Turkish universities have been banned from enrolling students in French language departments after a Parisian newspaper published a letter criticising the Koran.
The move by Turkey’s Higher Education Board follows anger among Turkish officials over an open letter, published in Le Parisien on 22 April, that called on Islamic authorities to remove certain parts of the holy book.
The manifesto, which was signed by nearly 300 prominent French figures including former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Manuel Valls, said that verses of the Koran calling for the “murder and punishment of Jews, Christians and disbelievers” should be removed from the book, arguing that they were “obsolete”.
However, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, recently attacked the letter, according to Al Jazeera.
“Who are you to attack our scriptures? We know how vile you are…You are no different than Isil [Islamic State],” Mr Erdoğan said in a speech in the capital, Ankara, on 8 May.
It was later confirmed by Turkey’s Higher Education Board that it would take retaliatory action.
“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.
The root of the problem was a “lack of Turkish studies” in France, Mr Isler told Al Jazeera.
“Lack of university departments in France that teach in Turkish is another factor behind the decision. They need to form decent Turkology departments there,” he said.
“Plus, there have been too many departments teaching in the French language in Turkish universities,” Mr Isler told the news outlet.
He added that the board had taken the decision in such a manner that students currently enrolled 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,” Mr Isler said.
The decision follows worsening diplomatic ties between the two countries after Turkey criticised a recent proposal by French president Emmanuel Macron to mediate between Ankara and outlawed Kurdish fighters in Turkey.
The French government has been highly critical of Ankara’s military incursions in northern Syria against the Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey considers “terrorists”.
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