The Kurdish Institute of Istanbul (Enstîtuya Kurdî ya Stenbolê) posted an infotainment animation on International Mother Language Day that underlines the essential nature of the mother tongue, as well as teaching children about the historical emergence of the use of the Latin alphabet for writing in Kurdish.
The Institute, a member of the Kurdish Language and Culture Network which prepared the video, was founded in 1992 as an organisation focusing on Kurdish language, literature and culture.
Prominent Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals including the Kurdish writer and journalist Musa Anter, who was assassinated by covert state forces in September 1992, Yaşar Kaya, politician and the publisher of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, İsmail Beşikçi, a Turkish sociologist who served 17 years in prison over propaganda charges related to his published works on the Kurdish people, Cemşid Bender, a Kurdish author of several novels and books on Kurdish and Turkish culture and history and Feqî Huseyîn Sagniç, known for his research on Kurdish language, were among the institute’s founding members.
The video starts with a jingle, ‘Hey, hey, hey, our alphabet’, and is followed by a female voice saying:
“Kurdish is our language and our memory. Every word of our language becomes witness both to our happiness and to our grief. Every word of our language is a brick in the walls of our house of memory. Losing a word is equivalent to taking a brick out of the walls.”
The video then goes on to teach that the Kurdish language is currently spoken in various dialects such as Hawramî, Kelhorî, Kurmancî, Lekî, Soranî and Zazakî, and that the Latin alphabet was first adapted for writing in Kurdish by Celadet Alî Bedirxan, who used a 31-letter version of the alphabet in the Journal Hawar on 15 May 1932.
About 20% of the population of Turkey, a figure of over 20 million, consists of Kurds, mainly speakers of the Kurmancî and Zazakî dialects of Kurdish, but in the history of the Turkish Republic it has always been ‘normal’ for a vast number of children to start primary school without knowing a single word of Turkish, consequently being subjected to scorn and humiliation by and even violence from teachers.
A few primary schools that had Kurdish as the language of education were established during the process of the so-called ‘Peace Talks’ that aimed to resolve the armed conflict between Turkish forces and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in 2014, but were swiftly shut down by state authorities following the collapse of the talks in 2015.
Until fairly recently, Kurdish was subject to an absolute ban in Turkey. Now, it is taught only as an optional subject for two hours a week, even though there are middle schools, high schools and universities that have been using English, French, German and Italian as their actual teaching language since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.