottoman Empire and have repeatedly surfaced under the rule of Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“Since the early 2000s, religious conservatives have had the upper hand in Turkey, and their distaste for the theory of evolution is well established,” Mr Akyol wrote.
“Many of them see the theory as corrosive to religious faith and want to ‘protect’ young generations from such ‘harmful’ ideas.”
The latest move is part of a wider struggle between secularists and right-wing religious groups in Turkey, which is undergoing constitutional reforms to grant the President dramatically increased powers following a referendum held in April.
The vote, which European monitors found did not meet international standards, resulted in the parliamentary system of government being replaced with an executive presidency that has long been the ambition of Mr Erdogan.
He has been accused of undermining Turkey’s democratic and secular foundations with in increasingly autocratic and religious agenda, imposing restrictions on alcohol, building new mosques and reintroducing state religious education.
More than 50,000 people have been arrested since a failed coup against Mr Erdogan in July last year, with many more dismissed or detained.
Journalists, prosecutors, soldiers, civil servants and academics are among those targeted in the ongoing purge, which has seen almost 33,000 teachers sacked.
The government has accused suspects of supporting the Gulenist movement blamed for the attempted coup, but critics say baseless accusations are being used for a wider crackdown on dissent.
Fethullah Gulen, a US-bsed cleric, has denied involvement and foreign governments including the UK have found no evidence to support Ankara’s allegations or its designation of his Hizmet movement as a terror organisation.
Turkey’s deputy PM calls theory of evolution ‘archaic and disproven’
The theory of evolution is an “archaic and decayed” theory, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has claimed, as debate continues over evolution’s lessened significance in Turkey’s new draft national curriculum.
“Scientifically, the theory of evolution is already an archaic and disproven theory. There is no such rule that this theory must be taught. Perhaps it might be brought to the agenda as one of the theories,” Kurtulmuş said in an interview with private broadcaster CNN Türk on Jan. 29.
“The opinion that those who believe in and know about the theory of evolution are modern and progressive people, while those who oppose it are reactionary and outdated, is actually an outdated opinion itself. The theory of evolution is one of the opinions that was also discussed through the ancient history, so I do not find discussions about it right,” he added.
The Education Ministry on Jan. 13 published the draft national education curriculum to the public, after which it was seen that the evolution chapter had been lifted from senior biology high-school students’ lessons.
The draft also drew harsh criticisms for its suggested coverage of a number of key topics for Turkish students, with classes on history, life sciences, Kemalism and positive sciences at the heart of the debates.
Turkey bans Istanbul Pride, organizers vow to march anyway
ISTANBUL (AP) - Turkish authorities announced Saturday they will not allow the Istanbul Pride march to take place on Sunday - the third year in a row the celebration has been banned. The move prompted criticism from rights groups and fears of possible violence, as Pride organizers said they would defy the ban.
For more than a decade, the Istanbul Pride has attracted tens of thousands of participants, making it one of largest gatherings celebrating gay, lesbian and transgender rights and diversity in the Muslim world.
Unlike other Muslim countries, homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey. However, lesbian, gay and transgender activists say they lack legal protections and face widespread social stigma in the nation that is heavily influenced by conservative and religious values.
The Istanbul governor's office said the Pride march would be banned to keep public order and for the safety of participants and tourists. It said the area around central Taksim Square, where the march begins, was not designated for demonstrations.
The volunteer-organized Pride committee said the ban violates domestic and international law limiting the right to peaceful assembly. It asked the governor's office to reconsider and fulfill its obligations by providing security precautions.
The city government also said "very serious reactions by different segments of society" were raised against the march.
This week, like last year, ultra-nationalist and conservative groups said they would not allow the Pride march to take place even if the authorities allowed it. LGBTI activists said the ban legitimizes threats and hate speech under the guise of protecting the public's "sensitivities."
Amnesty International expressed "deep worry" following the ban and said Turkish authorities violated freedom of expression and assembly in a "routine and arbitrary way."
"Turkey should protect rather than ban Pride marches," Amnesty said, adding it would make sure to document developments on Sunday.
Up to 100,000 people took part in 2014's Pride march, making it one of the largest LGBTI Pride events in a predominantly Muslim nation. The following year, authorities banned the march in a surprise move citing public order and dispersed the crowds.
In 2016, the march was again banned amid a spate of deadly attacks blamed on the Islamic State group or on outlawed Kurdish militants. LGBTI activists still attempted to converge on Taksim Square, leading to skirmishes with police. A state of emergency declared after last summer's failed coup has further limited public gatherings.
Organizers believe the celebrations in 2015 and 2016 were banned because they coincided with Islam's holy month of Ramadan and say authorities are using security as an excuse to ban the parades instead of taking measures to deal with the threats against those participating.
Sunday's planned march coincides with the Eid holiday, marking the end of a month of fasting for Ramadan.
"(The bans are) a reflection of the increasingly conservative and majoritarian policies of the government," said Murat Koylu, of the Ankara-based Kaos GL, a group promoting LGBTI rights.
The Pride Week events and parade, held in Istanbul since 2003, allowed the LGBTI community to try and break the stigma and assert their rights, including demands for explicit bans on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
"The fact that the existing political power is not making the necessary changes in the constitution, and the fact that they have discourse against us might encourage people who are already (trans) phobic," said Seyhan Arman, a 37-year-old transgender woman and performer.
The Turkish government insists there is no discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation, and that laws barring discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity or religion protect all citizens. It also insists that perpetrators of hate crimes are prosecuted.
"The violence against us has existed since the day we were born. It starts in the family, it continues at the university, in the working life," said Deniz Sapka, a 27-year-old transgender woman originally from the southeastern province of Hakkari, who goes by that surname to avoid recognition by family members. "We are people who have always experienced a state of emergency. We experience it from our birth."
Also: First Turkish journalists go on trial over alleged coup support