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22 Jan 13

Kosovo Textbooks Soften Line on Ottoman Rule

Changes to school textbooks undertaken at the urging of Turkish officials have toned down the language used to describe the imperial experience.

Jeton Musliu
BIRN Prishtina

When the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited Kosovo for the first time in 2010, he visited some of the country’s historic Islamic sites.

“These mosques symbolize the brotherhood between Kosovo and Turkey,” Erdogan said in Prizren.

Recent years have seen the two countries develop cozy relations. To date, they have signed 13 agreements in matters including the economy, military and education. Turkey is also one of the few places that Kosovo citizens can visit without needing visas.

Relations are slated to get even warmer, thanks to planned changes in Kosovo’s school textbooks. Nudged by Turkish officials, Kosovo educational officials are revising history texts to portray the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Kosovo for 450 years, as a kinder, gentler ruler than was formerly suggested.

“Turkey is not happy that Kosovars learn history as interpreted by Josip Broz Tito or Enver Hoxha,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said during a visit in 2011, referring to the late Communist leaders of Yugoslavia and Albania.

Many Kosovars still look back on the Ottoman era with disdain, as an oppressive period in which the national identity of Albanians was repressed.

The most renowned Albanian hero is George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the crusading warrior who fought the Ottoman invaders in the 15th century. His monument on Mother Teresa Boulevard is one of Pristina’s most prominent landmarks.

Toned down language:

Balkan Insight has obtained copies of the revised history textbooks that will be used in grades 5, 6, and 8 starting this autumn.

Some of changes include:

• Replacing “violence” and “killing” with “conquering” and “imprisonment,” on page 62 of a fifth-grade textbook.

• Deleting the sentence: “Ottomans killed many Albanians,” on page 69 of the same book.

• Replacing “Ruthless Ottoman rule” with the more neutral sounding “Ottoman conquest” on page 83 of the sixth-grade history textbook.

* Replacing “They applied strict measures against non-Muslim people” with “All citizens in the countries conquered by the Ottoman Empire, in the daily lives, were equal before the law.

Certainly, sometimes, there were abuses by local Ottoman authorities.”The changes, some quite radical  in tone, reflect the recommendations of a five-member Commission on the Revision of the Presentation of Ottoman and Turkish History, Geography and Culture, which Kosovo’s Ministry of Education set up in 2011 to revise.

The commission’s report, issued in 2012, suggested avoiding saying that the Ottomans used violence against, or killed, Albanians.

Instead, the commission wanted it said that the Sultans, their armies and administrators imprisoned people and carried out military interventions.

Mission to Ankara:

The commission met Turkey’s ambassador to Kosovo and went to the Turkish capital, Ankara, to visit an institution devoted to school textbooks.

“We took into account their remarks on what could be considered as omissions by our authors,”  Shkelzen Raca, chairman of the commission, told Balkan Insight.

The commission met at least eight times before it issued its recommendations and their efforts were done for the good of Kosovo’s school pupils, he said.

“We believe we were constructive and prudent. Our objective was to remove any hate language and some aggressive vocabulary,” Raca added.

The report, however, is also clear in its intentions. “We remind you that schoolbooks should give more room to features that bring Turkey and Kosovo closer together, emphasizing positive examples in Turkish- Albanian relations in the past,” it concluded.

Not consulted:

At least three authors of the older textbooks, Frasher Demaj, Fehmi Rexhep, and Isa Bicaj, were not consulted about the revisions.

“It seems a bit illogical that the changes were done without consulting with the authors,” Bicaj, a historian who wrote the grade seven text, said.

He doesn’t approve of toning down criticism of the Ottoman Empire, either. “You can cut off my hand, but I will not use the term ‘arrival’ for the Ottomans. They were conquerors,” Bicaj said.

Turkey’s Ambassador to Kosovo, Songul Ozan, meanwhile told Balkan Insight that the changes in the history books will improve Kosovo-Turkey relations, which, according to her, are already excellent.

Kosovo is not the only country changing its stance on the Ottoman Empire, Ozan remarked.

“Such actions, aimed at the removal of unpleasant terms in history books, were also taken by Germany and France, as well as by other countries, including my own,” the ambassador explained.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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