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01 Dec 10

Pristina ‘Told to Revise History Books’

Enver Hoxhaj, the Kosovar education minister, claims his then Turkish counterpart, Hüseyin Çelik, suggested Kosovo alter its negative portrayal of the Ottomans as ferocious invaders.

By Lavdim Hamidi Pristina

“During the first official meeting which I had in 2008 in Turkey, the issue of changing historical textbooks and specific content that refers to Kosovo’s – and Albania’s – Ottoman past… was mentioned by Turkey’s minister of education,” says Hoxhaj.

 “During that meeting with the Turkish Education minister, I was informed that the same request was made also to other ministers from Balkan countries.”

Hoxhaj stressed that the Turkish request to revise history and school textbooks was “generalised” and did not refer to specific books or texts.

Despite numerous written and telephone requests lodged during the past month asking for a response to Hoxhaj’s claims, both Hüseyin Çelik and the current Turkish education minister have so far declined to comment.

Hoxhaj, however, does not entirely reject the possibility of revising Kosovan historical texts: “I have no personal opinion on issues that are for professionals [historians]. Textbooks should reflect a social consensus on events related to citizens of the Republic of Kosovo.”

Albania and present day Kosovo – along with large swathes of the Balkans – came under direct Ottoman rule for five centuries until the fall of the empire in Europe in 1912. The subject of Ottoman rule remains a highly charged issue in the region.

The treatment of Albanians during that era is the subject of fierce debate, with many holding the Ottomans responsible for not only arresting the region’s development but also for perpetrating numerous brutal crackdowns and bloodbaths.

About 90 per cent of Kosovo’s population today are ethnic Albanians. According to history books used in secondary schools across the territory, the Ottomans crushed all pro-independence political groups after ethnic-Albanians began an insurgency against their occupiers in the late 1800s.

Most famously, the pro-independence Albanian political group – the League of Prizren – was disbanded by force in 1881.

Kosovan textbooks state that thousands of “patriots” and ethnic Albanian teachers were arrested, deported or jailed. Schoolchildren in Kosovo learn that the Ottoman’s closed their schools to halt the spread of books and newspapers, which served to strengthen the resistance groups.

Hakif Bajrami, history professor at the University of Pristina, says Kosovan history books correctly present the Ottomans as an often brutal occupying force in what is now Albania and Kosovo.

Bajrami argues vehemently against revising history books to present a more favourable image of the past to meet current political ends.

“The current government of Turkey is a friend of Kosovo, the Turkish people today are friends of Albanians. This friendship should continue in the future but such an initiative by Turkey about changing history textbooks shouldn’t pass [be allowed],” he said.

However, while many historians agree with Bajrami, others believe Albanian textbooks present a biased view of history and are the product of intense state-building and nationalist fervour that followed the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Ilir Deda, executive director in the Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED), disputes Bajrami’s view of the Ottomans as aggressive invaders, pointing out that most Albanians were “100 per cent faithful” to the empire.

“Turkey wants Kosovo to correct its historical accounts so they are based on facts, not on nationalist, romantic myths,” he says. “Turkey’s argument that [Ottoman era] history should be re-written is much stronger given our historical accounts have been written in the last 100 years.”   

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