At least don’t force our children to watch that DVD, pleaded the Armenian citizens of Turkey in a letter with nearly 500 signatories to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. They were complaining about a six-part documentary called, “Sari Gelin – Behind the scenes story of the Armenian question” that was sent to primary schools by the National Education Ministry to be shown to the students.
“Sari Gelin” is, of course a folk tale shared for centuries by Armenians, Turks and other indigenous people of Anatolia. The folk song, Sari Gelin (Mountain Girl or Blond Girl) or Sari Gyalin in Armenian echoed in Istanbul streets when tens of thousands of people accompanied the coffin of Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist slain under still obscure conditions, to his final resting place two years ago. Although the murderer of Dink, an 18-year-old lumpen kid from the Black Sea area, was captured, collusion of Turkey’s security authorities in the killing is being publicly debated today.
Producers of the documentary probably gave this title to their work to create the impression that it was an attempt to erase animosities between Armenians and Turks. But the effect was the opposite.
“Considering the way how the documentary in question deals with the issue, it is certain that it will fan the feelings of hatred and hostility through expressions of violence and discrimination rather than providing knowledge in historical subjects and thus increase the already existing animosities against the Armenians in the society,” the letter said.
Since June 2008, the DVDs of the documentary were being distributed to the schools by the Education Ministry, including the Armenian minority schools. In January, the ministry asked the school administrations to report by February 27 how the documentary was received by the students. In the same circular letter the ministry revealed that the documentary was prepared on the initiative of the Headquarters of the Turkish General Staff.
The documentary includes historical footage allegedly showing armed Armenian bands raiding Turkish villages in Anatolia during World War I. It also shows bodies of Turkish diplomats slain by the Armenian ASALA terror organization in the U.S. and Europe since the 19’/70s.
“Because of this practice, the greatest harm will be done to the Armenian children who are going to school with their Turkish friends. Those who have not lived it cannot judge how much damage can be caused to the children’s psychology, how deep wounds it may open when in a crowded classroom such accusations are made and the gaze of others concentrate on singled out (Armenian) students,” said the letter addressed to Prime Minister Erdogan.
Strong negative reaction followed the letter by Turkey’s Armenian citizens against the showing of such a documentary to children aged between 7 and 15.
The documentary “teaches” the children how to hate the Armenians, said Zubeyde Kilic, the president of Egitim-Sen, (Union of Workers in Education Sector). She added that unless the showing of the documentary is suspended immediately, her organization will take legal action against it.
The History Foundation that has been conducting research on human rights and anti-discriminatory measures in education also reacted strongly against the documentary. “It is more a propaganda film than a documentary,” said the foundation in a written statement. “It spreads seeds of hatred and antagonism. It fans the already existing feelings of enmity against the Armenians,” the statement emphasized.
Newspaper columnists also criticized the film for its “racist” approach and its dangerous influence on the minds of young children.
After the public reaction, the Education Ministry came up with an explanation that the video was distributed to the schools not to be shown to the students but for the teachers “to train themselves in historical issues.” The ministry’s announcement also said that it was suspending the distribution immediately.
Mustafa Oymak, the press officer of the Education Ministry said the film was sent to the local ministry officials in the provinces who in turn were supposed to report back their evaluations. He likened the documentary to “other such activities of the ministry to support education like film against cigarette smoking and preventive measures against tuberclosis.”
AKP Also Distributed the DVD
The director of the documentary, Ismail Umac, announced that the governing party AKP also distributed DVDs of the film before the general elections in July in 2007. The youth branch of AKP in Istanbul ordered 75,000 copies and these were given out as “presents” to mainly young people. Umac also claimed that the Headquarters of the Turkish General Staff had nothing to do with the production of the film.
A 70-Minute Version Distributed Abroad
The documentary was also edited down to 70 minutes and dubbed in English, French, German and other Western languages and distributed abroad according to the producers. They also said that for objectivity’s sake, they have also incorporated interviews with foreigners, mostly Armenians abroad, who describe the events in 1915 as an Armenian genocide by the Turks.