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Interesting Article about Learning Kurdish in Turkey

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Interesting Article about Learning Kurdish in Turkey

PostAuthor: Delal » Wed Jul 20, 2005 5:54 pm

Turkish Kurds Now Spell Freedom

Diyarbakir (Northern Kurdistan):Sitting attentively in the front row of a small, pink classroom, Hasbey Koksal, a primary school teacher, learns how to conjugate verbs in his mother tongue.
"I see. I saw. He sees. He saw," he repeats emphatically with the rest of the class of 20, half of them older than 40, learning Kurdish vocabulary and grammar at a new private school on the outskirts of this sprawling city in southeast Turkey.
"We're rediscovering ourselves and our culture," said Mr. Koksal, 47, who learned Kurdish as a child but lacked the grammar skills to understand literature or poetry. "It's like being an adolescent again."
To the students at the academy, this simple lesson was unimaginable just a few years ago.
From 1984 to 1999 the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a guerrilla group, fought for independence in a conflict that claimed an estimated 37,000 lives and displaced millions.

-Language banned-

The Turkish government banned the speaking of Kurdish dialects, and
violators risked harassment and prosecution. The only way to study Kurdish was to attend clandestine schools in the basements of homes.
To improve its prospects of joining the European Union, Turkish parliament enacted reforms in 2002 allowing state-run Kurdish television and radio broadcasts and permitting private language courses.
Although the measures carried symbolic weight, Kurds said, they were enacted solely to placate the European Union and did not change official repression of cultural rights. "To teach in a classroom is a dream come true," said Sakir Ozeydin, an instructor at the school in Diyarbakir. "But this institution is not going to solve the Kurdish language problem."
The private school, which opened in September 2004, was one of six in Turkey offering 10-week beginner, intermediate and advanced courses in Kurdish, and 130 of its students have completed one of them.
"If someone tells you not to use your language, it's like them telling you not to use your legs. It makes you disabled," Yakup Yilmaz, 25, said during a tea break at the school. "They cut off my legs and I'm here to get them back."

-A cultural renaissance-

There is talk in this city among the hills of Mesopotamia and on the banks of the Tigris River of a cultural and linguistic renaissance.
Shops along Diyarbakir's boulevards blare Kurdish music and prominently offer Kurdish films. It is now much easier for parents to register Kurdish names for their children, though they are prohibited from using the letters Q, W and X, which don't exist in the Turkish alphabet.
The Tigris and Euphrates Culture and Arts Center, which opened two years ago, orchestrates Kurdish plays and concerts and offers classes in vocal training, cinema and guitar. "Before this center opened, people forgot the details of Kurdish culture," said music teacher Adnan Sevik. "We are trying to revive it."
On a steamy Friday afternoon in May, old men sat in the courtyard drinking tea and watching a dance lesson incorporating traditional Kurdish motifs and modern routines. They all tell harrowing tales of police intimidation and imprisonment. Kadir Dogan said police once broke his fingers for playing Kurdish music on his flute.

-Center closely watched-

Local authorities monitor the center closely. The managers must inform police of who will sing what songs at their concerts. Twice, authorities have searched the premises. Cases are pending against the arts center for having banned books and attempting to turn a profit by selling tea, Mr. Sevik said.
In the mid-1990s, radio stations were allowed to broadcast Kurdish music as long as the lyrics contained no political material. If Kurds wanted to watch television in Kurdish, they had to turn to European satellite channels.
In June last year, state-run Turkish Radio and Television began airing a 30-minute news program in different languages each weekday. "Our Cultural Wealth" is broadcast in Kirmanci and Zaza Kurdish two days a week and in Bosnian, Arabic and Circassian on the others.

-Broadcasts criticized-

Many Kurds criticize the program, which sometimes shows week-old news, as a token gesture for the European Union.
Cemal Dogan, Gun TV's director, said it is imperative that local channels air news and health programs, because many older residents speak little Turkish.
Gun TV applied to the Radio and Television High Council (RTUK) for a license in March 2004, and six other regional channels have followed suit, but none has received a yes or no.
RTUK demanded a viewer profile survey, which was conducted by the Diyarbakir governor's office and a local university, but it was deemed inadequate because it did not give the number of speakers of the region's languages and dialects, said Sebnem Bilget, an RTUK spokeswoman. A state institute for statistics is supposed to carry out another survey, but she did not know whether it had begun.

-Station suspended-

"The real mentality of the state is shown in our application process," said Mr. Dogan, whose station had its license suspended for a month in September for broadcasting a live municipal meeting where two members unexpectedly spoke Kurdish.
Most Diyarbakir residents praise the European Union, which is to begin the formal negotiation process with Turkey in October, for raising the state's treatment of its Kurds as an issue and for pressing the government to change its policies. The changes are compulsory to meet the Copenhagen criteria, a necessity for EU membership that includes "respect for and protection of minorities."
"There have been changes in legislation but we would like to see that they are properly implemented and then become broader," said European Commission Enlargement spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy. "What is important to us now is observing that these cultural rights are respected."
A pervasive sentiment among Kurds is that reforms are cosmetic and that the government's attitude has not changed.
"They are done only for the EU, so that the state can say, 'Look we are allowing Kurdish to be spoken,' " said Celil, a 23-year-old law student who until recently taught Kurdish classes secretly twice a week. "Turkey treats these reforms like 'homework.' They should be doing them for their own people, not because the EU asked for it."

-'Recognized' minorities-

It is still illegal to use Kurdish in the public domain or at government sites or functions. Offices of the pro-Kurdish Democratic People's Party (DEHAP) are raided routinely and several high profile members have been arrested and tried for inciting separatism.

In Turkey, the only recognized minorities -- spelled out in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty that created the Turkish Republic -- are Jews, Greeks and Armenians. The roughly 14 million Kurds, one-fifth of Turkey's population, do not have constitutionally guaranteed rights.
"We will give our Kurdish brothers and sisters individual rights, but will never accept that those individual rights will become group or political rights," said Emine Sirin, an independent member of parliament.
Learning Kurdish in state schools is out of the question because the Turkish language is a symbol of national unity, said Onur Oymen, a member of parliament from the opposition Republican People's Party.

-EU attention faulted-

Many politicians and ordinary citizens are frustrated by what they perceive as inequitable attention lavished on the Kurds in the southeast by the European Union and human-rights activists.

Turkey has many other ethnic groups, but the European Union focuses only on the Kurdish situation, said Mr. Oymen. "Excessive protection of one ethnic group is racist," he said.

After a five-year cease-fire brokered following the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK resumed attacks in June 2004 and clashes with government forces are rising in frequency and intensity. The group bombed a train in southeastern Turkey this month, killing five persons. A separate organization, the Kurdish Freedom Falcons, took responsibility for a bomb blast Saturday at a resort on the Aegean coast that killed five persons including two foreign tourists.

-Outside pressure felt-

What the military and government fear is not the armed struggle, but the unarmed struggle for Kurdish independence through pressure from the European Union and nongovernmental organizations, said Burak Bekdil, a political commentator.
Government officials spoke of their concern that the call for political and cultural rights is just a screen for greater autonomy and, eventually, an independent Kurdistan. "DEHAP thinks that by using the EU, they can carve up Turkey and have an independent state," said Mr. Sirin.
During the tea break at the private language school, there is no talk of separation or rebellion. The heated discussion focuses on the cost of tuition, roughly $75 a month and more than most can afford. Seventy percent of the students are unemployed, estimated Suleyman Yilmaz, the school's director.
Most people would rather just continue learning from their parents or meet in neighbors' homes, said Mr. Ozeydin, the teacher. The government is using this low turnout to create an image that no one wants to learn Kurdish and as a justification for not extending Kurdish cultural rights, he added.
"Why should we have to pay to learn our mother tongue?" Mr. Ozeydin asked.

Source: By Seth Rosen
The Washington Times

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Interesting Article about Learning Kurdish in Turkey



PostAuthor: Diri » Wed Jul 20, 2005 7:43 pm


"DEHAP thinks that by using the EU, they can carve up Turkey and have an independent state," said Mr. Sirin.

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