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

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs