19th Century mentality in 21st Century: Kurdish language still banned in Turkey


Kurdish language has been banned in Turkey since the creation of its modern borders in 1923. The Kurds were not allowed to speak their mother tongue, not even in their own homes, in the streets, in any social gatherings, let alone in schools, governmental institutions, or any other places. In fact, according to the Turkish government, the Kurds were non-existent in Turkey and were known as “mountain Turks” (1). The reason behind such denial and censorship was that speaking in Kurdish was a matter of national security, thus will divide Turkey (2).

It was not until January 1991, 72 years after the creation of Turkey, did the Turkish government made a huge –huge in Turkey, or else very minor in humanistic level- concession and allowed “the Kurds, concentrated in 13 provinces, to speak-but not write — their language” (3). However, still, the Kurds were not able to read, write, or study in Kurdish; neither were they allowed to wear their traditional Kurdish clothes; nor were there allowed to be publications of any newspapers, books, magazines, or any other form of writing and there were not allowed to be radios and TVs in the Kurdish language.

The Kurds make up 17-25 percent of Turkey’s population located mainly in the southeast Turkey. Since 1923, and with some changes in 1991, the policy on the Kurdish language had remained as brutal, oppressive, assimilative, and a linguistic genocide. When in 2003 Recep Erdogan became prime minister, he complained that nothing had been changed since the jailing of Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to increase the rights of the Kurdish language and people (4).

The Kurdish politicians and activists have long been pushing for reformation in the Turkish policy to allow the Kurdish language to be taught in public educational institutions. The Kurdish political party in Turkey, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) gathered one million signatures demanding public education to be taught in Kurdish for the Kurds in their region and presented the petition to Parliament’s Petition’s Commission last week, and was rejected (5).

Turkey, the “only democracy” in the Middle East has long been breaking the very basic principle of democracy and still is. How can Turkey call itself democratic while depriving 20 million of its citizen the freedom to learn education in their mother tongue? The very identity of any ethnicity comes from their language and once the language is erased or extinct, the ethnicity will become extinct as well. Turkey’s policy is not only against the foundation of democracy, but also is against the United Nations Chater:

Any deliberate act committed with intent to destroy the language, religion or culture of a national, racial or religious group on grounds of national or racial origin or religious belief, such as (1) Prohibiting the use of the language of the group in daily intercourse or in schools, or the printing and circulation of publications in the language of the group; and (2) Destroying or preventing the use of libraries, museums, schools, historical monuments, places of worship or other cultural institutions and objects of the group.

Turkey’s hypocrisy is mesmerizing. During his visit to Germany on March 4th, 2011, Turkey’s prime minister Recep Erdogan told the 10,000 of Turkish descent Dusseldorf: “Yes, integrate yourselves into German society but don’t assimilate yourselves; no one has the right to deprive us of our culture and our identity” (7). Yet, in regarding the Kurdish education in Turkey, he says: “…But do not request education in the mother tongue from us because the official language of Turkey is Turkish” (8). What about the Kurdish culture and identity, Mr. Prime Minister? What gives you and the Turkish government the right to deprive us of our most basic and fundamental right?

It is only evident that Turkey has no intention of being democratic and giving the Kurdish people their natural right of learning education in their mother tongue; and it is only evident that their reasoning of no longer banning the Kurdish language to be spoken in private in 1991 was due to pressure from European Union and not on humane principles. It is also evident from the rejection of the petition last week to teach Kurdish in public education. Turkey should learn from the philosophy of Nelson Mandela –whom in 1999 received Turkey’s highest award, the Ataturk International Peace prize, in which initially he refused on the basis of human rights violation against the Kurds (9) –which he beautifully professes: “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his mother tongue language, that goes to his or her heart.”

(1) http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/kurdistan-turkey.htm
(2) http://www.todayszaman.com/news-237841-education-in-kurdish-seems-unlikely-as-major-parties-oppose-demands.html
(3) Reuters report from Ankara in The Globe and mail, Toronto, February 8,1991
(4) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tulin-daloglu/turkey_kurds_b_832596.html
(5) http://www.todayszaman.com/news-237841-education-in-kurdish-seems-unlikely-as-major-parties-oppose-demands.html
(6) International Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – Article III
(7) http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,748070,00.html
(8) http://www.todayszaman.com/news-237841-education-in-kurdish-seems-unlikely-as-major-parties-oppose-demands.html
(9) “Mandela changes his mind”. Turkish Press Review. 7 January 1999