The Kurdish linguistic renaissance in Istanbul

The Kurdish linguistic renaissance in Istanbul
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The rising tide of Kurdish language courses amidst lingual restrictions.

By Esra Ciftci

In Turkey, the prohibition of education in one's native language has particularly affected the Kurdish population. Despite this, Kurds, particularly in Istanbul, are taking proactive steps to keep their language alive. The metropolis, home to millions of Kurds, has seen a notable increase in Kurdish courses offered by several institutions. This is a testament to the community's resilience and commitment to preserving their linguistic heritage.

The Istanbul Kurdish Institute, a pioneering establishment in this domain, has helped to teach over 10,000 individuals since its inception. Courses are meticulously designed to cater to participants' diverse linguistic proficiency levels, making quality education accessible to a broader audience.

ISMEK's contribution to linguistic diversity

In 2020, the Istanbul ISMEK Institute, under the auspices of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, incorporated Kurdish courses into its curriculum as part of the Living Languages and Dialects initiative. This incorporation underscores a gradual, albeit limited, recognition of the rich tapestry of languages and dialects that define Turkey's cultural landscape.

Eyyup Subasi, co-president of the Kurdish Studies Association at the Istanbul Kurdish Institute, highlighted the encouraging participation in these courses. He shared that the institute annually educates between 900 and 1,000 people, with over 300 students enrolled in the current semester alone. However, he lamented the inadequate number of organizations offering consistent and regular Kurdish language courses.

The linguistic hurdle

Subaşı underscores a crucial barrier to the full development and preservation of the Kurdish language–the ban on education in one's native language. He asserts that a path towards social peace and democratic culture is unattainable unless this significant hurdle is addressed and languages other than Turkish, including Kurdish, gain official recognition.

Asli Tohumcu, a coordinator at the Istanbul Kiraathane Literature House, illuminates the institution's efforts in offering Kurdish workshops since 2020. These workshops are structured to cater to various competency levels, delivered both face-to-face and online, and focus on a comprehensive linguistic experience encompassing reading, writing, and speaking.

International participation and future aspirations

Tohumcu reveals the international appeal of these courses, with participation extending beyond Turkish borders to include individuals from Europe and America. The Kıraathane Literature House envisions a multicultural, multilingual space, and including Kurdish courses epitomizes this aspiration.