Deutsche Welle reports that:

A German-funded school in Istanbul has told teachers they cannot even talk about Christmas in class.


Each December, the school has a small celebration for Christmas and teaches pupils about the holiday. One week after the school's choir was prevented from singing at the German consulate in Istanbul, they canceled the festivities.


According to an email from school management seen by German news agency DPA, the teachers cannot even mention the topic of Christmas inside their classroom, effective immediately.

On the surface, this seems like an incomprehensible decision for a secular country. I'm wondering, what's the Turkish side of this? Has any official explain the reasoning behind the decision?

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    Turkey currently has an Islamist government but is a secular country and a larger Islamic population. Just like how the US is technically secular but favors Christianity over other religions. My guess is that since the population of Turkey has a larger population of Muslims, officials won't speak out about it against the majority. – Noah Dec 18 '16 at 18:55
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    Turkey stopped being a secular country (de facto, if no de jure), after Edrogan won. – user4012 Dec 18 '16 at 19:00
  • @user4012. Thanks for pointing that out. I guess the only other explanation for the cancellation is that it was unpopular. It would be suicide for a politician to speak out against a majority. – Noah Dec 18 '16 at 19:13
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    @Killer066 It's not speaking against a majority that officials won't do. It's protecting the voice and custom of a minority that officials are not doing. – Rathony Dec 18 '16 at 19:19
  • @Killer066 I fully agree with the values and principles as well as the arguments in your comments, but I'd just like to add a few factual details: It's hard to describe Erdoğan government as an Islamist government although we might perhaps describe him as an Islamist politician (mind the subtle difference here) who has gradually accepted the notion of secular state (e.g. he recommended it to Egyptian Muslim Brothers but unfortunately they weren't ready for it yet), and Turkey is still more secular than USA (e.g. "In God We Trust", something unimaginable in Turkey ;-) So much myth about Turkey! – Sadi Jan 13 '17 at 9:00

The short answer is that Turkey is not a secular country de facto, even if it is de jure. It cannot be with that big muslim majority and with state involved in religious matters (islamic) at nearly all levels. Moreover, there always was a strong Islamist movement in Turkey and with AKP rule it's growing stronger.

Officials denied the fact (as reported by multiple outlets), but the article linked also mentions this:

However, [officials] said that German teacher have recently been "talking about Christmas and Christianity in a way that was not foreseen by the curriculum."

And let's not forget this:

According to an email from school management seen by German news agency DPA, the teachers cannot even mention the topic of Christmas inside their classroom, effective immediately.

So question is: if there was no ban, where the news came from? There is no official explanation beyond denial, but it's not at all suprising - teaching Christianity according to Bible in Turkey is illegal without state permit to do so. Why explain the obvious?

But. If we - for example - take into account popular movement to re-open Hagia Sophia mosque (and actual prayers have been already conducted), as well as closing Christian Schools along Syrian Borders, selective closing of places of worship (only churches), seizure of church poperty by the state, ban on teachnig for the Bible, arrests and deportation of foreign pastors and preachers (quite often under "terrorism-related charges") and most recent shooting at Christmas celebrations, the story rings true and is nothing at all surprising.

I will link to most of the examples mentioned above for references later, if there will be a requirement.

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  • constitution says Islam is an official religion of the State -> Do you have a source for this? I can't find this in the actual constitution text, and this analysis also disagrees with your claim ("a state is an Islamic state when its constitution declares Islam the official state religion and at least parts of Islamic law are used in jurisprudence. None of these criteria apply to the case of Turkey.") – user11249 Jan 9 '17 at 15:28
  • teaching Christianity according to Bible in Turkey is illegal -> I also find this a rather contentious claim. The constitution's text (linked above) seems to have explicit freedom of religion clauses that are more or less similar to most Western countries. Your answer would improve if you could back this up. – user11249 Jan 9 '17 at 15:29
  • @Carpetsmoker - My bad. I don't know why I was looking at 1924 constitution and was thinking it's newer one. Thanks for pointing that out. Editing. – user10424 Jan 9 '17 at 15:45

Unfortunately, these days even the good old, more trustworthy news outlets like Deutsche Welle or the BBC are not as reliable as they once used to be in general, and when they "report" on Turkey, in particular, unfortunately.

So when you see something like that you should better check it thoroughly, and as an agnostic citizen of Istanbul I find this "news" very hard to believe frankly. It just doesn't fit into the general picture!

The present ruling party with a strong Islamic tendency has in deed significantly improved the rights of religious minorities in Turkey so that for a long time it was accused of helping to set up a Vatican-like micro-state on the Golden Horn by granting so many concessions to the Orthodox Greek minority, and its two leaders (PM Erdoğan and President Gül) were even accused of having Zionist (sic!) and Armenian (sic!) connections (Mr. Gül was the first Turkish President to visit Armenia, and Mr. Erdoğan was the first Turkish PM to issue a message in memory of Armenian people massacred in 1915).

It's true that this party is not as "moderate" as it can be described simply as an Islamic version of Christian Democratic parties in Western Europe (yet?) but it's not as radical as other Islamic parties in the Middle-East either. However, it's not as far from the German Christian Democrats as Turkey's main opposition party (member of Socialist International) is from the German Social-Democrats virtually on all accounts, including the rights of religious minorities, in particular. As a matter of fact, religious minorities in Turkey have suffered most brutally during the one-party regime of that party in Turkey until the 1950s, when it fortunately steered the country toward a multi-party system in a peaceful manner, which its equivalents in Iraq and Syria, for example, could not -- another big difference between Turkey and its near and far neighbours in the south and east...

And, a few more facts: The recent shooting in Istanbul took place at a night club on New Year's Eve (nothing to do with Christmas celebrations), and neither the teaching of Christianity or Bible or any other religion, nor atheism is illegal in Turkey. All religions have lived peacefully on this land for centuries, and there "lack of tolerance" has only increased during the so-called "secular" (and nationalistic) Republic (and under the rule of the so-called "secular" party admitted to Socialist International probably with the hope of integrating it into the ecosystem of Western democracy, which has worked to some extent, but not enough to make it more liberal to religuous minorities than the "Islamic" party, very ironically in deed.

UPDATE: Here's a statement made by the President of Istanbul Boys High School Association, which says School Principal, German Department Head and Deputy Head held a meeting on 19 December 2016, and decided to inform the German press that German teachers are not banned or restricted from talking about or celebrating Christmas, and the school choir was going to perform at the German Consulate as usual, and only students were not allowed to have rehearsals during school hours, which was the case last year as well.

Statement by Istanbul High School

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    Do you know why it was reported "A German-funded school in Istanbul has told teachers they cannot even talk about Christmas in class" if this is completely false? Was this a misunderstanding? Based on uncredible source? Something else? – user11249 Jan 13 '17 at 18:55
  • The news report is probably a mixture of misunderstanding, unreliable source, and willingness to join the rising Islamophobia in West Europe. Apparently the school principal merely wrote to German department head to advice the German teachers to refrain from talks in the classroom that might be open to manipulations during Christmas. But the German department head (Schultz) apparently decided to be extra careful this year, and sent an email to all German teachers asking them not to talk about Christmas at all in the classroom. – Veritas Jan 13 '17 at 19:13
  • Probably that email was leaked to a journalist who immediately wrote the news report "creatively" which came as a shock to the school administration, which held that meeting to clear up the mess. – Veritas Jan 13 '17 at 19:17
  • It's also important to note that banning of Christmas, etc. is not only in contradiction with the secular principles of Turkey, but with Islam as well (probably only a bunch of fanatics of Islamophobia and Klu Klux Klan-type "Islamic" terrorism wouldn't agree with this). See also: facebook.com/999BABF/photos/… – Veritas Jan 13 '17 at 19:27
  • I feel all of that should be in the answer (probably at the start, before talking about Turkey's general political situation). Preferably with sources :-) – user11249 Jan 13 '17 at 19:32

The official response from the school is: Hindustantimes

The school denied any such ban.

“The reports in German media about restrictions on Christmas festivities of German teachers do not reflect reality,” it said.

“A concert was cancelled by the German teachers in question without explanation and there is no question of the school or its management placing an obstacle in its way or prohibiting it.”

Ruling AKP party MP Mustafa Yeneroglu also denied the claims, saying “such false reports do nothing for Turkey-Germany relations”.

The answer is that Erodgan, Turkey's prime minister is not committed to Turkish secularism. Rather, he is selectively in favor of democracy as long as it favors his flavor of Islam, and views his popularity, derived from in part from religious fervor, as a means and an ends to skirt secular restrictions on his power.

Consider Times of Israel long piece, Erdogan's Turkey: Less Nationalism, More Islam that details such selective destruction on the secular state.

“These moves could be viewed as part of Erdogan’s ongoing efforts to undo the Kemalist state,” said Dror Zeevi, who teaches modern Turkish history at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba.

Erdogan is genuinely interested in mitigating Turkey’s harsh secularism and nationalism, but is doing so selectively, Zeevi said.

Ben Gurion University Turkey expert Dror Zeevi (photo credit: courtesy) Ben Gurion University Turkey expert Dror Zeevi (photo credit: courtesy)

“[Erdogan] justifiably believes that secularism has something anti-democratic about it,” Zeevi noted. “The problem is that his democracy goes only so far. When people demonstrate against him at Gezi park, he goes wild. I don’t believe he’s entirely democratically inclined.”

If Erdogan were a true democrat, Zeevi continued, he would have agreed to discuss the demands of the large Greek Orthodox minority to recover property confiscated by the state in the 1920s and 1940s. Armenian grievances might also be addressed.

Curious also is Erdogan's rejection of "moderate Islam" From Daniel Pipe's Middle East Forum

Reacting to the term, "moderate Islam," Erdoğan stated,

Turkey is not a country where moderate Islam prevails. This expression is wrong. The word Islam is uninflected, it is only Islam. If you say moderate Islam, then an alternative is created, and that is immoderate Islam. As a Muslim, I can't accept such a concept. Islam rejects extreme concepts. I am not an extreme Muslim. We are Muslims who have found a middle road.

More evidence of Erdogan's support for fundamentalism was his support of the Hamas (US defined terrorist group) efforts to breach the Israel blockade and what that portends. Link

Until now, radical Islam in Turkey has been widely considered a second-tier example of “soft” Muslim fundamentalism, overshadowed by the acute examples of al Qaeda, Saudi-financed Wahhabism, Pakistani jihadism, the Pakistani Deobandi movement that inspired the Taliban, and Khomeinist clericalism.

But the movement of the Erdogan government away from Turkey’s long-standing alliance with Israel and its new alignment with Iran and Syria are deeply worrying. The ruling AKP party has ambitions of reviving Turkey's expansive role in the region of its former empire, which until the beginning of the 20th century ruled from the Balkans in Europe through the Middle East, including Libya, the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. In addition, five former Soviet republics speaking Turkic languages--Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzia--and the Muslim-majority of western China are within the Turkish culture area.

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    Your answer was good until you went off into Support of Hamas. It adds nothing to the question about Cancelling of Christmas celebration in a school. (I didn't down vote) – Noah Dec 18 '16 at 19:10
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    The question is about an explanation of the decision from Turkey's side. I don't necessarily disagree with anything you wrote, but a generic "Erdogan is an islamist" answer doesn't really answer my question. – yannis Dec 18 '16 at 19:10
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    @ K Dog. Why do you even bother answering questions without resorting to hatred? I down voted as that last comment you made was uncalled for and shows you are clearly incapable of giving unbiased opinions. – Noah Dec 18 '16 at 19:17
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    @Killer066 The truth isn't mean Killer, it's just the truth. – K Dog Dec 18 '16 at 19:18
  • @Yannis Ok, deserved, as I sort of missed that. I did give some of Erdogan's thinking that might be somewhat illuminative. I haven't been able to find anything from the party or the government of Turkey dispositive on the German school being required to censor any mention or teaching of Christmas specifically. – K Dog Dec 18 '16 at 19:28

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