The education minister of Belgium’s French-speaking community is trying to quell a row over a school textbook that identifies the founder of the modern Turkish state as gay.
Marie Arena is seeking a meeting with Turkey’s ambassador to Belgium, and her spokesman has said that Ataturk’s inclusion on a list of famous gay and bisexual people from history was a “mistake.”
The Walloon region of the country is autonomous in matters of education.
Belgium has autonomous administrations for the German, French and Flemish-speaking communities.
“The source of that list was a California-based Internet site, and unfortunately those who prepared the book didn’t feel the need to check the information already provided publicly on an Internet site. It is a copy and paste accident,” a source close to the education minister told Zaman newspaper.
The 144-page book, titled Fight Against Homophobia, had not yet been given out to pupils.
Alexander the Great, artist Leonardo da Vinci, German poet and dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Popes Benoit IX and Pope Jules III also made the list.
“The issue is extremely sensitive, and Belgian officials have eventually noticed their mistake,” Yusuf Seki, press officer of the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, said yesterday.
Turks are devoted to the memory of Ataturk, and slandering his name is punishable by imprisonment.
Earlier this month a court in Istanbul banned the YouTube website after a video posting alleging that all Turks are gay, including Ataturk, proved too much.
The febrile Turkish press pounced on the story of Greeks posting insulting YouTube videos as yet another example of their neighbour’s villany, and demanded that something be done.
The ban has now been lifted.
Ataturk, who transformed Turkey into a modern secular state, was President from 1923 until his death in 1938.