The Kurdish Globe
By Behrooz Shojai
The head of Constitutional Commission of the Turkish Grand Assembly Burhan Kuzu (AKP) objected to mother tongue education in Kurdish. He has argued that allowing mother tongue education in Kurdish means yielding to the devil.
Stigmatizing the Kurdish language is nothing new in the history of Republic of Turkey. Since its foundation Turkey has done everything to eradicate the Kurdish language and any signs of Kurdishness in Northern (Turkish) Kurdistan. Falsehoods, and libelous dysphemisms when mentioned at all, are the most common Turkish ways to describe the Kurdish language. Thus, it is not surprising that some qualities of Turkish Republic's project of modernity are stained by obscenities.
This indecent power exertion against Kurdish language has paved the way for century long denial of Kurdish identity and a violent language policy in Turkey. Like other oppressive regimes, the Turkish Republic has used the uttered word as a vehicle for manipulation and changing power relation between the Turkish majority and the Kurdish minority. Although the discourse of complete denial has softened, the Kurdish language is still practically subject to continued judicial denial. When Kurdish has been used by Kurdish MPs at the Turkish parliament, the Kurdish passages have been mentioned as "unknown language". When the Kurdish MPs objected about this practice the parliament changed this description to "incomprehensible language". This policy is still valid in Turkey.
The exertion of power in Turkey against the Kurdish language is expressed through judicial and administrative measurements. This uneven power relation is also embodied in the education system, where the official discourse practice in Turkey legitimates repression, domination and disempowerment of the Kurdish population. The Turkish education system gives power to its own favored norms of discourse and sanctions discrimination and injustice for the Kurds. This system of norms is not only based on denial but also implies policies of explicit and implicit stigmatization of Kurdish identity. Explicitly, the Turkish official ideology and its advocates within bureaucracy and market label the Kurdish language as the discourse of the hinterland; the backward and uneducated peasants, and uncivilized mountaineers. Bülent Arinc, the Turkish deputy Prime Minister stated a couple of months ago that Kurdish is not the language of civilization, thus it cannot be the language of education. Turkish linguistic discourse implies that these citizens should be lifted out of their alienation and should terminate the discourse that can challenge the official discourse. The Kurdish language has by the Turkish state ideologists and intelligentsia been considered as a discourse practice that in the best case alienated some citizens of the republic from the "father" (i.e. the State) and in serious cases led to secessionist attempts.
People have images of themselves and of their roles that make them conform to different influences in their social environments. The implicit coercive forms of power in Turkey have some delicate expressions. I have traveled in many regions in Turkey, both Turkish and Kurdish ones. In Kurdish regions I encountered a particular dictum written by white stones on mountains, which ran as "Fatherland above all! I never came across this dictum in other parts of Turkey. Now, this dictum is generally accompanied with a well-known Turkish watchword on the neighboring mountain, namely "Jandarma Kommando". It is not hard to guess that it means Gendarmerie Commando. And it should be less difficult to guess that the combination of the two watchwords would mean that you (Kurds) either submit to the republic or meet the powerful fist of our glorious army and gendarmerie. Down in the valley, in the port of the towns, on the walls of the schools or public agencies you will encounter another watchword: Ne mutlu türküm diyene (Happy is he, who labels himself as a Turk). In Sweden or in any other Western democracy an agency using such a watchword would face trial for being charged for racism. But this is Turkey, the sick man of Europe with a megalomaniac Prime Minister. His megalomania is of course not his own fault; he is the product of a discourse telling the peasant Kurd: You will not be a happy man unless you become a Turk. To be Kurd will not bring you any happiness upon you. Be a Turk, submit to the Turkish State, otherwise you will be a miserable none who you call "Kurd" and meet my army's uncompromising violence.
This naked violence is accompanied with symbolic violence that Gramsci would rather label as the pressure of invisible cultural power. Of course, Gramsci had a western democracy in mind when he put the "invisible" before the cultural power. The Turks generally don't do any attempts to make it invisible, they rather boast about their power. Yet this pressure has an invisible facet that has penetrated the consciousness of the middle class Kurds so than they, as the dominated, have become accomplices in their own domination. The Kurdish accomplices, like those high officials within the Turkish mainstream politics, in the Turkish crime of cultural genocide are genuine adherents of the project of modernity in Turkey. After all they were acquainted with modernity by Turkish glasses. Because these up-lifted gentry are convinced that Kurdish is the language of the Kurmandjes (Kurmandj equally means both peasant and Kurd). As the American linguist William Labov pointed out "stigmatized features of speech are judged most harshly by the same people whose speech most exhibits those features." Thus (former Kurdish) gentlemen like Aksu, Celik or Simsek are part and parcel of the hegemony with the discourse of power. They are agents in the formal organizations, like schools in Turkey that feel more legitimate when they stigmatize Kurdish language, Kurdish culture or other aspects of Kurdish identity. In fact, this working out of hegemony is nowhere more evident than in the restrictive cultural environments that most schools create for children from diverse backgrounds. The scholar within education Jim Cummins sees these schools as places where children who are different in some educationally relevant way are unable to 'negotiate their own identities'. They begin to lose their identity as human beings, before they ever gain it. So I should not be harsh towards the ex-Kurdish gentry, they have already lost their identity as human beings. But of course the ex-Kurdish gentry alongside the Turkish mainstream can rationalize this and call it reasoning.
Turks repress the Kurds through Turkish language and call it "being helpful".
And we can repress others through language and call this 'being helpful'. Another sociolinguist Norman Fairclough gives us examples of Turkish kind of schools. He presents four descriptions of people whose schools and communities see them as misfit.
They are thought of as 'incorrigible'; 'defiant'; 'lacking in responsibility'; and 'delinquent'. Most Kurds in Turkey may recognize these epithets attributing them in the Turkish public sphere. Fairclough sees the culture of the school as a creation of the dominant culture, whose practices are re-invented and perpetuated through education.
As part of this reproduction process, some cultural conventions acquire a special status. So the owners of these things acquire status as well.
This discussion leads us to the next point, the value of the cultural or linguistic capital, the Turkish and Kurdish respectively. The French thinker argues that while the cultural or linguistic capital that is valued in schools is not equally available to children from different backgrounds, schools, as upper middle class institutions (of certain ethnic background), still operate as if all children had equal access to it.
By basing their assessments of school success and failure and their award of certificates and qualifications on children's possession of this high status capital, which is unequally available, schools act in such a way as to reproduce the social arrangements that are favorable to some social groups, but unfavorable to others. In this way, the value of the dominant (Turkish) cultural capital that is passed to the next generation is reinforced yet again. This complex social process is described by the sociologist Bourdieu as the application of 'symbolic power' by dominant group (read Turks), who inflict 'symbolic violence' in this way upon non-dominant group (read Kurds). The Kurds are compartmentalized to the sphere of the disempowered and "misfit otherness" because of members of their stigmatized and reduced linguistic capital and cultural positioning.
A real up-lift for the Kurdish linguistic capital presupposes a paradigm shift in the republics education system, and real change in the education of Kurdish children in Turkey means a shift from coercive to collaborative relations of power.