The Kurdish Globe
By Mehmed Sabri Akgönül
"If we look from the perspective of consciousness of national identity that the Kurds have, this step cannot be counted as a
Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an announcement that state schools will offer elective Kurdish courses by stating that "Our pupils will now be able to learn Kurdish as elective courses if a sufficient number of students [more than 12 pupils] gather." He also defined the decision to initiate elective Kurdish-language lessons as "a historic step."
The Turkish state has so far banned use of Kurdish language in its schools and in the public sphere and Kurdish children are taught in Turkish starting in the first grade, regardless of whether they know Turkish or not. Turkish schools in north Kurdistan were the most important part of assimilationist policies of the Turkish state against the Kurdish people.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and its allies believe that the decision of allowing optional Kurdish-language lessons in state schools is a bold step. However, many Kurdish politicians and teachers find this step to be too late and insufficient. They argue that what Kurds want is to have Kurdish as the language of education not as a 2 hours optional language class.
Gultan Kisanak, deputy chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, demanded that Kurdish students be taught all classes in the Kurdish language not only in elective language courses. She defined teaching Kurdish people their own language in optional courses as "cruelty." It is well-known that BDP has demanded the right to education in Kurdish must be recognized as a constitutional right.
Omer Fidan, editor in chief of Kovara W (a culture, art and letter magazine in Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish) and also member of the directory board of Kurdish Institute of Amed, told the Kurdish Globe about the decision to allow optional Kurdish-language lessons. He said that it is the most systematic and obvious way of assimilation in order to make the Kurds become unfamiliar with their language and effectively categorizes their mother tongue as a foreign language. Fidan emphasized that the Kurds want to use Kurdish as the language of education, from Kindergarten level to the end of university. Therefore, they are not contented with an elective lesson for merely a few hours a week.
"Turkish state authorities say that first of all we would make your children forget their mother tongue with the education in a foreign language, Turkish, for four years and then we would ask them if they would like to re-remember their mother tongue or not for 2 hours in a week. While asking this question they would of course try their best not let the students answer this question positively. Turkish government will ask Kurdish students to make a choice between their mother tongue and a global language like English."
Fidan also said that this is most obvious step that clearly shows the viewpoint of the AKP government. "It says the Kurds that Kurds are not the owners of their own fields, Kurds are not a part of this country, Kurds are not the founders of this country, they haven't lived here and they won't live here, they are foreigners, their language is a foreign language." Fidan stated that Turkey is not recognizing Kurdish institutions. "Turkish state still decides on the decisions about Kurds without asking Kurds. Kurds cannot say anything about being Kurd or using Kurdish, the Turkish government would decide, tell and do if needed for the Turks," he told the Globe.
M. Serif Derince, Kurdish-language lecturer from Sabanci University, said that the Kurdish people in Turkey are well aware that one of the biggest discriminations against them results from the monolingual policies and practices of the Turkish state, which is mostly visible in the education system where Kurdish students can only receive education in Turkish.
"This situation puts both the students and their community into a great disadvantage in terms of social, economic, linguistic and educational development. In order to transform this situation for their own interests, both the Kurdish political parties and civil society organizations have been articulating that one of the main steps to be taken is to introduce a Kurdish-mother tongue based education to the schooling of the Kurdish students from Kindergarten onwards. They believe that such a step has the potential to bring about more than just relations with the Turkish government but the Turkish society in general as well. This being the case, neither Kurdish individuals nor the various political or non-political Kurdish organizations seem to be content with the introduction of Kurdish through electives courses 2 hours a week. Also, from a pedagogical point of view, it is not possible to learn a language with such a little amount of exposure at schools," he told the Globe.
Derince emphasized those elective Kurdish courses neither can stop nor reduce the political tension and the continuing clashes between the Kurdish PKK and the Turkey. Yet, he argues, one can agree that introducing Kurdish even as elective courses to the Turkish educational system is "a historic step" mas the Turkish PM Erdogan put it into words, since this will be the end of a particular political language policy regarding the Kurdish language and the beginning of a new political technology of the power aiming at controlling the growing Kurdish demands for political autonomy and cultural and linguistic recognition.
"However, as this new approach is not an official apology for the centennial denial and suppression of the Kurdish language, it is highly possible that the assimilationist position of the state will be maintained vis-à-vis the Kurdish identity. This is crystal clear from the courts under the influence of the ruling AKP which judge the Kurdish political representatives in the so-called KCK cases in which the representatives are not allowed to defend themselves in their mother tongue, Kurdish," Derince told the Globe.
Netice Altun, a Kurdish language teacher in Diyarbakir and a PhD student on second language teaching, also shared her ideas about this issue with the Kurdish Globe. Altun said that she thinks as Kurdologist Ismail Besikci affriemd, Kurdish can be accepted as an elective lesson for Turks, not for Kurds. She emphasized Kurds deserve to have education in their language as other nations.
"I don't think anyone can learn a language in two, three or four hour classes. It has been proved all over the world that if we want to teach a language we have to teach it as the means of the education, not as a class. Plus, in Turkish language teaching system English is the standard foreign language and no one can speak English even after finishing the English sections of schools. How can Turks can teach Kurdish by humiliating it, not even accepting it as a language and naming it as "an unknown language", not permitting us to talk about it or speaking it at school or hospitals, while serving Kurds on the one hand, and teach it as an optional class on the other," she added.
Altun also stated that this decision will bring a hierarchy between Turkish and Kurdish at schools. "Kurdish has been the language of the second class and a means of humiliation, and I think after a very very long time of assimilation policies, Turkish mustn't be taught for a while to new Kurdish generations to make them feel normal about themselves and their language," she told the Globe.
According to Bilal Zilan of the Language, Art and Culture Foundation (Ziwan-Kom) Administrative Council president and the general editor of Newepel, a bimonthly cultural newspaper in Zaza dialect of Kurdish, this step by Turkish state must not be underestimated but at the same time should not be overestimated like the Turkish government promotes.
Zilan reminded that Kurds are the nation living in their homeland; they are not an immigrant group living somewhere in Europe or not a minority group which always causes a disturbance or has integration problems. "If we look from the perspective of consciousness of national identity that Kurds have, this step cannot be counted as "a historic step". It can only be regarded as positive if it is compared to previous denial attitude of Turkey. A great amount of Kurds, in spite of approximately hundred years of prohibition and repression, can still talk their own language and can produce significant intellectual and literary texts. What should be considered as a positive step for Kurds is not talking their own language or teaching Kurdish, but rather providing a facility for conducting an education program with their own language," he told the Globe.
Zilan also expressed that in Turkey the necessary steps on Kurdish issue are not taken in due time. He argues that when the steps that can be regarded as positive are taken, it is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. "In this respect, elective Kurdish-language courses are actions that are too late. Maybe if this step was taken 8-10 years beforehand, then these steps can be seen as advanced moves in relation to action done in these years. Nonetheless, today the insufficiencies of this step are obvious," he told the Globe.