Tan: Comprehensive struggle needed to defend Kurdish language

Kurdish Institute President celebrates Kurdish Language Day.

While the rate of reading and writing in Kurdish has increased, Kurdish Institute President Sami Tan, underlined that the rate of speaking the language actually decreased. Tan emphasized the needs for parents to speak Kurdish with their children since they are very little to allow the development of the language.

President Tan was speaking to Mesopotamia Agency (MA) to celebrate 15 May, Kurdish Language Day. He underlined that, like it has happened with Kurds, the Kurdish language has no status in Turkey, being considered as a dialect.

Tan stated that TRT Kurdish and the university course in Kurdish both name the Kurdish language as a “living language”, while in fact meaning “language that we haven’t managed to kill yet”.

Kurdish is still banned from many schools

Recalling that the AKP in the past used some election posters written in Kurdish, Tan said: “They tried to use Kurdish in the election posters, but they ended up being ashamed of it as a big portion of them did not actually know it. In this election process though - he added - because of the nationalistic mentality of the MHP and the denial policy of the State of Emergency, they will not use any Kurdish. In fact, at the moment, only the HDP uses Kurdish in election propaganda material, nobody else”.

In many schools in the region, warned Tan, Kurdish students, whose mother tongue is Kurdish, are in fact being prevented from speaking Kurdish. “You can actually see the note on the boards, saying ‘I will not speak Kurdish’”, he said.

Tan had this to say about Turkey society approach to the Kurdish language:

“This society forgets what it wants to forget. For years it has said ‘There has been no Armenian massacre in this country' or 'There are no Kurds’. In other words, the society pretend to forget what the state and rulers want them to ignore. Especially at the beginning of the year 2000, the Kurdish community, first in Europe and then through the democratic struggle showed its will in a strong way.  The State responds with a policy of denial. For example, they removed the signs written in Kurdish.

Careful with auto-assimilation

Tan also pointed to the self-assimilation Kurds imposed on their mother tongue, in addition to the pressure by the State:

“Clearly 90 years of denial and assimilation policies against the Kurdish language, and even its violent repression, increased insecurity among the Kurdish society. The attempts to break the will of the society gave some results. How did this come about? The new generation of the society is slowly breaking away from the language, especially when people don’t speak with their own children in Kurdish. A generation later the breach becomes clearer. Although there is an effort to change this reality through a political process, these efforts are much more individualised than organised and collective. In this sense, auto-assimilation has acquired an important role. We can see this, when we look at the society especially from a sociolinguistic point of view: the rate of spoken Kurdish has decreased while Kurdish literacy rate has increased. This is a situation caused by auto-assimilation”.

Need for a comprehensive struggle

Drawing attention to the importance of protecting the Kurdish language, Tan emphasised that, first of all, it is necessary to look at the society and its struggle as a whole. Tan said that struggling only for language would not achieve great results. “The struggle - he said - must be comprehensive, it must include reclaiming identity, existence, democracy. It is important to create language islands and it is necessary to carry on the struggle in an organised way. The responsibility for this clearly falls on politically aware people who should devise original ways to fight for the language as they fight for other rights”.