“Education is a very important issue for Cyprus; I always say that the Cyprus problem is created by educators,” says Sener Elcil, General Secretary of the Cyprus Turkish Teachers’ Trade Union (KTOS) in an interview with Cyprus Weekly and Havadis.
“Teachers created the ground for the division of both communities: in the past they played a bad role. They created bigotry and ethnic nationalism and also prejudice in both communities,” says Elcil.
He adds that opening the border crossing points in 2003 “created a big opportunity for us to observe (and) revise our education system but we still have to focus on this issue”.
“Education is very important in order to find the problematic points of the system and how we create a common culture for our past,” he adds.
Elcil believes that shared roots as well as a shared past need to be highlighted. By teaching more than “just the points that create a conflict”, attitudes can be changed.
He added that, “Racism and nationalism is the problem… religion was never a problem for Cypriots: Cypriots always respected each other’s religion”.
Referring to the issue of guarantees in the Cyprus negotiations, Elcil said:
“If we look at history, there are three guarantors: Greece, Turkey and Britain.
“The British created a conflict between the communities, the Greeks organised a coup in ’74 and Turkey occupied the northern part of the island.
“They are all terminators, not guarantors. “The real guarantor here is education; if we create mutual respect, tolerance, create a common culture and teach the common past of our country, this can be a guarantee for the new generations of Cyprus,” he stresses. Yet one has to ask why this has not been feasible to date.”
Referring to the Turkish Cypriot education system, Elcil says Turkey’s presence creates an obstacle.
“According to our national educational chart, the Turkey Cypriot educational system should follow the mainland Turkish educational system; nowadays we are following Turkish text books,” Elcil states.
He goes on to point to the effects of legislation.
“Since the opening of the checkpoints, there are more than 300 Turkish Cypriot students going to schools in the south, either to the American Academy, Falcon School, Highgate, etc.
“There is a rule in the north that says that if somebody has not graduated from a school in the north, he or she is not able to get a higher education scholarship from the Turkish Cypriot administration.
“This is a racist obstacle: if one graduates from a Cypriot school – it doesn’t matter whether in the north or south – there is a clear discrimination which nobody has changed,” adds Elcil.
“Education is not a mechanism that can be executed instantly, you need time and you can only change gradually, amongst our communities there are prejudices amongst people – we need to change these as well,” he says.
Edited from Cyprus Weekly