GERMAN politicians have reacted with open fury after teachers at a school for expat children in Turkey were reportedly banned from even mentioning Christmas in the classroom.
Berlin expressed complete dismay at the draconian ruling apparently made by officials in Istanbul, saying it was an example of how the country is turning into an ”Islamic dictatorship” under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In an internal email, sent out by school management and reported by German media, teachers were allegedly ordered not to put up Christmas decorations in classrooms or teach their pupils anything about the festive season.
The instructions were reportedly so severe that teachers are banned from mentioning the topic of Christmas altogether. According to Deutsche Welle, the email told teachers there must be “no sharing of Christmas traditions and Christian festivals in lessons, Christmas must not be treated as a subject and you must not sing Christmas songs”.
School leaders have strongly denied the claims, which have received widespread attention in Germany, saying they are “not a reflection of the reality”.
The reported decision, by management at the Istanbul Lisesi school, has sparked particular outrage because the institution receives funding from Angela Merkel’s government.
And it has reignited the debate about Mr Erdogan’s increasingly hard line on religion, with Turkey rapidly abandoning its secular traditions in favour of more Islamist governance.
Reacting to the revelations, the German foreign ministry said in a statement: “We do not understand the surprising decision of the leadership at Istanbul Lisesi.
“It is a great pity that the good tradition of the intercultural exchange in the pre-Christmas period was suspended at a school with a long history of German-Turkish friendship.”
This Christmas will be the first time the elite high school, which was founded more than a century ago and employs around 35 German teachers, will not hold a festival celebration.
Usually the Istanbul Lisesi holds a small celebration for Christmas and teaches its pupils, who are both German and Turkish, about the Christian festival.
But last week the school’s choir was banned from singing carols at the German consulate in Istanbul, and now its leadership appears to have been pushed into cancelling Christmas altogether.
German MP Frank Josef Jung, from Mrs Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, branded the decision to scrap the festivities “completely unacceptable”.
He raged: “If Germany is financing the teachers at this school, it has a say in what they teach, and the government needs to make that clear to Ankara.”
Another MP, Sevim Dagdelen of the opposition Left party, went even further and described the decision at the school as a sign of “Islamic dictatorship” in Turkey.
And the populist leader Geert Wilders, who looks poised to win next spring’s general election in the Netherlands, tweeted that the move showed Europe needed to “defend our culture”.
He wrote: “Christmas banned at school. Today in Turkey, tomorrow here?”
However, in a lengthy statement posted to the school’s website its management said the claims were not true and questioned who the “provocative allegations serve”.
Instead it claimed that the concert at the German embassy was cancelled because Mrs Merkel’s “did not support” it, and insisted the school was “in favour of a secular education”.
The statement said: “A concert was cancelled by the German teachers in question without explanation and there is no question of the school or its management placing an obstacle in its way or prohibiting it.”
The row is likely to prove slightly embarrassing for Mrs Merkel, who has been taking an increasingly hard line over immigration following the backlash against her open door policy.
And it will also cause a further headache for EU bosses in Brussels, who are facing growing calls from their own MEPs to scrap accession talks with Turkey in light of Mr Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
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