As millions of children in Turkey began the school year on 12 September, large crowds took to the streets in diverse cities to join the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)’s call for Kurdish to be used as a language of instruction, reported Mezopotamya News Agency.
The demonstrations also called for Kurdish to be recognised as an official language in Turkey, where Kurds are the largest ethnic minority, and many grow up speaking Kurdish as their first language.
The Free Women Movement (TJA), culture and art associations, politicians, NGOs and teachers were all on the scene in demonstrations in various cities across Turkey.
In Şırnak, HDP MP Hasan Özgüneş joined a crowd of people to make a statement outside the HDP Cizre (Cizîr) party building with placards reading “bila zimanê Kurdî bibe zimanê fermi”, or “let Kurdish be the official language”; and “navê min xweza ye” meaning “my name is nature”.
“Prohibitions and obstructions of the Kurdish language are evident in many areas. We are calling everyone who calls themselves human in Kurdistan and the world: Raise your voice for the Kurdish language to be the language of education,” said Zilan Ecevit, the HDP’s co-chair in Cizre.
HDP MP Hasan Özgüneş also spoke about the prohibitions on Kurdish identity and language that have been in place for a century.
In Urfa (Riha), people came together to express their “demand for mother tongue education against assimilation”.
“The right for education in one’s mother tongue should be protected under the constitution. We do not accept the prohibitions,” said TJA representative Garibe Yeşil.
Ömer Öcalan, a co-spokeperson of the HDP’s Language, Culture and Art Commission, spoke about the hostility in Turkey directed at the Kurdish culture and language.
In Ankara, many organisations threw their backing behind a statement delivered by the Anka Language, Culture and Art Association (ANKA-DER), which promotes Kurdish language, culture and art in Turkey.
Speaking at the meeting, ANKA-DER member Nebahat Çalpan said that Kurdish should be the language of education and highlighted what she called contemporary attempts to assimilate the Kurds.
“The Turkish state, and other states, must recognise and formalise all the national rights of the Kurdish people, and especially the Kurdish language, in its basic laws, and comply with international agreements,” said Çalpan.
The same demands were voiced in the cities of Van (Wan), Muş (Mûş), Mersin and Hatay with the participation of many other organisations.
Throughout most of the history of the modern Turkish state, the use of Kurdish language in public life has been either officially banned or unofficially prohibited. An official ban on the language was imposed after the military coup in 1981, and lifted in 1991, but restrictions have remained in place since then.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) eased off restrictions on Kurdish during a period of liberalisation after taking power in 2001.
However, the AKP failed to fulfil the promise to ease the cultural repression of Kurds. In 2015, the party reversed course after the breakdown of peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and the political repression of Kurds and their language has intensified in the years since then.