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?

  • 5
    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
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 18:55
  • 8
    Turkey stopped being a secular country (de facto, if no de jure), after Edrogan won.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 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
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 19:13
  • 3
    @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
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 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
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 9:00

2 Answers 2


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

  • 1
    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
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 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
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 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
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 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
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 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
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 19:32

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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 15:28
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 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
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 15:45

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