Monday, February 15, 2010

Linguistic human rights in Turkey

While Turkey's President Abdullah Gul visited India, the Kurdistan National Congress sent an open letter to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The letter declared that "The systematic political, cultural, social and economic genocide against the Kurdish people is still continuing".

Among the various forms of discrimination is language discrimination. Here's how Skutnabb-Kangas and Fernandes describe the situation in "Kurds in Turkey and in (Iraqi) Kurdistan – a comparison of Kurdish educational language policy in two situations of occupation":

"In Turkey even speaking Kurdish in public places has been forbidden until recently. Kurdish-medium schools are not allowed; Kurdish children do not even have the right to study their mother tongue as a subject in schools. In theory, courses in the Kurdish language can be taught to teenagers and adults but in practice the obstacles and conditions have been so many and so bureaucratically and legally demanding that there are next to no courses."

Only the abstract of this article, published in Genocide Studies and Prevention (2008, 3:1, 43-73), is available in the public domain. But, if possible, do please read the full article because it documents "a rare positive example where the earlier oppressed (Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan) do NOT turn into (linguistic) oppressors of others when they gain some power to control their own destinies."

Indeed, I'd welcome any account of a hitherto-oppressed group which, on gaining power, does NOT become another version of the erstwhile oppressor and reproduce the same pathologies of power.

Meanwhile, another activist Nurcan Kaya has authored the report Forgotten or Assimilated? Minorities in the Education System of Turkey (PDF) which calls upon Turkey to:

"play a historical role by bringing an end to the discrimination and the ignorance which has lasted almost a century. It is time to remember the forgotten ones, understand their needs, support their demands and fulfil Turkey’s obligations under international law."

Yet another report on the Kurds by the same organization, Minority Rights Group International, A Quest for Equality: Minorities in Turkey, (PDF) concludes wisely: "The state should not fear its own children. Not every one who asks for language and cultural rights demands territory."

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