Suppression of Kurdish language in Turkey is reflection of general intolerance towards Kurds: community leader

The pressure on Kurds in Turkey to not speak their own language is a reflection of a general intolerance towards the Kurdish population, said Birca Belek Language and Culture Association Co-chair Mirza Roni.

Speaking to the Mezopotamya news agency (MA), Roni said five people had been killed in Turkey in the last seven years for speaking Kurdish. He added that authorities had remained silent about hate crimes against Kurds.

According to Roni in 2015 11-year-old A.Ö had been beaten and later expelled from school in eastern Erzurum province for speaking Kurdish. A year later another student, Pınar Çetinkaya, was thrown out of her dormitory for speaking Kurdish with her family on the phone. The dormitory management claimed she had links to illegal Kurdish organizations.

Bedriye Yaşlı, 71, and her husband were beaten in a hospital by another patient’s visitor for speaking Kurdish with each other in 2019.

“The Kurdish population is being oppressed for speaking their language,” Roni said. “Not only have people been killed, but Kurdish magazines, newspapers, news agencies and TV channels have been shut down.”

According to Roni the government’s policies discouraging the use of Kurdish is embarrassing. Although Kurdish associations have worked hard to preserve their language and culture, their activities face the constant threat of being banned, he said.

Authorities have increasingly restricted the use of Kurdish in recent years. The government-appointed local administration removed bilingual Turkish-Kurdish street signs in the majority-Kurdish-populated city Diyarbakır in southeastern Turkey in 2018. The same administration shut down a Kurdish-language audio library for disabled children.

Hate crimes against Kurds have increased in Turkey in the recent past. Last October, a Kurdish seasonal farm worker, Şirin Tosun (19) was shot dead in Sakarya for speaking to his friends in Kurdish.

Sixteen Kurdish seasonal farm laborers were attacked on September 4, 2020 by a farm owner and a group of villagers in Turkey’s northwestern province of Sakarya in an incident that appears to have been caused by anti-Kurdish sentiment.

In another hate crime father and son Kadir Sakçı (43) and Burhan Sakçı (16) were attacked by a mob, again in Sakarya, for speaking in Kurdish to each other. Kadir Sakçı died as a result of his injuries, and Burhan was hospitalized for an extended period of time.

Prohibitions against the use of Kurdish in Turkey go back many years. Kurdish language, clothing, folklore and names had been banned since 1937. The words “Kurds,” “Kurdistan” and “Kurdish” were among those officially prohibited. After a military coup in 1980, speaking Kurdish was officially forbidden even in private life.

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