Another diplomatic row between Turkey and Germany is brewing. The administrators of a prestigious Istanbul high school have reportedly warned teachers over Christian and Christmas-related content in German language classes.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, the Istanbul Lisesi, a state-run high school that offers a curriculum in both German and Turkish, said in a statement that administrators had met the head of the German department over concerns that teachers were devoting too much time teaching about Christmas and Christianity.
“When we received information that German teachers were teaching increasingly more texts on Christmas and Christianity in a manner that is outside the curriculum … our administration arranged a meeting with the German department and requested information,” the school said.
“It is out of the question to have any approach inside of the school that limits the most natural right of freedom of belief of German and Turkish teachers, students and personnel.”
Turkey is constitutionally secular, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK Party he founded have their roots in political Islam and have tried to restore the role of religion in public life.
German media had widely reported that the school had banned its annual Christmas concert and some German politicians urged the government to summon the Turkish ambassador to complain.
According to Reuters, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry said Berlin was hopeful the issue would be resolved after talks between German and Turkish staff at the school. He said the school had never imposed a ban on celebrating Christmas.
In a separate report, the Guardian noted that school denied the ban, which was first reported by the respected German news agency DPA and followed up by the media in Germany and abroad.
“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. There is no question of the school or its management placing an obstacle in its way or prohibiting it.”
Mustafa Yeneroğlu, an MP with the ruling AKP, also denied the claims, saying “such false reports do nothing for Turkey-Germany relations”.
However, Julia Klöckner, a deputy chair of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party, said the incident was a sign of Turkey closing itself off from the outside world.
“Those who want to restrain free thinking in this way are so ignorant, they must be capable of worse,” she said.