Introduce now: compulsory Kurdish language class for all children in Turkey

A new year of indoctrination started this week in Turkey. Not only of Kurdish children, who will be forced once again to learn a curriculum that excludes them in a language that is not their mother tongue, but also of Turkish children, who are made to believe that there is no diversity in their country.

Police violence at the stairs of the Kurdish language school in Diyarbakir
Police violence at the stairs of the Kurdish language school in Diyarbakir

It’s interesting that the education debate mostly revolves around the language in which instruction is given. The Kurdish movement wants education in the mother tongue, and this school year three such schools stared as a ‘pilot project’ in Cizre, Yüksekova and Diyarbakir. Governors however closed the schools, there was police violence to prevent the schools from opening again – read an extensive article on the matter here (by me). The ultimate goal of the Kurdish movement is to have not only private schools providing education in Kurdish, but state schools too. There’s a long way to go, since the constitution needs to be changed for that.

But shouldn’t we also be talking about what children will be learning in their mother tongue schools? Let’s take geography. Imagine one day there are state schools educating in Kurdish, would the kids there learn about the geography of Denizli province, or also about the Qandil mountains, the Erbil region or the soil around Mahabad? You can guess.

Physics and chemistry

Education in the mother tongue is, in other words, not enough. The whole curriculum must change. Maths is the same everywhere in the world, just like physics and chemistry, but many other lessons are tailored to where you live and to which nation you belong. The books that will one day be used in Kurdish language history, geography, philosophy and several other subjects, should not just be translations of the books that are used in the Turkish education system now.

Geography of the Qandil mountains (pic by me, Newroz 2014)
Geography of the Qandil mountains (pic by me, Newroz 2014)

For example, the history of Kurdistan and the Kurdish people play no role whatsoever in Turkish history books. What good would it be if young Kurds learn in their mother tongue that their role in Turkey is at best fully irrelevant and at worst a role of putting Turkey in danger with uprisings, separatism and terrorism? And how about literature? How will they feel if they learn in their mother tongue that the greatest writers of Turkey were all Turks, and that great Kurdish writers never existed, like now? The assimilation of Kurdish children would only continue if they learn the same narrative in Kurdish as they have always learned in Turkish.

The legacy of Atatürk

This requires an even bigger change of mind-set than is already necessary for the introduction of education in Kurdish. The ultimate result would not only be an education in Kurdish that gives a fair representation of Kurdish history and culture, but also a radical change of what children learn in Turkish language education. The whole narrative, based on the still holding ‘truth’ that everybody in Turkey is a Turk, would be dismantled. This means big changes, like giving a fairer account of the legacy of Atatürk and like religious class not only being about Sunni state Islam but about other religions too, but also smaller ones: children in school books would not only be called Ahmet and Ayse anymore, but Tigran and Berîwan as well.

Mahir Çetin, killed for talking, for being Kurdish
Mahir Çetin, killed for talking, for being Kurdish

Turkey is far away from that. Something that could be introduced already, however, and that would help towards (the acceptance of) bigger change, is Kurdish language and culture class (with attention for languages and cultures of smaller communities too, like Armenian and Laz) for all school children in Turkey. No, not as an elective class, but compulsory. If it is elective, like now, only some Kurds would choose it, and the whole undertaking would miss its target. And the target would be to let the next generation grow up with an awareness that Turkey is a land populated by a wide range of people, often with their own history, their own language and cultural heritage, and that all these languages and cultures are equally valuable. A crucial thing to learn in any education, just like maths, biology and history.

I write all this thinking about Mahir Çetin, the 20 year old Kurd who was recently beaten to death in Antalya by a group of some 25 nationalists after they heard him speak Kurdish and concluded he was a ‘dirty Kurd’. May Mahir rest in peace. May Turkey one day be free of such hate.

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