National Race Affairs Ministry

The ‘race code scandal’ in minority schools continues despite a broad public outcry. In the most recent case, two students were barred from registering at Armenian schools. An official from the Istanbul National Education Directorate made a statement, saying, “We are checking the race status of the students”. İsmail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of the parents of the students who were not admitted to the schools, said, “The Ministry is committing a crime”.

A 5-year old student, whose father had been baptized at an Armenian church, was registered at an Armenian nursery school. The school administration notified the Provincial National Education Directorate of new registrations according to the procedure. However, in the case of one student, the Provincial National Education Directorate responded with an official notification stating, “Investigation into the status of the student has revealed that his/her race is not Armenian, and that therefore his/her registration has not been judged as appropriate”. The official notification went on to demand the necessary notifications to be made to the parent of the student, the cancellation of the student’s registration, and the notification of the Provincial National Education Directorate of the outcome.

In another case, a student was registered at an Armenian school where his/her cousins had studied and graduated from, however the registration procedure was blocked by the Provincial National Education Directorate on the same grounds. The Ministry of National Education issued a warning to the school administration and demanded the cancellation of the student’s registration. There are other students who have faced similar incidents.

A National Education Directorate official who spoke to Agos regarding the issue, said: “We first look at the birth certificate data, and check the race data of the mother and father. If no race data exists, the school will already be unable to accept the registration. That was probably the cause of rejection in this case. We check the race status of everyone, whether Armenian, Greek or Jew. We do not have a database containing race status information. We request information from the Civil Registry.”

In 2013, the National Education Directorate had rejected the registration of a student who wanted to study at an Armenian school, and the document of rejection had revealed that the State kept records on its citizens according to race status. The official document bearing the signature of a Deputy Director at the Istanbul Provincial National Education Directorate stated that “exceptional” [“vukuatlı”] birth registries were marked with a secret ‘race code’. The same document presented an example for the ‘race code’, and included the expression, “The race code of our Armenian citizens is 2”.

Leave it to schools

Garo Paylan, Member of the Education Commission of VADİP, also reacted strongly against the implementation of the Ministry of National Education. Stating that the practice should be ended immediately, Paylan also made a proposal: “There is absolutely no legal basis for the Ministry of National Education to decide whether the children are Armenian or not. The initiative on registration should belong to schools. A commission formed of our School Heads, or our foundations should make the decisions.”

There is an existing legal regulation on which students can study at minority schools. The Special Educational Institutions Law No. 5580 defines minority schools as, “pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools founded by Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities, under the assurance of the Lausanne Treaty, and attended by students who are citizens of the Republic of Turkey, and members of their own minority”. The Ministry of National Education decides whether a student can study at these schools. 

Confusion reigns

This implementation of the Ministry of National Education has led to confusion at Armenian schools as well. The criteria of the procedure are neither clear nor open. The Ministry bears the authority to decide who is Armenian, and who is not. There are students who have been refused registry despite both families and students having been baptized at Armenian churches. On the other hand, the registration of some students whose birth certificate states their religion as Islam has not faced rejection.

Ministry is committing a crime

Parents are now preparing to take the matter to court. İsmail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of the families, reacts strongly against the implementation of the Ministry of National Education. Halavurt, who had also acted as the lawyer of the family whose child was barred from registration on the grounds of the race code, said, “This procedure is entirely against the law. It has no legal basis whatsoever. It is a racist, discriminatory and arbitrary practice. The right to education is being restricted. There are international conventions outlining the right to education. In the previous case that we won, the court clearly ruled that this was an illegal practice, stating that the right to education was among the most fundamental rights that needed to be protected. The administration had not only failed to make the necessary legal arrangements following this decision, but it also forces people to suffer at court. This is an illegal procedure and the Ministry is committing a crime. This practice must be evoked completely.”

Halavurt pointed out that a new system where the decision on registrations is left to schools could be introduced: “The initiative should be left to the school. School heads should decide which student to accept, and this obstacle should be lifted. Students and their parents must not be made to suffer at court houses.”


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Uygar Gültekin