Posted tagged ‘language’

Politics of shame

Abril 6, 2008

The chief prosecutor of the Turkish Constitutional court is determined to ban the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which currently democratically holds both the presidency and the government of the country. It was the expected counterattack from the secularist establishment after its recent loss of grip on power to the hands of ‘mild’ Islamists: a decisive battle whose outcome will most surely shape the future of a land built on the remains of multicultural and polyglot Ottoman Empire, where several souls still cohabitate.  But both, establishment and challengers, agree on the basics: the supreme importance of the Turkish nation, ensured by a Constitution written by the Generals after a coup in 1980. So most surely their quarrel will wipe off those who do not feel (or did not feel until they were indoctrinated or offered no other alternative) represented by either of the disputers.  For instance, the Kurds: a couple of quotations from the European’s commission (always a moderate and funambulist observer, let us recall) Turkey 2006 Progress Report will suffice to prove such statement:

 

“Children whose mother tongue is not Turkish cannot learn their mother tongue in the Turkish public schooling system. Such education can only be made by private education institutions. As concerns Kurdish all such courses were closed down in 2004. Therefore, there are no possibilities to learn Kurdish today in the public or private schooling system. Furthermore, there are no measures taken to facilitate access to public services for those who do not speak Turkish.”[…]”As reported above, according to the Law on Political Parties, the use of languages other than Turkish is illegal in political life. The court case against the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) regarding a speech in Kurdish continues”.

 

It is important to bear in mind that, though Kurds make up about 14-15% of the  population of the Republic of Turkey, already only less than half of this share is able to speak Kurdish (5 million at most, a key fact very rarely highlighted by the international press). The rest, in statistically relevant terms, speaks only Turkish. Private institutions in Kurdish closed down in 2004 because of low attendance rates: with southeastern Turkey (where Kurds mostly concentrate) being the least developed region of the country, together with decades of enforced Turkish education (rightly perceived as mandatory to operate inside the country), restricting the teaching of Kurdish to private institutions was a mastery move of the Establishment. Just to give a glimpse of the inequalities: while in Ankara there is a doctor for every 317 persons and 487 in Istanbul, in Mus (a far eastern province with a majority of Kurdish population), there are 3629 persons for each doctor. In Agri, home of one of the fiercest Kurdish revolts in 1927, the ratio is 4196 to 1.

 

Also the chronology of revolts sheds light on the weakening, fading force of the Kurdish community : the Treaty of Sevres in 1920, after the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, seemed to herald an independent future for Turkish Kurdistan, but history eventually crystallized in Treaty of Lausanne which ensured Turkish rule on it. Rebellions spread: 1920, 1925, 1927, 1937-38. All were crushed. After that, a very long silence, a very long isolation. Until the initially Marxist PKK was founded in the seventies. This led to increasing military frenzy in the region: a peak of 200,000 deployed Turkish security forces was reached in 1993. We want to believe these chilling images from 2008 are not common place nowadays in Turkish Kurdistan. Rebellions continue, but assimilation has probably reached a point of no return : though Kurdish is still the indigenous language of southeastern Turkey (belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family),  more than half of the Turkish Kurds cannot speak it anymore.

 

 In fact, though PKK is still active in its armed struggle and getting advantage of Iraqi Kurdistan’s recently gained autonomy, vote in last general elections showed very significant support for Erdogan’s and Gul’s AKP among ordinary Kurdish population ( more than 50% ). The reason pointed out by analysts is the focus of AKP on Islam ( a true bond between Kurds and Turks): enough to draw the attention of people tired of struggling and unrest; and probably unaware of how much their culture is being eroded and watered down as years and decades go by.  It is a fact that many, many educated Kurds have it difficult when expressing abstract ideas in a language that has for 80 years been, and still is, restricted to home use. Certainly we cannot ask all Kurds to behave as Leyla Zan: the politician who in 1994 dared, after taking the oath of loyalty in Parliament in Turkish, pronouncing a couple of words in Kurdish (the last sentence you can hear in this video). Initially protected by parliamentary immunity, after her Democratic Party was dissolved, she was imprisoned and only released in 2004 after sustained pressure from the EU.

 

And then, in February 2008, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, the hope, together with Abdulla Gul, for a more tolerant Turkey, went on official visit to Germany, home of some 2.6 million Turks, that is, 3.2% of the population: he first met Chancellor Merkel and told her “Knowledge knows no borders”. And then “For immigrants to speak better German, they have to be able to speak their own mother tongue first”. And then the solution: Germany, he said, should have no problem in funding “Turkish high schools and universities”. And he suggested hiring teachers from Turkey to ease up the task. Afterwards he went to Cologne, historical stronghold of German Catholicism, where he gathered about 20.000 Turkish immigrants in a stadium, many, many more than any current German politician would ever manage to do with ethnic Germans. He said to them:” Assimilation is a crime against Humanity”, and then “It is your natural right to teach your children in their mother tongue.”

 

Mr. Erdogan is the democratically elected prime minister of a country which bears the responsibility of representing a major share of a complex, vibrant culture that stretches its roots from Siberia through deep into Asia till the Anatolian peninsula (The Turkic people). He might be a devote Muslim and an expert on Islam, but certainly missed some elementary lessons of logics at school: we do not want to believe an ordinarily intelligent man would ever use such miserable rhetoric otherwise.

 

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