Turkish universities will no longer admit new students to French language departments, Turkey’s Higher Education Board has ruled, in the latest strain in ties between Turkey and France.
A Turkish official told Al Jazeera that Friday’s decision came in response to French officals who had called 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.
“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, the chairman of the committee on National Education, Culture, Youth and Sport at Turkish parliament.
Isler also said that universities in France should open departments teaching in Turkish, adding that there is a large imbalance between the two countries in this 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, which the Board believes is unnecessary,” he told Al Jazeera from the capital, Ankara.
He added that the Higher Education Board took the decision in such a manner, that existing students will 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 have reacted with anger to a French manifesto calling for certain parts in the Quran to be removed, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even likening 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, 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 to it came in early May, ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls in June, despite that that letter was published last month.
Signatories included former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, as well as former prime 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 because of a number issues.
Ankara slammed a recent proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron to mediate between Turkey and outlawed Kurdish fighters in Turkey.
Paris has been highly critical of Ankara’s military incursion in northern Syria against the Kurdish fighters, which Turkey considers a “terrorists”.
In late January, Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters started a military operation into Syria’s Afrin to remove a US-backed Kurdish militia – known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
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).
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_uras