Teachers play a pivotal role in rapprochement and peace in Cyprus, says head of KTOS

Teachers play a pivotal role in rapprochement and peace in Cyprus, says head of KTOS

Taking away division and nationalism from education on both sides of the divide in Cyprus will help rapprochement and peace, new President of the Turkish Cypriot Teachers Union (KTOS) Semen Saygun has told the Cyprus News Agency.

KTOS Head, who assumed duties last June, following the resignation of her predecessor, says that “we ought to bring up our kids in a culture of peace and not division and hostility and teachers play a very important role to this end.”

Saygun, who is the first woman who becomes President of KTOS, told CNA in an interview that elements of nationalism in education influence future generations, pointing out that teachers in both communities are the first who need to shed these nationalistic ideas.

“We need an education that will work for the benefit of reunification and not division,” she added.

According to KTOS Head there are a lot of steps that have to be taken in the education system to promote rapprochement, recalling that in the Turkish Cypriot community the so called education council decided to scrap the Kemal Ataturk oath, make religious studies optional and make Greek language compulsory.

She said, however, that these decisions are only recommendations and have not been implemented yet, but she would like to see similar decisions taken by Greek Cypriots, adding that “ in the southern part of the island religion and nationalism have a great influence“.

KTOS Head also told CNA that AKP Party in Turkey puts pressure on Turkish Cypriots regarding religious issues, thus the teachers need to be extra careful.

“If we educate a child at a young age, we will bear the fruit in ten years’ time and a child will then be brought up free from elements of nationalism and not subject to divisive ideas.”

She told CNA that KTOS has had some contacts with Greek Cypriot Teachers organizations, adding that they studied history books and lectures were given to the teachers. Saygun added that they have established some kind of cooperation with PEO and POED and they want this cooperation to be extended.

Saygun was asked by CNA on the issue of rotating representation of teachers` union in ETUCE, the European Trade Union Federation. She said this issue was resolved on the basis of “trade union and political equality“.

According to Saygun, the signature of the agreement confirms that the political and legal struggle of the Turkish Cypriots was founded on the 1960 agreements and the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus.

She called on the political parties in Cyprus and those who are involved in the UN-led peace talks to draw lessons from this.

Referring to the issue of rapprochement, Saygun pointed that “we need to intensify the cooperation between the two communities and co-organize various events.” She added that although the unions cannot directly influence the decisions taken about the books that are taught in schools, the books are the medium and teachers are in a position to minimize nationalistic elements.

“Teachers can succeed in teaching students to shed any notions of a nationalistic mentality, which is a racist mentality, and they can also teach them how not to see the other person as an enemy. Teachers in both communities need to follow this, we do not need people who will nurture more enemies, on the contrary we need to bring up people who will listen and understand“, she pointed out.

In her interview with CNA, Saygun also said that schools are not the place where national holidays should be celebrated. “ If you really want to create peace, then you should abolish national gatherings in schools. We need to nurture humane ideas for our kids, they need to learn how to be compassionate, how to show empathy, there cannot be a solution imposed by others on Cyprus, the most important is for peace to be blended in the people“, she added.

Saygun called on teachers` organizations in the Greek Cypriot community to take more action, adding that “as people we are all equal, we are all Cypriots who live on this island and as long as what we share grows, the understanding between us grows as well.”

Asked about the children of Turkish citizens who come to Cyprus’ northern Turkish occupied areas without “work permit“, Saygun said that she disagrees with all those who believe that these children cannot attend school. “Education is a human right, children are not to blame for the transfer of population from Turkey to the occupied areas“, she added.

Although she admitted that some problems arise in schools due to this issue, Saygun noted that “we cannot exclude these kids from schools and education.”

Saygun referred to gender equality issues, adding that in KTOS 70% of the union members are women and she is struggling to raise the number of females who are represented in various bodies and organizations. She said that there are attempts to change the Union`s charter in order to raise awareness on gender equality issues.

The next elections at KTOS are set to take place in April of 2015 and Saygun told CNA that she will be a candidate for Chair again.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. Numerous UN-backed negotiations to reunite the island under a federal roof have not yet yielded result.