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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.