NICOSIA — Modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who helped lead the takeover of Greek lands that saw massacres in the Anatolia region of Smyrna in 1922, won't be glorified on Cyprus.
Schools on the Greek-Cypriot side of the island that's a member of the European Union were told to remove a textbook from the curriculum because of its praise for Ataturk, who was born in Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city, which preserved his birthplace house as a museum.
The education ministry had earlier told secondary school teachers in an email to "tear out page 36 before handing it to the students,” an instruction that was leaked on social media, Agence France-Presse reported.
But after withering criticism over a page referring to Ataturk as "Turkey's greatest hero,” the ministry ordered the whole book, which is in English, yanked from the curriculum, the report said.
In a statement, the ministry defended the move that came during heightened tension on Cyprus over insistence by Turkey and Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar that the United Nations and world recognize the northern third occupied since unlawful Turkish invasions in 1974.
“It is not possible to accept textbooks that promote or even praise his personality and 'leadership'," the ministry said.
"Ataturk's name is directly connected with crimes against humanity such as the Armenian genocide, which is unequivocally condemned by our country and by the United States, France and many others," the statement added.
The ministry said modern day education that has seen revisionist movements trying to shape past events to today's cultures, is based on "respect for human rights and does not compromise with attempts to embellish such historical crimes,” that Ataturk directly or indirectly had taken part in or overseen.
Cypriot Member of the European Parliament Niyazi Kizilyurek, the only Turkish-Cypriot EU lawmaker, denounced the decision that he said is of a type "which we only find in totalitarian regimes.”
"We have recently seen the Turkish government intervene in the teaching of history in Turkish-Cypriot schools," he said. "Unfortunately, in both communities, the education sector is anachronistic, and with these interventions, it becomes even worse," added Kizilyurek.
Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News reported swift reaction from the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which doesn't recognize Cyprus and bars its ships and planes while fruitlessly trying to join the EU since 2005.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry said the decision "reveals the radical level of the distorted mentality" against Turkey and Turkish-Cypriots. "We strongly condemn this anachronistic, hostile and unacceptable attitude of the Greek Cypriot Administration," said the statement.
Turkey is still drilling unlawfully for oil and gas in Cypriot waters while the United Nations has refused to intervene and the last round of reunification talks collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.
That was over Turkey's refusal to remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied side and demand for the right to militarily intervene – invade – again when it wanted, saying the troops were there to protect Turkish-Cypriots.
But Turkey, along with Greece and the former Colonial ruler the United Kingdom, which still has military bases there, are official guarantors of security under the UN, which has peacekeeping forces there.