Turkey: Kurds fight for language, rights

Ever since the foundation of modern Turkey in 1923, the country’s Kurdish population has endured severe discrimination and national oppression.

The nationalist officers around Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the victor of Gallipoli who led the struggle to establish Turkey's republic, were ruthless Turkish chauvinists. They saw the large Kurdish minority as a “problem” to be dealt with.

During the 1919-22 war of independence against the British and French imperialists and their proxies, Kurdish support was vital. At that time, Kemal stressed that in the new state, “Turks and Kurds would live as brothers and equals”.

But once victory was assured, Kemal was quick to declare that “the state we have just created is a Turkish state”.

The genocide of 1915 had disposed of the Armenian Christian minority, but the much more numerous and Muslim Kurds were to be assimilated. In March 1924, a government decree banned all Kurdish schools, associations, publications and religious orders.

For decades even speaking Kurdish was a crime. The Kurdish regions were subject to brutal repression.

Nine decades, after the declaration of the republic, recent events around the siege of Kobani ― a Kurdish town in Syria's north ― demonstrate that Turkey's rulers remain deeply hostile to the Kurds. The Turkish authorities view the Kurds' legitimate aspirations as a threat to the existence of the state.

Some concessions have been made, but the Kurds remain an oppressed minority, albeit a very large one.

In 2012, the total population of Turkey was 74.7 million. How many of these are Kurds? Not surprisingly, the estimates differ considerably.

A September 20, 2012 ekurd.net article by Mashallah Dakak reported on new data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute, a government agency. Using this data, the author suggested that 20 million was a reasonable estimate of the number of Kurds living in Turkey ― 27% of the total population.

Many Kurds have emigrated, however, to escape oppression, find work or both. It is estimated that the Kurdish diaspora in Europe is about 1.3 million. Germany is home to 800,000 Kurds.

Turkey’s large Kurdish population are denied education in their mother tongue. The sole language of instruction in schools is Turkish. The provision of state school education in Kurdish is a long-standing demand of the Kurdish community.

This year, there was a boycott of government schools in Kurdish regions. In some places, the community established schools staffed by volunteers teaching children in Kurdish. The schools were attacked by the army, but the people mobilised to protect them.

Such severely discriminatory policies by Turkey’s rulers are the very thing that threatens the integrity of the state they claim to be protecting. Recognising the diversity that exists and having several official languages would help preserve the unity of the state.

However, persisting with imposing just one official language will surely push things in the direction of a split.

An International Business Times article from May last year by Uzay Bulut highlighted the cruel and absurd lengths to which the racist Turkish bureaucracy will go. It denied three-year-old Kurd Asiwa Anter an identity card.

The reason? Her name contained the letter “w”, which does not exist in the Turkish alphabet.

Her father Dicle Anter explained: “If our language does not exist, we will not exist either. We have struggled for this language for years and we have paid the price. No matter how many obstacles they expose us to, we will speak our mother tongue.

“We demand that they find an urgent solution for the Kurdish language immediately. Practical steps should be taken so that our children will not be deprived of their names.”

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.