On International Mother Language Day, Betül Karakaş, a young woman of Pomak origins, spoke about the obstacles in learning and using one’s mother tongue in Turkey.
An estimated 600,000 Pomaks currently live in Turkey. The Pomaks are a Muslim people who migrated during the last century from the Balkans, and Bulgaria in particular, due to war.
Pomak is a Slavic language and is considered an endangered language. It is still spoken in some villages in northwestern Turkey where the descendants of the Pomak immigrants currently live.
Speaking to JinNews, Betül Karakaş recalled how she had found out about her hidden roots when she was a young child.
“When I was seven or eight, I still believed that we were Turkish, and I suddenly realised one day that I couldn’t understand some of my grandfather’s words. I asked my mother about it. At first she couldn’t first understand what the problem really was, but then she did, and she explained to me that my grandfather was a Pomak, that his mother tongue was Pomak, and that he learned Turkish only some time later.”
“When I think about it today, I feel like, it’s sort of like starting to live again. Discovering all these things, trying to keep your mother tongue alive. Like being able to sing a song in your mother tongue.”
She recalled the instances at home when she had heard about the hardships earlier generations suffered in using their mother tongue.
“I remember hearing in my mother’s conversations with her Pomak friends, when my grandmother went to primary school in the 70s they could not speak or read in the mother tongue, the teachers used violence, and gendarmes stormed the villages. They kept going to the Circassian, Pomak and Bosnian villages to make them speak Turkish.
“When I hear a Pomak song I get excited, it’s like finding a diamond in a mine.”
She also spoke about her dreams of reviving her mother tongue and using it to communicate with other Pomaks, in writing, in academic work and in daily life:
“Since we are a people without a state, there is no academic study in our language. It is only recently that some work has been done. A study has been done on the alphabet. I personally have knowledge only of some basic words. I wish somebody who was fluent would starting teaching us. We’re trying to learn it on our own for the time being. (…) I would love to have the chance to visit the places where we came from. To meet and talk to people there in my own mother language. (…) … and to be able to write a book in my mother tongue… to be able to record old songs, and to do all these things in an academic field, while at the same time, being able to keep the mother tongue alive in daily life..”