Elective Kurdish courses in Turkey’s schools have been made dysfunctional due to state discouragement of students, Green Left Party MP Cengiz Çiçek said in a parliamentary inquiry into the matter.
“Kurdish tops the list of languages that have been subjected to multi-faceted and systemmic suppression and assimilation policies in Turkey,” Mezopotamya Agency cited Çiçek as saying. “Constitutional and political hurdles against Kurds using their native lanugage in public have continued since the foundation of the republic, and the demands of the Kurdish people have been ignored.”
Turkish has been the official language of the Republic of Turkey since its inception, which led to the erasure of other languages from public life. Publications in Greek, Armenian, Yiddish, Kurdish, Arabic and others dwindled, as did the Ottoman-era culture of a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual communities.
Kurdish was officially banned after the military coup in 1980, only to be lifted in 1991. However, both before and after the official banning of the language, citizens were not allowed to use words such as Kurdish or Kurdistan until recently. A Kurdish language version of the state broadcaster TRT was launched in 2009, while efforts for a two-hour-per-week elective course to teach the language in middle schools began in 2012.
However, the elective course on two of Kurdish’s four dialects, Zazaki and Kurmancî, received little support, and the Education Ministry appointed very few teachers for the classes since their inception.
“Students are not offered opportunities to choose these classes, since the shift in the process,” Çiçek said, referring to a peace process between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) between 2013 and 2015, which was a short break in the 40-year-long conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
“We are witnessing an imposition by authorities who push students away from certain classes,” Çiçek said. Students and families are discouraged from choosing Kurdish classes, which in turn is cited as the reason why there are not enough teachers on payroll. “Meanwhile we see the small number of Kurdish teachers who were appointed being forced to teach other classes. Students are deprived of the opportunity to access these classes, even if they do choose them,” the MP said.
Turkey has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, with reservations on Articles 17, 29 and 30, which focus on the “linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous”, “respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values”, and indigenous and minotrity children’s right to “enjoy his or her own culture, … or to use his or her own language”, respectively.
“Turkey needs to remove reservations on international conventions the country is signatory to, and start efforts to ensure education in native languages for children,” Çiçek said. “Until this process is completed, school administrators must be adequately informed so elective Kurdish classes can function, and any negative attitudes must be prevented.”
The MP called for appointment of more Kurdish language teachers, to fulfil the need in provinces and districts with large Kurdish populations. “A parliamentary inquiry is crucial to this end,” he said.