The revision of history in education to reflect ‘national values’ was among the issues raised in the north this week with the Turkish Cypriot leadership backing the idea, reports said on Thursday.

Condemning reactions to the call by Turkey’s ‘ambassador’ in the north, Ali Murat Basceri, for the revision of the way history is taught, ‘foreign minister’ Tahsin Ertugruloglu said on Thursday he agrees with everything the Turkish official said.

Basceri said during a panel discussion on Turkish Cypriot history and education, that it was time to revise the way history was being taught in the north to give more emphasis to national values.

He said it was necessary to eradicate the gap in the teaching of history in the north and that the panel discussion would help the ‘education ministry’ in the steps that need to be taken on this issue.

He also criticised the revision of the history textbooks back in 2004 when the Republican Turkish Party (CTP) came to power under Mehmet Ali Talat, who took a more conciliatory approach.

“Unfortunately, we see that the gap created in the teaching of history in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus since the early 2000s, for various reasons, alienates the new generations from moral and national values,” Basceri said.

According to Yiannis Papadakis, in his report on History Education in Divided Cyprus: A Comparison of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Schoolbooks on the “History of Cyprus” (PRIO Report 2/2008), prior to the revision in 2004, history in Turkish Cypriot textbooks started with the arrival of the Ottomans in Cyprus in 1571.

According to the report, the Ottomans are presented in the old history books as coming to Cyprus in order to save the Greek Cypriots from Venetian cruelty, while revolts against the Ottomans are subsequently described as ungrateful Greek Cypriot actions betraying the gracious Ottoman tolerance.

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who also said history teaching in the north ought to be revised, echoes this narrative.

Speaking at the same panel discussion, he said the Ottomans conquered the island upon the calls “of the orthodox grandparents, who are the ancestors of today’s Greek Cypriots and Greeks, to save them from the oppression of the Venetians.” He also said that just 20 to 30 years after this war in which 60,000 martyrs (Ottoman soldiers) were lost, the Orthodox began to revolt against the Ottomans.

Pointing to the tolerance of the Ottoman administration and the post-conquest process, Tatar said that if a different path had been followed, Cyprus could have been a completely Turkish island, but today the equal sovereignty of the Turkish Cypriots is a question which, he added, was not easy to digest. He also said that if Turkey had not used its rights as a guarantor power, Cyprus would be a Greek island today.

Arguing that the Turkish Cypriot struggle is a struggle for sovereignty, Tatar said that Greek Cypriots continue to say that Cyprus is a Greek island. He also added that the Turkish Cypriot side has at its disposal archives and documents that need to be researched, compiled into a book, and taught to the new generations.

Referring to the battles of Tylliria and the Kokkina enclave he criticised past changes in the history books especially during the period when Mehmet Ali Talat was leader of the Turkish Cypriot community (2005-2010). He said “history was erased” at the time.

Stating that history education in the north should also be reorganised to give more importance to ‘national consciousness’, Tatar said it was important for Turkish Cypriots to know their history.

He said the history of the Turkish Cypriots and their struggle should be recorded, and the education system should be reviewed.