Education [for Kurds] in mother tongue

Orhan Miroğlu
Orhan Miroğlu


Date posted: June 27, 2013

The Wise People Commission has prepared a report on its two months of work and submitted it to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

What does Turkey — east and west — think about the settlement? What are the basic expectations and demands? How will concerns that the country could be partitioned be eliminated? Will Turkey be able to confront its past? Will past sins be brought to justice? Will the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) withdraw to establish a Kurdish state in Syria? Will PKK chief Abdullah Öcalan be released?

There are many other questions voiced by the public included in the report. I listed above the most prominent ones.

People in different regions make different demands, but the demand for a new constitution is made across the country.

Education in one’s mother tongue has emerged as an indispensable demand in the Kurdish-dominated eastern and southeastern provinces for the settlement process to succeed. Against all odds and despite a strict policy prohibiting its use, the Kurdish language has miraculously survived into our time. There was pressure on speakers of Kurdish not to use their language and there were no efforts to pave the way for education in Kurdish.

Even if education in Kurdish is allowed, which will happen eventually, the academic infrastructure for trouble-free education in this language will need to be built. Given the Kurdish population in the country, I think about 200,000 Kurdish teachers would be needed just to teach the language alone.

There are millions of people who speak Kurdish, but more than half of this population lives side by side with Turks. Thus, it must be admitted that it is Turkish, not Kurdish, which makes social integration possible. It is a distant possibility for these two communities to be separated under a federated state system and for Kurdish to become the official language of the federal Kurdish region, as is the case with northern Iraq.

How will mother-tongue education affect the political and social relations of the two communities in the future, say 20 years later? Will it weaken the use of Turkish, which has long been the common language of the two communities, among Kurds?

Other questions can be added to this list. And it is quite obvious that such questions have the potential to affect the government’s policies on the matter. Still, a basic right or freedom should not be an object of political bargaining. It is the duty of the government to create the conditions in which it is possible for people to exercise their basic rights or freedoms, not to bargain over how these rights or freedoms can be used.

For the first time, the Kurds will experience something different. They will learn new things. Of course they will be open to advice in this process. As part of this advice, I would like to note that an interview given by Mr. Fethullah Gülen, a well-respected Turkish Islamic scholar, to the Kurdish Rûdaw daily is quite important. In it, he said: “Education in one’s mother tongue is a right that any state must acknowledge in principle because a state has to be fair to all of its citizens. But the problems that may occur in practice deserve special treatment. For example, in order to provide mother-tongue education, the state must ensure there are proficient teachers capable of teaching in that language. Indeed, if the teaching staff is inadequate in terms of providing instruction in the mother tongue, then the well-meaning efforts will backfire. On the other hand, I must note that Kurdish parents should take care in making sure that their children learn to speak Turkish as well. Everywhere around the globe, communities that cannot speak the official language of their respective countries face major problems. In general, they are socio-economically backward compared to other communities, like the first generation of Turkish expats in Germany who could not speak German or Hispanics in the US who are not fluent in English. If our Kurdish citizens teach English and Arabic to their children in addition to Turkish, this would be very beneficial for the future of their children.”

Source: Today’s Zaman, 27 June, 2013


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