Fevziye Başaran (65), who only speaks Kurdish, her native language, was denied service by Türk Telekom in the southeastern city of Batman for failing to submit a request in Turkish or Arabic, the Mesopotamia news agency reported.
The incident was first made public by her son Ömer Başaran on social media on Saturday. According to his account, he contacted the call center to terminate her phone subscription but was told his mother had to call them directly because the account is under her name. He told the customer service representative she did not speak any language other than Kurdish but was told she had to submit her request in either Turkish or Arabic.
Ömer Başaran asked his cousin to help his mother, and they called customer service the next day. His cousin asked the mother to repeat after him the Turkish translation of her request. But the customer representative refused to fulfill their request, claiming that she wasn’t speaking of her own accord.
Başaran said he told the Türk Telekom call center to translate her words into Turkish themselves. But he was told that “the official language of Turkey is Turkish. We speak and communicate in Turkish.” He then asked, “Why do you have an Arabic option but not a Kurdish one, then?” He was told they did not have a Kurdish option but that her mother could speak to them in Arabic if she wanted to.
According to Ömer Başaran, Türk Telekom’s approach is part of the Turkish government’s policy of cultural assimilation. “My mom is 65 years old. She couldn’t learn how to speak Turkish because they didn’t have schools [in her neighborhood] when she was growing up. Can’t a [large] company such as Türk Telekom employ translators?” he asked.
Türk Telekom, a 30 percent government-owned company, is Turkey’s oldest communications firm. According to information listed on the company website, as of June 30, 2020 Türk Telekom had 15.3 million landline, 12.2 million broadband, 3.3 million TV and 22.8 million mobile phone subscribers.
Ömer Başaran said Türk Telekom called him after his social media posts received widespread support. “I asked them what do you plan to do if someone who can’t speak Turkish, such as my mother, calls you? They said they may have a procedure for situations like this. But honestly, I didn’t believe them.”
In a press statement Türk Telekom said they investigated the claims right away and found no wrongdoing or misconduct. According to the statement, Başaran’s request could only be completed through an in-person, signed application, and the customer service representatives told them that.
According to Gazete Duvar, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Hüseyin Kaçmaz asked Vice President Fuat Oktay in a parliamentary question after the incident why communications companies do not provide services in Kurdish despite offering services in other languages. Kaçmaz also claimed that Türk Telekom does not require its customers to speak Turkish when taking out subscriptions but only when they want to end them.