By Umut Uras
Turkish universities will no longer admit new students to its French language departments, Turkey’s Higher Education Board has ruled, the latest development in the strained ties between Turkey and France.
The decision came in response to a manifesto signed by prominent French figures, calling for the removal of certain passages from the Quran, and as a reciprocal measure over the “lack of Turkish studies departments in the European country,” a Turkish official told Al Jazeera.
“We have condemned the controversial statements on the Quran coming from France. And the Higher Education Board, which is an autonomous institution, made this move as a response to those statements,” said Emrullah Isler, chairman of the Committee on National Education, Culture, Youth and Sport in the Turkish parliament.
Isler added that universities in France do not have enough departments teaching Turkish, that there is an imbalance between the two countries in that area.
“Lack of university departments in France that teach in Turkish is another factor behind the decision. They need to form decent Turkology departments there.
“Plus, there have been too many departments teaching in the French language in Turkish universities,” he told Al Jazeera from the capital, Ankara.
He added that the Higher Education Board took the decision in such a manner that currently enrolled students would not suffer from the measure.
“The existing departments with active students are going to continue teaching in French as usual, but will not admit new ones,” Isler said.
The Board had cited “reciprocity” and “graduate-employment links” on Thursday as the reasons for its decision.
Turkish officials reacted with anger to a French manifesto calling on Islamic authorities to strike certain parts of the Quran. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even likened the signatories of the text to members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.
The open letter, published on April 22 in French newspaper Le Parisien, and signed by nearly 300 prominent French figures, said that verses of the Quran calling for the “murder and punishment of Jews, Christians and disbelievers” should be removed from the book, arguing they were “obsolete”.
The Turkish government’s first reaction came in early May, ahead of June parliamentary and presidential polls, despite the letter being published last month.
Signatories included former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, as well as former ministers, deputies from the National Assembly and other public figures.
“Who are you to attack our scriptures? We know how vile you are … You are no different than ISIL,” Erdogan retorted on Tuesday in a speech in the capital, Ankara.
“Have they ever read their books, the Bible? Or the Torah?” Erdogan asked, referring to the Christian and Jewish holy books, adding: “If they had read them, they probably would want to ban the Bible.”
French-Turkish relations have been tense for a number of reasons.
Turkey slammed a recent proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron to mediate between Ankara and outlawed Kurdish fighters in Turkey.
Paris has been highly critical of Ankara’s military incursions in northern Syria against the Kurdish fighters, which Turkey considers “terrorists”.
In late January, Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army fighters started a military operation into Syria’s Afrin to remove a US-backed Kurdish militia – known as the YPG, or the People’s Protection Units.
Ankara considers the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and its armed wing, the YPG, to be “terrorist groups” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). – Al Jazeera