Turkish lessons: a local-national affair

Turkish teachers give Turkish lessons at schools – organized by the Turkish Consulate General. A rent demand by the Mitte district is causing a dispute.

What tensions in German-Turkish relations? A picture from the old days … Photo: Marijan Murat/dpa

"Turkceme dokunma" – "Don’t touch my Turkish" is written on the posters held up by children and parents in front of Tiergarten City Hall, and, "We want Turkish lessons back." Ten days ago, about 40 people responded to the call for a rally by the Turkish Community of Berlin. They were protesting against the Mitte district. They were protesting against the district of Mitte, which recently wants to charge rent for the Turkish lessons organized by the Turkish Consulate General and taught by teachers from Turkey, which take place on some afternoons in the rooms of state schools.

The Turkish consulate rejects the district’s rent demand – 27,400 euros. It is a pretext, says embassy counselor Cemal Yıldız. "From our point of view, the authorities are reacting to the political tensions between Germany and Turkey." He sees a violation of bilateral agreements reached by a German-Turkish expert commission, according to which Turkey provides teachers and curricula for native-language instruction and German authorities provide rooms – free of charge.

Because there has been no agreement in the dispute so far, consulate classes in Mitte have been canceled since the beginning of the school year. According to the consulate, around 570 students from 17 schools are affected.

According to the Senate Education Department, a total of around 2,350 Berlin students at 106 elementary schools and two community schools are taking advantage of the offer. The Turkish consulate gives a much higher figure of around 3,800. Belgin Tanik is one of the mothers whose children have to miss out on lessons. "Suddenly we were told the Turkish teacher wasn’t coming." No one told the parents why, she says. Tanik believes he knows it: "Our children are suffering from the tensions between Germany and Turkey."

Charging rent – that’s okay

The school city councilor of Mitte, Carsten Spallek (CDU), denies a political background. Already his predecessor Sabine Smentek (SPD) had demanded rent for the consulate lessons two years ago. At that time, German-Turkish relations were not yet so problematic. Because of staff changes, employees did not pursue the matter at the time. He is doing so now and points to a "usage and fee regulation". According to this, the district could demand rent from the consulate for the use of space.

Bekir Yılmaz from the Turkish community is not satisfied with this reasoning. He also suspects a political motive behind the rent demands: "Every day people complain about the long arm of Ankara. To demand rent for that reason and cut off Berlin children from classes, that’s not right."

Meanwhile, the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district followed Mitte with its own rent demand. School city councilor Andy Hehmke (SPD) says openly what the district is actually about: "I want to stimulate a discussion about state offers for Turkish lessons." In his district, eleven schools could be affected starting in 2018. The Left Party requested in the education committee of the district assembly to "cancel the Turkish consular lessons."

The education administration is backing the districts on the issue: State Secretary Mark Rackles told the House of Representatives’ education committee in September that the Senate considers the districts’ rent demands "justifiable." For months, they have been questioning the consulates’ pedagogical offerings. The curricula of Turkish lessons contained "nationalistic and religious content".

Curricula changed – but not enough

Examples in the curriculum include lessons on the national anthem and national and religious festivals. The significance of the founder of the republic, Ataturk, and the Prophet Mohammed are dealt with in this context. Initial changes made to the curricula by the consulate at the request of the school administration did not go far enough for the Senate. A second, modified version is currently being evaluated, press spokeswoman Beate Stoffers tells the taz.

In any case, the red-red-green coalition wants to expand multilingual instruction – not only for Turkish. The Senate Education Department is currently asking all Berlin schools about language offerings and needs. According to Stoffers, consular instruction is also an issue in this context.

In Berlin, only ten state elementary and high schools currently offer Turkish as a subject, according to the school directory of the Senate Education Department. There are currently 28 teachers who can teach Turkish, says Beate Stoffers. The consulate provides a much larger number of teachers, 54 in total.

Last week, the ministers of education and cultural affairs also discussed the issue. Consular instruction is handled differently in the individual German states. Some have their own native-language offerings, while others leave instruction in the native language entirely or only partially to the consulates.

Should "further need for action" become apparent, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Lander in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) will also discuss joint steps with the federal government, says KMK President Susanne Eisenmann. "In this context, the question then also arises as to how up-to-date the EU Migrant Workers Directive of 1977 still is." This directive has so far been the regulatory basis for consular instruction.

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