Solving the Kurds' native language problem

Dialogue is the sine qua non for understanding. Assessment through dialogue can help achieve this end. For now, if the basic dynamics of problems on the agenda are evaluated, a clear lack of justice is apparent.

Hamid Omerî

"Something that once existed cannot have not existed. From there onward, this mysterious and dark fact of "having existed" will forever be that person's source of life" asserted Paul Ricoeur. While lacking the power to heal wounds, one should not prevent another from reminiscing about their bad days.

School year is starting. Once again, the children whose native language is Kurdish will be uprooted from their magical environments and placed into an unknown world. Losing contact with a language they fully understand, they will be sent to a language prison in which they will understand nothing. How long will it take them to learn Turkish? This length of this learning process will likely be akin to the depth of the wounds they will suffer. It is wistful thinking to expect this irreparable act of evil to wither away once these children grow up.

Still, it is possible to keep these children in the magical environments in which they grew up and played joyfully. There are no staff or curriculum obstacles that prevent them from receiving education in their native tongue alongside Turkish. The teachers and curriculum necessary for this are ready. Hundreds of graduates from the Kurdish Language and Literature departments of state universities are just waiting to be appointed. Yet the will to solve this problem is not on the horizon. Though the appointments are made, there is not quota regarding those graduates.

Being unable to talk or learn in one's native language profoundly affects children. What comes first is mutism. Then failure and absenteeism at school. Later still, professional failures and psychopathology problems in social life may arise in the adult life. It is said that God smiled at his creatures upon their creation. But how can God smile at children that have lost touch with their native language and have gone through months of mutism? For a child's heart cannot be disentangled from their language.

Dialogue is the sine qua non of understanding. Analysis through dialogue is necessary to solve problems. If we consider the basic dynamics and consequences of problems on the agenda, a clear lack of justice is evident.

The pain caused by nation-building efforts in the early years of the Turkish Republic often re-emerge in embarrassing ways for authorities. Condemning all identities to a grave and attempting to re-shape them whilst restraining rights and the rule of law to a single class and ethnic group is a perilous strategy in the long-run.

The severe policies implemented in the early stages of the nation-building process carries on. The imperative for cultural unity makes other nations and ethnic groups targets of harsh political practices from a cultural standpoint. The pillars of such a "monist" nation are cultural and language policies. To this day, this "monist" approach to cultural identity still echoes at party rallies.

Enacting "monist" language and education policies by way of prohibition and violence implies memory erasure. Establishing a language or nation's superiority over others as a state policy, thereby denying, shunning and altering all elements related to other nations with the aim of forging a common memory is no less than irreparable evil. The assimilationist policies of the early republican period are still in place. And insuperable wounds persist.

The nation-building process grounded in Turkishness has been particularly tough on the Kurdish people. Such an discourse deems Turks worthy of being masters whilst demoting non-Turks as slaves and servants. Though initiated by the Republican People's Party (CHP), this Turkification policy has regrettably been perpetuated by the new government.

The obstacles that prevent Kurds from obtaining education in their native tongue have also linguered since the foundation of the Republic in 1923. New initiatives are not considered within a legal framework and remain palliative rather than problem-solvers. They might even further complicate the issue. As the problem at stake is inherently legal, nothing can be achieved in the absence of political will.

Facing the past is a necessity. The silence of those whose were deprived of their mother tongue grows quieter every day. Assessing the Republic's history - however painful - is of foremost importance. Grassroots education and local-based initiatives can be nurtured through partnerships between political and civil organizations that offer solutions to the native language problem. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has the means and equipment to become a role model for other local authorities in that domain.

Is it possible to forget the sting caused by the sharp side of a ruler? Is it possible to forgive those who held the ruler? While questioning forgiveness, Jankelevitch maintained that the act of forgiving perished with the death camps. In "On Forgiveness", Derrida claimed forgiveness can only be imagined if it truly wished for. Those that do not confess their mistakes or apologise for them, that is, who do not openly desire forgiveness cannot be forgiven. And if ever forgiven, what has been done will not be forgotten.