Given Turkey’s mixed and often less than proud record of banning the use of the Kurdish language in the public sphere, it came as no surprise this month when the Diyarbakır Administrative Court ordered that the Kurdish name of a youth and culture center, as well as the names of 19 public parks in Diyarbakır, be changed.
However, in the face of unprecedented reforms on the Kurdish issue, particularly since the initiation of EU membership negotiations, banning words because they are Kurdish, or considering the letters Q, W and X dangerous, seems archaic, a relic from “old Turkey.”
The names bestowed on the cultural center and parks were deemed unsuitable on the grounds that they are not in the dictionary of the Turkish Language Association (TDK). To obtain legal recognition for a park named after the Kurdish poet Cegerxwîn in 2009, the municipality of Kayapınar in Diyarbakır applied to the Kayapınar Governor’s Office. Following the rejection of this application based on the non-Turkishness of the name, the municipality filed a lawsuit with the Diyarbakır Administrative Court. The court upheld the decision that the name is unsuitable for use, employing the same reasoning as the governor’s office. Municipal officials told Sunday’s Zaman on Wednesday that they had appealed the decision and placed a note in the park -- which is at present nameless -- informing the public of the court’s decision.
“This is a reflex of the Kemalist regime, to frighten the country with paranoia,” commented Kurdish intellectual Orhan Miroğlu in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman on Tuesday. He added, however, that he does not consider such decisions very important, provided positive developments continue to occur. The 2,500 applications received by Mardin’s Artuklu University for a position instructing Kurdish is one such development, described by Miroğlu as “our new reality.”
Although positive steps are being taken, ongoing attempts to ban public representations of Kurdish figures and language mar Turkey’s struggle for further liberalization. Last month, members of the Doğubeyazıt Municipal Council in the province of Ağrı were given jail sentences of one month and 20 days, and the district mayor six months, for naming a park in the district after Kurdish poet and philosopher Ehmedê Xanî. Such events support Miroğlu’s conviction that “despite all reforms in the judiciary, the Kemalist paradigm in the judiciary is protected.”
Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, political scientist and Sabah columnist Hasan Bülent Kahraman commented, “Using Kurdish in the societal sphere is frowned upon because naming, for instance, a park [after a Kurdish figure] is considered ‘Kurdishization’ of that area, and changing the daily life by means of concessions to the Kurds.”
Conversely, according to Kahraman, establishing a Kurdish TV channel within TRT and offering the Kurdish language as an elective course in schools are measures considered in a different light as they are subject to “compartmentalization.”
Interestingly, the logic of the state’s opposition to the usage of Kurdish names because they carry letters like Q, W and X does not extend to the usage of English or French in daily life. More and more businesses adopt names from English, the “lingua franca” of the contemporary world, yet no lawsuit is filed against them for failing to choose names that appear in the official Turkish dictionary.
Sunday’s Zaman columnist and political scientist Doğu Ergil believes that these bans are a manifestation of Turkey’s inability to “come to terms with its sociological reality.” The use of language, says Ergil, can be a human rights issue, and in the ongoing struggle against the Kurdish language “Turkey is losing time, energy and prestige.” It is Ergil’s conviction that Turkey has not become a truly democratic state due to such legal shortcomings. TRT’s Kurdish broadcasting channel, says Ergil, “has no legal backing and could be shut down if [the state] wanted.”
Commenting that there has been de facto freedom on Kurdish names for some time, Kurdish writer İbrahim Güçlü warns that “such decisions feed radical attitudes” among the Kurds, while calling into question the legitimacy of such bans, which conflict with the universal application of democracy, human rights and freedoms.
Despite a considerable degree of consensus in Turkey on the necessity of recognizing the cultural rights of Kurds, analysts believe that the struggle between official discourse, based on decades of rejection of these rights, and reformist tendencies will continue, for the freedom to use dangerous letters.