Tag Archives: Erdogan

Turkey offers to end a ban on Kurdish-associated letters of the alphabet

Here’s a guest post from Istanbul-based reporter Dalia Mortada

Kurds make up about 20% of Turkey’s population – around 15 to 20 million people. But until the early 1990s, it was illegal in Turkey to use Kurdish in public.

Turkey went even further by banning several letters of the alphabet – X, W and Q – because they are associated with the Kurdish language.

The taboo against these letters has been fading, and now the Turkish prime minister is proposing an end to the ban.

Turks have long flouted the ban because, even though these letters are not used in traditional Turkish words, they are common in words loaned from English and other languages. “These letters have been used widely in the Turkish society,” says Welat Zeydanlioglu, founder of a research group called the Kurdish Studies Network.

“You have like one of the biggest TV channels, like Show TV, that has a ‘w’ in its name, and you have major companies that use these letters. It’s when Kurds have used them when using their language that they have been persecuted.”

One example was in 2007, when the mayor of a city in southeastern Turkey sent out a greeting card wishing citizens a Happy “Nowruz”, the Kurdish and Persian New Year, or first day of spring. That’s with a “w”, as opposed to the Turkish spelling, “Nevruz”, with a “v”. A case was brought against him for using the illegal letter, but later dropped.

There are also plenty of Kurdish language instructional videos on YouTube.

Recently, Kurdish has become more commonly seen and spoken in Turkey. Many popular musicians sing in Kurdish. There are Kurdish TV channels, and even the Turkish state broadcaster, TRT, has a channel that airs solely Kurdish content. The channel’s website is in Kurdish and the illegal letters appear all over it.

But learning Kurdish is much more restricted. Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, has only a couple of Kurdish language institutes. The reforms announced this week would expand language classes somewhat, but only in private fee-paying schools.

Many Turkish commentators have welcomed the moves as progress in a fledgling peace process. Kurdish rebels declared a ceasefire earlier this year after a 30-year struggle.

But Kurdish leaders are saying the proposed language reforms do not go far enough.

Gulten Kisanak, co-chairwoman of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), an opposition party sympathetic to Kurdish issues, said it was an insult to Kurds to tell them they could learn their mother tongue only if they paid for it.

Zeydanlioglu agrees. “It is difficult at this stage to tell the Kurds they have to pay to teach their children their own mother tongue,” especially after decades of what he calls a “linguicidal” policy in which Turkish authorities sought to eliminate the Kurds’ ethnic identity by eliminating their language.

Today, Kurdish kids who enter school often do not know what is happening around them because they do not speak Turkish at home. International human rights groups have reported that Kurdish children have been held back because of discrimination against their mother tongue. In some cases, kids having trouble with Turkish are designated mentally unfit and sent to special education centers.

Meanwhile, Kurdish has been associated with ignorance and its linguistic development has stagnated, says Zeydanlioglu. “The main dialect, Kurmanci, is a very dire situation,” he warns.

“Although certain things have improved, but it’s not passing on to the next generation because there are no avenues for it to evolve like all the other languages.” The problem for the continued evolution of the Kurdish language is that it’s not just a language. It’s also a symbol of the Kurds’ desire for autonomy and, for many, independence from Turkey.


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Gezi Park’s Linguistic Legacy: Words, Chants and Song Lyrics

T shirt, Taksim Square, Istanbul  (Photo: Dalia Mortada)

T shirt, Taksim Square, Istanbul (Photo: Dalia Mortada)

Here’s a guest post from Istanbul-based Big Show contributor Dalia Mortada

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called protesters çapulcular (pronounced cha-pul-ju-lar), he wasn’t paying them a compliment. The term translates roughly to “looters”, “marauders” or “bums”.

“For him çapulcular was an insult,” community organizer, Ezgi Bakcay, explains. “However, for the protesters, similar to the way some threw back the gas canisters at police, we threw this word back at him.” Although people all over Turkey have been protesting for different reasons in the past two weeks, they came together under this term.

To make sure people around the world knew how to use it one protester made a tutorial video. He starts by teaching viewers the simple present tense, “I chapul everyday…he chapuls everyday.” He moves onto the present continuous tense, “I have been chapulling for six days.” To protect him from teargas while “chapulling”, the instructor dons a surgical mask and some swimming goggles.

Tent labelled ‘Çapulistan’, Gezi Park, Istanbul (Photo: Dalia Mortada)

Turks now have been using the English -ing form, “chapulling”. It means “a resistance to force, or to demand ones rights.” Some protesters wear t-shirts with “chapuller”, or the Turkish form “çapulcu” , scribbled across them. Others labeled their tents at Gezi Park things like, “No. 1 chapul street”. With this word it seems like a wave of creativity and humor was unleashed amongst the protesters.

A choir from the Bosphorous University took a traditional Turkish song and outfitted it with some new lyrics. They sing of gas masks and protests. They sing that the teargas is sweeter than honey.

Community activist Ezgi says protesters used ironic humour every chance they got. Graffiti scribbled across walls and sidewalks as well as signs played with Turkish words and Erdogan’s name.

Instead of writing “Recep Tayyip Erdogan”, protesters played with the prime minister’s name. “Cop” means baton, “tazyik” means pressurized water, and “gaz” refers to teargas (Photo: Dalia Mortada)

One night, a group of football fans even commandeered an earth digger and charged it at one of the police’s “public intervention vehicles”, or TOMA for short. They called it the POMA, for “police intervention vehicle.” To add insult to injury, protesters later painted it pink to soften its look. “The earth digger was lying here like a killed beast,” Ezgi says, “as if a captured enemy.”

The humor was also present in the chants and songs protesters created. Ezgi gave the example of a group of women came up with a slogan that said “Dear Tayyip [Erdogan], thanks to you we will look great this summer, because pressurized water is good for our cellulite!”

Women in an Istanbul apartment, making noise in support of the protests (Dalia Mortada)

In Taksim Square guys chanted, “Let’s see you use that pepper spray. Take off your helmets, drop your batons and let’s see who’s the real man” Meanwhile, feminists warned Erdogan to “run away, because the women are coming.”

Not everyone could make it out to the street to have their say, so they did so from home. Every night at 9pm for the past two weeks, neighborhoods throughout Istanbul have erupted with the clanking of wooden spoons against pots and pans, silverware against plates.

It’s not the first time pots and pans have been used to express discontent in Turkey or abroad. But this time, the sound has inspired musicians.

Kardes Turkuler, or Songs of Fraternity, are a well known ensemble. This song they just released has become a sort of anthem for the protests. “Enough with the headstrong decrees and commands,” they sing, “We’re really fed up!”

Music has played a major role in the Gezi Park protests. Throughout the park, many played instruments, from beating their drums to blowing into bagpipes. Others danced to the music and chanted. Some created new songs based on the protests, and while others sang traditional ones that passersby joined in on.

Many of the protesters say they want to hang onto this spirit of humor and creativity especially now that their argument with the government seems to be entering a more complicated phase.



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