Kurdish Language Rights in Turkey

Video: Leyla Zana, a Kurdish Turkish politician, was sworn into parliament in 1991. She spoke the last line of her oath in Kurdish: "I swear by my honor and my dignity before the great Turkish people to protect the integrity and independence of the State, the indivisible unity of people and homeland, and the unquestionable and unconditional sovereignty of the people. I swear loyalty to the Constitution. I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people."

Last week the Turkish government granted the right to teach the Kurdish language as an elective in Turkish schools. Although the legislation is widely supported, it incited a great deal of debate: many Kurdish activists say it is too little too late, while Turkish ultra-nationalists, who favor a more homogeneous Turkish national identity, have decried it as anti-Turkish. This new legislation is part of a decades long struggle to gain the right to speak, write, and teach Kurdish in public in Turkey. 

Turkey (including Turkish Kurdistan) is home to at least 15 million Kurds, most of whom speak the Kurdish dialect of Kurmanji. Language is an essential component of national and cultural identity, and attaining linguistic rights, including the right to speak in public, preach, publish, broadcast, and teach in Kurdish, has been a central goal for Kurdish activists in Turkey for decades.

The constitution of the Republic of Turkey (established in 1923) leaves out any reference to the Kurdish language or identity. In fact, the Turkish constitution reflects the state's desire to absorb all Turkish citizens into the Turkish ethno-national group. It states, "Everyone bound to the Turkish state through the bond of citizenship is a Turk." Language is of primary importance: despite the fact that the mother tongue of millions of Turkish citizens is not Turkish, Article 3 of the Turkish constitution states that the only official language is Turkish. Since the constitution was passed the Kurdish language has, for the most part, been banned from the public sphere.

So when Leyla Zana spoke Kurdish in the Turkish parliament in 1991, her opponents spent three years trying to put her behind bars. In 1994 she was imprisoned for speaking Kurdish during the national ceremony and she was finally released in 2004.  

Despite efforts to assimilate the Kurds of Turkey and Turkish Kurdistan, the Kurdish language has been kept alive through the oral traditions, including songs, folktales, and poetry. 

Video: The Kurdish struggle for linguistic rights.

Video: Kurds fight for the right to preach in Kurdish.

Shoshi Shmuluvitz

Diwaniyya Contributor

1 comment:

  1. Your article about Turkish language is really interesting. Thanks for sharing your idea with us. I have intensive knowledge about Turkish language , culture and we are making a plan to teach Turkish language with the pimsleur method for our students so that they will have sufficient knowledge about their native language Turkish .