There were tense scenes outside the north’s ‘education ministry’ building on Thursday as trade unions staged a protest against controversial “non-secular” new textbooks.

‘Education minister’ Nazim Cavusoglu was booed by protestors when he exited the building to speak with them, with many calling on him to resign.

Activist Melek Arabacioglu, who is head of the movement for the fight for secular education and is also mukhtar of the Yenikent neighbourhood in Kioneli, said “children should not be discriminated against based on factors such as language, religion, race, gender, and economic status”.

She also chastised the “subliminal messages” of a teacher wearing a hijab and the “family values” of India and Palestine, calling them “incompatible with the principle of secularism”.

“We have nothing to lose except our children! We have enough numbers, anger, and power to bring down not only this ministry but also this country for the damage that will be done to our children … We are the people, never forget this!”, she said.north textbook

Cyprus Turkish teachers’ union (KTOS) general secretary Burak Mavis also spoke, saying of the ‘education ministry’ that “they formed a team and went to Ankara. In line with the Turkish education board, they changed our textbooks and said, ‘take these books, they are worthy of you’”.

He added that changing in the space of a few months books which took five years to write is “neither scientific nor ethical”, and said if the new books are not withdrawn, “teachers know what to do”.

Cyprus Turkish secondary education teachers’ union (KTOEOS) chairwoman Selma Eylem said, “history will record Nazim Cavusoglu as the most hostile to teachers and the most subservient [to Turkey”.

“We know very well the Republic of Turkey’s education’s values. We know what happened to children there … We know how processes are carried out in cooperation with [the Turkish religious affairs directorate. We won’t let you do this here”, she said.

When Cavusoglu appeared outside the ‘ministry’ building, he was met with chants of “Ankara’s minister is the enemy of secularism, we do not want bigoted ministers!”.

When the chants subsided, he told the protestors “No one can question my Kemalism and my secularism”. He added that he had listened to the criticism but that the teachers’ approach to the issue “is not right”.

He said the ‘ministry’ will “stand against those who present their own arguments but cannot tolerate opposing views” and added that they will “continue to embrace all kinds of ideas”.

He added that the ‘ministry’ will “continue secular education without discrimination and marginalisation”.

He is set to hold meetings with representatives of parents on Thursday afternoon and will make a statement to the press later in the day.