Ottoman miniature of the siege of Belgrade by Mehmed II in 1456. (Photo by WikipediaUser “Dencey”, 2017 © Public Domain,

Ottoman History and Peace Education

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Ottoman History and Peace Education

By İsmail Demircioğlu 

(Reposted from: Public History Weekly.  February 16, 2017)

Demircioğlu, İsmail H.: Ottoman History and Peace Education. In: Public History Weekly 5 (2017) 6, DOI:

Since the dawn of the new millennium, humanity has been confronted with many problems. These include starvation, poverty, racism, ethnic hatred, wars, terrorism, genocide, environmental pollution, illegal immigration, violence, street crimes and intolerance. In order to solve these issues, education can play an important role; it can also render our world both pleasanter and kinder. Moreover, education can help students to develop skills for practical thinking, problem solving and co-operating with each other. Besides encouraging creativity, innovation and communication, peace education can drive students towards a more conscientious, tolerant, peaceful and democratic way of thinking.

What is Peace Education?

Peace education concerns the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes in order to prevent the occurrence of conflicts, to resolve them peacefully and to create social conditions which allow peace to endure.[1] Alternatively, peace education can be defined as the teaching of peace, its aim being to stimulate a resolve to commit to the ways of peace.[2] It should also develop a desire within people to live in peace and to emphasize peaceful values upon which society should be based.[3]

Does History Teaching Support Peace Education?

Peace education in school can and should be combined with other disciplines such as history and literature. The teaching of history can contribute to peace education in different ways. For example, students can be given information about peace-related themes and peace activities which occurred in the past. Possible topics include peace initiatives, peace agreements and examples of peaceful cultures as well as the harmonious co-existence of groups belonging to different religions, cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

Furthermore, history lessons can provide an opportunity for familiarizing students with issues related to peace education such as tolerance, dialogue, negotiation, reconciliation, non-violence, social justice, freedom, human rights, war and war crimes. History lessons can help students to understand these concepts by using a historical perspective. In addition to what has already been mentioned, the teaching of history can also encourage students to recognize:

  • the importance of peacemaking, peacebuilding and peacekeeping;
  • the importance of solving conflicts without the using of force;
  • the importance of peace for a sustainable future;
  • and the sorrow caused by violence and wars from the past to the present.[4]

History teachers can draw upon case studies and historical evidence related to the above concepts in order to teach them in a pragmatic way. For example, the examination and evaluation of written material allows students to develop an insight into peace, tolerance and human rights.

Peace Education in the Turkish History Curriculum

In the wake of globalization, international developments and the EU membership negotiation process, the first decade of the twenty-first century was subject to major reforms in the Turkish school curricula.[5] The history curriculum was reshaped according to the constructivist approach of teaching. Concepts such as peace, tolerance and human rights, long established in the history curricula of European countries, are now present in the Turkish history curriculum to some extent. For example, one of the general objectives of teaching history now stipulates that students should understand the importance of peace, tolerance, mutual understanding, democracy and human rights. At the same time, education should encourage them to protect and develop these values.

In addition to this, the history curriculum for the ninth grade explicitly emphasizes that the process of learning history should promote respect for (and tolerance of) people with different cultural backgrounds, opinions and beliefs.[6] The curriculum for the tenth grade requires history teachers to stress the tolerant attitudes of the Ottoman Empire regarding tax collection and their policies in the Balkans.[7] In the curriculum for the twelfth grade, peace education is addressed by using Kemal Atatürk’s policy of “Peace at Home, Peace in the World”. Despite the examples given, it can be said that history lessons in Turkey still fail to adequately support peace education.[8]

Texts from Ottoman Archives for Peace Education

The Ottoman Empire (1299–1923) has bequeathed to us a vast amount of official records, some of which have been available for research in Istanbul since 1984.[9] The collection consists of millions of documents which deal with social, political, diplomatic, military and economic matters of the Ottoman Empire. They also contain valuable information on the Balkan states, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Africa, Cyprus and even Israel—territories which used to be part of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire covered a wide geographical area which comprised many different ethnicities and religions. During their rule, the Ottomans granted a number of rights to non-Muslims, as records kept in the Ottoman archives indicate. These records can be used not only as historical sources, but also as pedagogical tools for history lessons as some of them lend themselves very well for the purposes of peace education. A case in point is a text documenting the rights given to Bosnian priests after the conquest of Bosnia by the Ottomans in the fifteenth century. In an edict issued in 1463, Sultan Mehmed II (1432–1481), the conqueror of Istanbul, bestowed the following rights upon Bosnian priests:

  • The Bosnian priests were to have their freedom granted and protection given to them.
  • They were to be allowed to return to and settle in their monasteries in the lands belonging to the [Ottoman] empire—without any reservations.
  • Nobody was to harm them, nor threaten their lives, property or churches.[10]

In history lessons, the edict can be evaluated in terms of its meaning for peace and tolerance education by using a worksheet, for example. In order to assess the text, students could be asked the following questions:

  • When was the edict issued?
  • Which situation is being described in the edict?
  • How would you evaluate the edict in terms of its relation to human rights?
  • Would you have granted such rights to non-Muslims if you had lived at that time?
  • How does bestowing rights upon people with different beliefs, religions and ethnic backgrounds support peace?
  • How do the rights given to Bosnian priests in 1463 compare to those provided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948?
  • How would you sum up your views about the edict in terms of human rights and tolerance?

In conclusion, it may be suggested that students should be given the opportunity in history lessons to acquire and develop knowledge, skills and attitudes with regards to peace education.  This is due to the fact that history can show us how people with different beliefs, religions, cultures and ethnic backgrounds have been able to live in peace together. In particular, primary sources which emphasize the values of peace and tolerance should be evaluated by students as part of active learning.


Further Reading

  • Aktaş, Özgür ve Safran, Mustafa. “Evrensel Bir Değer Olarak Barış ve Eğitiminin Tarihçesi.” Türkiye Sosyal Araştırmalar Dergisi, 17/2 (2013): 131-15.
  • Demircioğlu, İsmail H. “Using Historical Stories to Teach Tolerance: The Experiences of Turkish Eighth-Grade Students.” The Social Studies 93/3 (2008): 105-110.
  • Deveci, H., Yılmaz, F. and Karadağ, R. “Pre-Service Teachers’ Perceptions of Peace Education.” Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, 30 (2008): 63.

Web Resources


[1] “Peacebuilding and peace education,” in Insight on Conflict , (last accessed 1 January 2017).
[2] Ian Harris, “History of Peace Education,” in Encyclopedia of Peace Education , ed. Monisha Bajaj (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2008), 15-24.
[3] John W. Collins and Nancy Patricia O’Brien, The Greenwood Dictionary of Education , 2nd ed. (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011).
[4] Ian Harris and Mary Lee Morrison, Peace Education (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2003).
[5] İsmail H. Demircioğlu, “Being A History Teacher in Turkey,” Public History Weekly 4/35 (2016) , (last accessed 9 January 2017).
[6] Turkish Ministry of Education, “History Curriculum for the Ninth Grade” (Ankara 2007), (last accessed 9 January 2017).
[7] Turkish Ministry of Education, “History Curriculum for the Tenth Grade” (Ankara 2008), (last accessed 9 January 2017).
[8] Turkish Ministry of Education, “History Curriculum for the Twelfth Grade” (Ankara 2008), (last accessed 9 January 2017).
[9] General Directorate of State Archives of the Prime Ministry of the Republic of Turkey, (last accessed 9 January 2017).
[10] Mitja Velikonja, Religious Separation and Political Intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina (College Station, TX: Texas University Press, 2003); Cevat Ekici, Living Together Under the Same Sky (Ankara: General Directorate of State Archives of the Prime Ministry of the Republic of Turkey, 2006).

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