News / Europe

Turkish Government Allows Kurdish Language Classes

A man reads a Kurdish newspaper in southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, March 22, 2009.
A man reads a Kurdish newspaper in southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, March 22, 2009.
Dorian Jones
Years of Turkish state policies of assimilation have put the Kurdish language under threat. But now the government is allowing Kurdish classes as part of the government's policy to ease restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language.

Halil Cecem is giving an elementary lesson in Kurdish to university medical students at Diyarbakir's Dicle University.

Until the late 1980s, the Kurdish language did not officially exist and speaking it was a serious offense. But Kurdish classes are part of the government's policy to ease restrictions on its use.

'Groundbreaking move'

Cecem welcomes the move. He says it is a beautiful feeling because the people had so many expectations, and the government responded. He says unfortunately it has taken many years - 50 to 60 - and it is only just being implemented.

Deputy Rector Sabri Eyigun, who is Kurdish, is behind the introduction of the classes. He sees the move as groundbreaking and part of the government's drive to improve democracy in the country.

He says with the government's democratic initiative, many taboos have been broken, and life has begun to become normal. The Kurdish language was one of those taboos, he says.

Analysts say years of state policies of assimilation have put the language under threat. Mazlum Ozer, one of the students who signed up for the class, admits he only speaks a little Kurdish. He welcomes the classes but sees it only as a beginning.

He says it is a big step, but it would be better if the classes were compulsory, especially in health education. He says it would be even more successful if Kurdish classes were at the primary and secondary education levels.

Just a few hours down the road in Syria, children are learning Kurdish as a mother tongue, after Syrian Kurds seized control of their region from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces earlier this year. Neighboring Iraqi Kurds have had this right for years.

But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month ruled out Kurdish education in the mother tongue.

He says there is no such thing as education in the mother tongue. He says the country's official language is Turkish, and the government has done its duty with Kurdish classes in schools and universities.

Erdogan dismissed the demand as a terrorist demand of the PKK, a Kurdish rebel group fighting the Turkish state.

Fighting language war

Kurdish politicians challenging state restrictions on Kurdish are also facing increasing pressure.

Local Diyarbakir Mayor Abdullah Demirbas shows the latest court cases he is facing. Among the offenses are publishing information in Kurdish on services and even children's books. Thousands of Demirbas' party colleagues have been detained this year, under anti-terror laws.

Demirbas says with Kurds across the region gaining more rights, the government will have to make a decision.

How will the government live with its Kurdish citizens, he asks. Will it treat them as free and equal citizens, or will it treat them as slaves?  He says Kurds want fraternity. He says if there is no fraternity, then they will be neighbors. 

At the nearby Dicle Firat Cultural Center, Kurdish songs are freely sung. The language and culture are increasingly making their presence felt. Next month, the city will see a production of Hamlet in Kurdish.

Local singer Farqin believes there is a growing momentum across the region for Kurds to secure their rights.

He says the demands of Kurds in Iraq and in Syria will push the demands of Kurds in Turkey. He says any freedom struggle there will definitely affect the people in Turkey. He says Turkey is definitely under the shadow of the struggles in those countries and cannot be isolated.

A "Kurdish Spring" is an expression increasingly being heard in Diyarbakir. The question being asked is will Ankara embrace or resist the winds of change sweeping the region?

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs