Independent daily Newspaper


 Old Archive RSS Feed    Advertise



 Kurdish education in Turkey: A half-step forward

  Kurd Net does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news information on this page


Kurdish education in Turkey: A half-step forward  28.6.2012  
By Anna Wood for SES Türkiye in Istanbul 

Kurdish protesters hold signs written in Kurdish, that reads "Don't ban my language" and "We want education in our language".
Turkey which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. Kurds ask for more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. Kurds call for lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey. Photo: Reuters

Optional Kurdish language courses could start as earlier as next year in some schools.
The Kurdish alphabet is still not recognized in Turkey, and use of the Kurdish letters X, W, Q which do not exist in the Turkish alphabet has led to judicial persecution in 2000 and 2003. Photo: Reuters.
Hailed by some as a new landmark in relations between Turkey and its Kurdish citizens, proposed native language elective classes fall far short of some Kurds’ educational demands.

June 28
, 2012

ISTANBUL, — In the 1990s, a single sentence uttered in the Kurdish language was enough to land newly elected parliamentarian Leyla Zana in prison for ten years.

Today, Zana is once again serving in parliament and is taking part in a national debate regarding native language education for the country’s more than 13 million Kurds.

Ekurd comments. [Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million]. On May 24, 2012 A Turkish court sentenced prominent outspoken Kurdish rights advocate and lawmaker Leyla Zana to 10 years in prison in absentia for membership of an outlawed separatist group and spreading its propaganda.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the proposal as "a historic step," and would like the proposed changes to the educational system viewed as a symbol of his continued commitment to the Kurdish Opening, whose auspicious debut has since fizzled into widespread disappointment as conflict between the state and Kurds continues.

The plan is part of a larger blueprint of educational reform, known as the 4+4+4 programme, which will increase mandatory education in Turkey from eight to 12 years. As part of this plan, optional elective courses in Kurdish and other languages will be available to students for two hours per week beginning in the fifth grade.

What the Kurdish population is demanding, however, is something far greater: complete native-language education, with courses being taught in Kurdish from primary school onwards.

Ozgur Dogan is an award-winning Kurdish filmmaker best known for the documentary "On the way to school", which tells the story of a Turkish teacher sent to work in a village where his young students don’t know any Turkish. The film paints a poignant picture of the real-life isolation experienced both by the children and the teacher, neither of whom can communicate properly.

The problems with the Turkish educational system are a crucial issue for Dogan, who recalls going to primary school just after the 1980 military coup, when just being Kurdish was a risk, and both cultural repression and physical violence were an everyday reality.

"The essence of the system hasn’t changed at all since that time -- in fact, since the founding of the republic," Dogan told SES Türkiye. "This is an educational system built on denial and assimilation."

Though the system itself has yet to change, Dogan says that because of the ongoing Kurdish struggle for rights, Turkey has arrived at a point where these demands can no longer be ignored.

This is, in itself, a victory, if a limited one.

The reasons for native language education go beyond a sense of national pride and a demand for cultural recognition. Leaving no space for Kurdish education in the classroom when students are just entering school can harm their academic potential for the rest of their lives.

"If the language spoken at home isn’t Turkish, it’s certain that the child will experience serious educational problems," said Caner Uguz, a history teacher currently earning a doctorate in educational technology. A child whose Kurdish parents are unable help with Turkish-language homework assignments -- far from a rare occurrence -- will struggle to achieve from the outset.

"Reading and writing are the fundamentals of education, and for a child who falls behind in these subjects, each subsequent phase in school is now a big problem," Uguz said.

Two hours per week beginning in fifth grade will do little to solve this issue, which ultimately leads to a national achievement gap, a problem that reaches beyond the classroom and affects the national economy.

"You could recommend [such elective courses] for Turks, and that would even be meaningful," Dogan said, "but unfortunately, this is far from meeting Kurds’ needs."

A truly multilingual educational system would be beneficial for all of Turkey, argued Uguz, who highlighted the fact that until the 20th century, Anatolia was a cultural melting pot.

"If people who call themselves Turks were to investigate their racial and linguistic backgrounds a little, they would see that the matter is much more complicated than that," he explained.

"The ideological problem is the culture of fear regarding alternative identities, which is a product of Turkey’s years and years of nationalistic education," Uguz said.

According to proponents, multilingual education would allow for more cultural integration, co-operation, and work opportunities, as issues of communication and discrimination would decline. Detractors argue that it would create a larger gap between Kurds and Turks and ill-prepare Kurdish children for jobs in the national and global economy.

And though multilingual education is still a distant dream, the fact that such discussions are taking place shows how far Turkey has come in recent years in terms of state-Kurd relations.

"I see this proposal as the first step in the bargaining process," Henri Barkey, a professor of international relations who specialises in Turkish politics at Lehigh University, told SES Türkiye.

Despite the dissatisfaction felt by Kurds regarding the proposal, Barkey holds that it is a small step in a larger trajectory of positive improvements for Turkey’s Kurds.

"The Kurdish Opening is an ongoing process. It is irrevocable," Barkey said, admitting that progress may be halting. "You may go one step forward and two steps backward, only to go forward three steps."

Ultimately, Barkey noted, when it comes to granting Kurds more rights over time, "Turkey does not have a choice if it wants domestic peace."

Published by in cooperation with Southeast European Times.

Copyright © respective author or news agency,  


  Kurd Net does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news information on this page


Copyright © 1998-2016 Kurd Net® . All rights reserved
All documents and images on this website are copyrighted and may not be used without the express
permission of the copyright holder.