Thursday, February 25, 2010

Linguistic human rights in Iran

We move from Linguistic human rights in Turkey to those in Iran.... Here's a free rendering of what my friend Reza Torabi in Tehran says in his Esperanto blog posted, appropriately enough, on the International Mother Language Day, 21 February:

"Mother! Where is my language?

"To complain about linguistic human rights in Iran is nothing new. Five languages in Iran have more than a million speakers: Persian, Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Arabic and Baluchi. There are also a few other languages whose speakers don't reach a million but a few thousands, for example, the Armenians. In this note, I'd like to touch upon Azerbaijani, which is my mother tongue, and that of some 16-26% of the population of Iran.

"Azerbaijani is a "big problem" in Iran. Many have tried to strongly argue that "Azerbaijani is but an ancient form of Persian, and has no relation whatsoever to Turkish!" (Here's a slew of articles in Persian.) And that the Azerbaijanis are "pure Aryans", and that after the invasion of Azerbaijani territory by the Mongols, the population changed to a Turkic language (?!), and that....

"For 80 years now (since Reza Shah Pahlavi), many linguists, scientists and politicians have tried to prove this theory. The main aim was and remains to wipe out the Azerbaijani language and make the Azerbaijanis believe that "you are lost Aryans, and your language has been poisoned...." Nevertheless, they haven't entirely succeeded in "Persianizing" the Azerbaijanis.

"It's strange that the Iranian revolution changed nothing in this policy of wiping out Azerbaijani, and the new government followed the previous regime in its treatment of minorities, especially the Azerbaijanis.

"The systematic negation of the Azerbaijani language has caused the rise of radical movements in the Azerbaijani region of Iran. The Constitution recognizes the right to learn in the local (mother) language in parallel with the official language (Persian), but it's strange that Armenians (400,000) have a right to do so in their own language, but Azerbaijanis (more than 20 million) don't have a right to even study about their language in Iran (this is true also of the Kurds, the Baluchis, etc.).

"I now want to raise a simple question:

"Millions of people in Iran speak a language called Azerbaijani, which bears no relation to Persian.

"Why can the Azerbaijanis not study in their own language in spite of the fact that their right to do so is enshrined in the Constitution?

"Has the 80-year-old systematic disrespect of the Azerbaijanis in Iran had any success whatsoever?"

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."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Translating literature using Esperanto

In Kolkata, on 29 January, there was a book launch of children's books translated into Bangla from three European languages, as well as a Bangla children's novel translated into those three languages. The translators used Esperanto as a bridge language for this project. The three books, published by Samtat Sanstha, are part of a 4-country project  called "One Indian children's book in Europe - three European children's books in India", funded by the European Commission. The project has several partners and sponsors.

The books are the Bangla translations of: the Italian novel Diary of Jochjo Tempesto by Vamba; the Slovenian short-story collection I wanted to touch the sun by Tone Partljič, and the Croatian novel Wakajtapu by Joža Horvat. For their part, the partners translated (using an Esperanto translation) the Bangla novel Life of Damaru by Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay.

Probal Dasgupta, the Indian coordinator of the project, has a more detailed report on the launch and the project in a post on the Esperanto discussion list Landa-Agado.