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June 14, 2012, Thursday

Official or optional Kurdish

A recent announcement from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan heralding the introduction of Kurdish as an elective language course in Turkish schools has met with largely positive reactions. However, a division has begun to be drawn between columnists, spurred on by pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Gülten Kışanak’s demand that Kurdish students be taught all classes in the Kurdish language.

“One’s mother tongue is a fundamental right. It should be used uninterruptedly with no restrictions,” said Kışanak. Some argue that the BDP is correct to make such a demand, and that it is the natural right of Kurds to be educated in their mother tongue. Others argue it is against the principles of the nation-state and may lead to divisions within the country.

This is quite a big step towards true democratization after many years of denial of the Kurdish nation and their language, says Nagehan Alçı of the Akşam daily, applauding the move. Yet she adds that the move is a belated one, and should have been made at the time of recent amendments to the education system introducing optional courses on the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s life. Hasan Celal Güzel from the Sabah daily objects to the BDP’s demand that Kurdish students be taught all classes in their mother tongue. Güzel argues that it is possible, and indeed enriching, for people of various cultures to live together in one nation, but that the fact remains that there should be an official language. Güzel believes a common language is one of the basic elements of a unified nation-state. However, Hasan Cemal of Milliyet opposes Güzel, arguing that until Kurds in the Southeast are taught all classes in Kurdish they will not be equal citizens with equal rights. “At the core of the Kurdish issue lies denial and lack of acknowledgment of the Kurdish nation; and if we aim to end this issue for good, we have to properly acknowledge this nation, including its language. Just putting elective courses on school curriculums is not enough of a token of our acknowledgment. We owe Kurds the right to be educated fully in Kurdish,” Cemal says.

Nazlı Ilıcak of Sabah gives her support to the move, saying this is a service not only for Kurds but for anyone who wants to learn the Kurdish language. She further argues that schools in the Southeast should teach all courses in the Kurdish language in the future, but that considering the state’s policy of denial of the Kurds back in 2003, the introduction of elective Kurdish language courses is praiseworthy in itself.

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