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History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: Turkey

A Vote on Turkey’s Future

On April 16, Turkish citizens will go to the polls to vote on a package of constitutional amendments. The package proposes fundamental changes to Turkey’s parliamentary system of government—it would expand the powers of the presidency and dissolve the position of prime minister, among other changes. Public opinion is split on the referendum, and many pollsters hesitate to predict the outcome. Much of the debate surrounding the referendum draws on the country’s divisive leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Many see the referendum as not simply a vote on Turkey’s system of government, but on the future of Erdoğan’s position as Turkey’s leader.

Erdoğan has been a central figure in Turkish politics for the past two decades. He was the mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998 and a founder of the current ruling party, the AKP.  Erdoğan served three terms as prime minister, from 2003 to 2014. After reaching his term limit, he won the presidency in 2014. Many believe that he is the most influential Turkish politician in since Atatürk.

While Erdoğan is currently eligible for one more term as president, a “yes” vote at the polls on the April 19 referendum could pave the way for Erdogan to remain the country’s president for an additional term, through 2029.

The vote comes during a period of great change and uncertainty in Turkey. A recent string of terrorist attacks has claimed the lives of hundreds of Turkish citizens. The Syrian Civil War continues to unfold on Turkey’s doorstep. In the midst of the global refugee crisis, Turkey has accepted roughly half of the five million Syrians who have fled their home country. The decades-long conflict between government officials and Turkey’s Kurdish population continues.

Though Erdoğan has a loyal base of supporters, in recent years many Turkish citizens have challenged his government in a range of ways, from political organizing to widespread protests. Concerns about government corruption and growing authoritarianism sparked massive protests in Gezi Park in 2013. Last summer, an attempted military coup failed to oust Erdoğan. In its wake, while some citizens have rallied around the government and rejected the military’s attempt to intervene in politics, others have expressed concern that Erdoğan and his ruling party are seizing the opportunity to crush dissent and further consolidate their power. Individual’s views on these recent development may shape decisions at the ballot box on the 16th. In the video below, Brown University professor Stephen Kinzer describes how the Turkish government responded to the 2016 coup attempt.

 

Turkish Students Weigh In

In a recent interview in Taksim Square, Istanbul, New York Times correspondent Patrick Kingsley discussed the upcoming referendum with two students at Bagazici University—Mert Nacakgedigi and Dilara Arslan. Though they are good friends, the two students have starkly different interpretations about what the proposed constitutional changes would mean for their country’s future. While Dilara plans to vote in favor of the amendments, Mert will vote against them.

Interview by Patrick Kingsley of the New York Times.

Dilara

Dilara is double major in political science and sociology. She believes that the current parliamentary system has failed Turkey and hopes that a shift to a presidential system will bring stability to a country that has experienced political upheaval and tenuous parliamentary coalitions for decades. Dilara reminds viewers that, since the country’s founding less that one hundred years ago, Turkey has had more than sixty governments. She’s confident that the constitutional amendments will not only bring stability, but will also facilitate the consolidation of democracy in Turkey.

“I see it as a step towards democracy. Considering what the current government has done in favor of democracy in my opinion from the 2004 package of women’s rights to the economic liberalism over the past ten, fifteen years, I see this as just another step towards democracy.”

Dilara Arslan, Bagazici University student, March 24, 2017

Dilara applauds the ruling party’s efforts to expand freedoms for women that wear headscarves by lifting restrictions that had long kept kept veiled women out of public institutions like universities and government offices. She believes the constitutional changes will bring Turkey’s government more in line with many Western governments. She is concerned that foreign governments and international media sources have been encouraging people in Turkey to vote “no.”

Mert

Mert Nacakgedigi is a double major in political science and history. He expresses concern about the future of Turkey’s democracy and he warns that the amendments will demolish Turkey’s system of checks and balances. Mert says that people don’t feel free to openly oppose the proposed constitutional change, particularly those who work for or interact closely with the government. He’s unconvinced that the proposed changes will help address the challenges facing his country or offer any improvements to Turkey’s government.

“When I see the referendum…I only have one question. Do we need this referendum? Do we have a constitutional problem? [Is] our first problem a constitutional problem? I don’t think so.”

—Mert Nacakgedigi, Bagazici University student, March 24, 2017

Dilara and Mert emphasize that despite a climate of political polarization in their country, they’re able to respectfully disagree and remain friends. In many ways, they share a similar vision for their country—a desire for expanded rights and opportunities, a commitment to strengthening their democracy, and a hope that that Turkey will successfully address security concerns and the problem of terrorism. How a “yes” or ”no” vote on the referendum will shape the country’s future remains to be seen.

Interested in Teaching about Turkey?

Empire, Republic, Democracy: Turkey’s Past and Future traces the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the struggle for independence, and Turkish resistance against European imperialism. Students explore recent developments, such as the Syrian Civil War, the emergence of ISIS, the global refugee crisis, and the attempted military coup of 2016. In a culminating simulation, students grapple with the questions and challenges facing people in Turkey today.

  • What should Turkey’s democracy look like?
  • What role should religion play in Turkey’s government and society?
  • Should Turkey expand human rights and freedoms?
  • What role should Turkey play in the region and the world?

Banner image: Kristine Riskaer (CC BY 2.0).

The Armenian Genocide: 100 Years Later

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide—a tragedy that took place against the backdrop of World War I, the effects of which are still being felt today. Choices provides a range of resources that offer students historical context to understand the circumstances in which the Armenian Genocide, and other genocides, were carried out. These resources help students wrestle with the very difficult and confusing question of how such horrific events could ever take place, and consider how past genocides have long lasting effects that exist to this day.

What was the Armenian Genocide?

The following video could serve as an excellent introduction for high school students to learn about the Armenian Genocide.  Barbara Petzen answers the question, “What was the Armenian Genocide?”

ArmenianGenocideWeb

A Contested History

“The great trouble with the Armenians is that they are separatists.… Because they have relied upon the friendship of the Russians, they have helped them in this war.… We have therefore deliberately adopted the plan of scattering them so that they can do us no harm.”  

—Ottoman leader Ismail Enver Pasha, as recounted by Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire

To this day, the Turkish government denies that these deaths were a genocide and claims that the Armenians were among the many people displaced and killed in the violent chaos of World War I. In 2014, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—who was prime minister at the time and is currently president—opened a new chapter for the two countries by acknowledging the widespread suffering of Armenians during World War I. Although he did not call the events of 1915 genocide, it marked an important acknowledgement of the past.

“The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain. It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner. … And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.”  

—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, April 23, 2014

Despite the slight softening of Erdoğan’s position last year, Turkey’s leader has taken a sharper stance recently in the weeks leading up to this year’s anniversary, explicitly refuting the designation of the events as a genocide. After Pope Francis referred to the events as “the first genocide of the 20th century” this month, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican. When the European Parliament adopted a resolution to commemorate the centennial of the genocide, Erdoğan responded,

“Whatever decision the European Parliament takes on Armenian genocide claims, it will go in one ear and out the other…. It is out of the question for there to be a stain or a shadow called genocide on Turkey.”

—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, April 2015

Teaching Resources

Choices’ curriculum unit Confronting Genocide: Never Again? explores the Armenian Genocide, as well as four other case studies (the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, the Bosnian Genocide, and the Rwandan Genocide). It includes a lesson that challenges students to assess The New York Times coverage of the Armenian genocide and to consider the impact of media reporting on policy decisions and international opinion. The curriculum also includes a lesson that has students build a genocide memorial and consider the complex decision making that goes into this process.

Choices’ curriculum unit Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey explores the social and political environment within the Ottoman Empire in the years leading up to and during World War I and the Armenian Genocide. It briefly explores modern relations between Turkey and Armenia and the tension between the two countries over the designation of the events as a genocide.

 

 

The Umbrella Movement and Trends of Modern Protest

Over the past five years, we have seen a surge of public uprisings around the world. From Tunis, Cairo, and Madrid to Istanbul, Kiev, and Caracas, people have turned to public protest and civil disobedience to express frustration with their countries’ distinct social, economic, and political states.

The Choices Program has just published a new Teaching with the News lesson on the recent prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong. The protests have emerged in response to the Chinese government’s announcement that although it will allow universal suffrage in the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, voters will only be able to choose among two or three candidates selected by a nominating committee. Protesters fear that the Chinese government will use this nominating committee to ensure that only pro-Beijing candidates enter the election process.

Protesters gathered in downtown Hong Kong earlier this month. (Pasu Au Yeung, CC BY-SA 2.0.)

In what ways is Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” similar to and different from other civil disobedience demonstrations that have emerged in recent years? In a video interview for our Scholars Online collection, Brown Professor Melani Cammett discusses some of the broad issues that contributed to the wave of popular uprisings in the Arab world in 2010-2011.

As has been the case with the revolutions in the Arab world, protesters in Hong Kong are demanding more democratic freedoms from their government—specifically, in this case, the right to democratically nominate and elect their government leader. Economic inequality within Hong Kongese society and frustrations among highly educated young people about challenges finding work and housing are also contributing to public discontent. In addition, like in the Arab revolutions, the Hong Kong protests are comprised of large numbers of young people—many of whom are still too young to vote.

But despite these similarities, there are stark differences between the protest movements. Many of the Arab countries that experienced mass revolutions beginning in 2010 and 2011 suffer from widespread poverty and government corruption. In contrast, Hong Kong is China’s economic hub and has become known for its “clean and corruption-free” government. Furthermore, many of the Arab revolutions demanded and ultimately resulted in the overthrow of authoritarian leaders from countries including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. The Hong Kong protests, on the other hand, are centered primarily around one aspect of election policy in Hong Kong. While protesters have expressed a desire for Hong Kong’s chief executive, CY Leung, to step down, they are not attempting any sort of revolution to change the government structure of China as a whole. In fact, the Hong Kongese prodemocracy group Occupy Central has been vocal about its desire to be called a “movement” as opposed to a “revolution.” They are decidedly nonviolent and the scope of their demands is limited.

Moreover, many of the initially peaceful protests in the Arab world have resulted in tragically violent conflicts and harsh government repression—most strikingly in the case of Syria and its descent into a brutal civil war. While the Chinese government has not expressed any willingness to meet protesters’ demands for open public nomination of Hong Kong’s chief executive, a peaceful dialogue has already begun between government officials and student protest leaders.

Comparing the current protests in Hong Kong with one specific protest movement, like the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, can also help to illuminate common tools and tactics of modern protests. In another Scholars Online video interview, Barbara Petzen, an education consultant specializing in how to teach about the Middle East, discusses creative ways Turkish protesters responded to media censorship during the Gezi Park protests.

While what triggered the Gezi Park protests and Hong Kong’s protests are different, there are similarities in how the government responded to each as well as in the strategies protesters used to get their messages across. Like in the case of Turkey, the Chinese government has censored many news and media outlets in response to the recent protests. In China, the press has depicted Hong Kong protesters as extremists who threaten the unity of China, and the government has shut down social media sites like Instagram. This government censorship has impacted how mainland Chinese view the protests in Hong Kong. In addition, censoring posts on Weibo (a site similar to Twitter) has affected the ability of protesters to communicate with each other. This has prompted creative solutions—for instance, many protesters in Hong Kong have been using alternative social media apps, like FireChat, that do not rely on the internet.

In addition, both the Gezi Park protesters and Hong Kong’s prodemocracy protesters have used strong symbolism in getting their messages across. Whether a spray-painted penguin with a gas mask in the case of Gezi Park or a trash collection bin emblazoned with the number 689 (the number of votes current Hong Kong chief executive received from China’s electoral committee) in Hong Kong, protesters have demonstrated ingenuity and creativity.

KeithPictures (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Hong Kong protesters have received international attention for regularly cleaning protest sites and setting up recycling centers. Many trash bags and cans have signs attached with messages such as “Throw out your 689 here” and “689! General waste.” (KeithPictures, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

Learning about the Hong Kong democracy protests can help students think about the role of mass public action in politics and grapple with the question of how protests in varied places and times can be both similar and different. How and why do public protests arise? What tactics do protesters use? Are there clear leaders of civil disobedience movements? What relationship do protesters have with government officials and police? What role do technology and social media play—both for the protesters and for the governments they are demonstrating against? What does it mean for a protest to be “successful”?

 

Check out Choices’ new free lesson on the Hong Kong protests, and for more on the history of China’s political development, see the unit China on the World Stage: Weighing the U.S. Response.

 

Some Choices units that deal with the theme of public protest and enfranchisement:

More FREE Teaching with the News lessons on uprisings:

And look out for our new unit on experiencing and responding to climate change, coming soon!

Global Issues Since the Fall of the Wall: A Course Made for Choices Materials

Blog Post by Choices Teaching Fellow Deb Springhorn

21st-century-skillsFor 30 years I have lamented the lack of time to teach the current global situation in the context of a world history course that is supposed to go from the prehistoric to the present in one year!  Given the global paradigm shift after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid shift again after 9-11, it has become even more imperative to prepare students for global citizenship by developing their understanding of complex global issues and instilling the disposition to see others as they see themselves.  Choices Curriculum units and Teaching with the News lessons do just this.  The goal in developing the course, Global Issues Since the Fall of the Wall was to create an interdisciplinary, common core based course that would incorporate as many materials from the Choices Program as possible.  Beyond the Choices materials, students will read articles from a wide variety of journals and literature of several genres.  They will examine photographic images by James Nachtwey as a way of seeing themselves in such places Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda.

This year long course is divided into four units:

  • The New World [dis]Order of the 1990s: Nationalism, War, and Genocide
  • America After 9-11: The Single Story of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • The Frustration and Hope of “The Arab Spring”
  • Globalization: Geopolitical, Environmental, and Economic Issues.

Each of the four units is organized around 21st Century Skills, reflecting the Common Core.  Choices Curriculum units and Teaching with the News lessons combine with the philosophical, literary, and artistic elements to provide students with an in-depth awareness of the complexities of the current global situation.

The web site for the course has unit overviews, detailed day-by-day plans, resource links, and annotated bibliographies of all the sources used for each of the units.  The attached document illustrates each of the four units with materials from the Choices Program  already incorporated in the first version of the course as well as others that will be added as the course continues to evolve.  The key literary works are listed as well to show the literary connections.

On the 100th Anniversary of World War I

By Leah Elliott, Choices Program Associate

The upcoming year presents a special opportunity for classrooms to reflect on the history and impacts of World War I. While mainstream media coverage has granted attention to the war’s famous battles and grave sites dotting Europe and the United States, we encourage you to also explore with your students the narratives of those societies that fell within the colonial and/or imperial boundaries of the Central and Allied Powers.

Over the past ten months, Choices has produced three new curriculum units that speak to “other” perspectives from World War I: Indian Independence and the Question of Partition, Colonization and Independence in Africa, and Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey (just released this summer!). Below are a few excerpts and images from these curricula.

“Britain forced its colonies to contribute vast sums of money, raw materials, soldiers, and other resources to support the war effort. Tens of thousands of Indian troops fighting for Britain in Europe and the Middle East lost their lives.” —Indian Independence and the Question of Partition

 

Africa 1914 color

“Africans who participated in the war efforts thought they would be rewarded with additional social, political, and economic rights when the war was over…. It soon became clear that Europe and the United States did not believe that Africans deserved this right…. Germany’s former colonies became mandates—administered by foreign countries on behalf of the League…. Criticism of colonialism grew louder in Africa around the world after World War I. Four conferences between 1919 and 1927 helped bring international attention and support to anticolonial movements in Africa.” —Colonization and Independence in Africa

 

"In 1915, Russia made substantial gains into Ottoman territory in Eastern Anatolia. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government feared that minority groups in the region, especially the Armenians, planned to revolt against the empire with the help of Russian forces.… April 24, 1915 marked the start of the Armenian Genocide. The Ottoman government ordered the arrest and deportation or execution of over two  hundred Armenian politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen in Istanbul.… CUP officials claimed that the Armenians planned to revolt and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This accusation produced widespread public support for the government’s actions. By 1923, 1.5 million Armenians—over two-thirds of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire—had been killed, deported, or forced into the desert where they starved to death." —Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey

“In 1915, Russia made substantial gains into Ottoman territory in Eastern Anatolia. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government feared that minority groups in the region, especially the Armenians, planned to revolt against the empire with the help of Russian forces.… April 24, 1915 marked the start of the Armenian Genocide. The Ottoman government ordered the arrest and deportation or execution of over two hundred Armenian politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen in Istanbul.… CUP officials claimed that the Armenians planned to revolt and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This accusation produced widespread public support for the government’s actions. By 1923, 1.5 million Armenians—over two-thirds of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire—had been killed, deported, or forced into the desert where they starved to death.”Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey

These pieces draw attention to just a few of the narratives that are often lost when sole focus for the 100th anniversary of World War I is given to people who identified with, instead of were subjugated by, the world powers of the time. In addition to widespread death and economic upheaval, World War I was also an event that turned the world’s attention to the fight for self-determination. For people living under colonial rule in Africa and South Asia, as well as the diverse ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire, World War I fueled efforts for self-determination that would drastically shape the course of the twentieth century.

 

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