Turkey bans writing of university dissertations in Kurdish

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators protest against Turkey's military action in northeastern Syria in Berlin, Germany, October 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Updated 31 July 2020

Turkey bans writing of university dissertations in Kurdish

  • Kurdish language departments previously received thousands of applications from university students who wanted to have their education in Kurdish but numbers have now dropped dramatically

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Council of Higher Education has banned students studying Kurdish language and literature at Turkish universities from writing their dissertations in Kurdish.

All dissertations at Kurdish language departments will now have to be written in Turkish.

The move is a step back from the government’s previous efforts to provide Kurdish citizens, who make up about a fifth of Turkey’s population, with an opportunity to receive an education in their mother tongue. State schools have been offering Kurdish as an elective language for the past seven years in a country where Turkish is the only constitutionally recognized language.

Since 2013, Kurdish studies were introduced at universities during the fragile and short-lived “Kurdish peace process” that aimed to increase Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights but which ended suddenly in 2015.

Kurdish language departments previously received thousands of applications from university students who wanted to have their education in Kurdish but numbers have now dropped dramatically.

The decision will influence four universities in Turkey that are allowed to open Kurdish language and literature departments: Dicle University in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir, Mardin Artuklu University, Bingol University and Mus University.

“The collapse of the peace process has resulted in such efforts to target Kurdish language whose use has turned into a political leverage and a means of criminalization in Turkey,” Roj Girasun, the head of Diyarbakir-based Rawest Research Center, told Arab News. “However, education in the mother tongue was one of the core campaign topics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2013 and in 2014 when he was reaching out to Kurdish citizens in the southeastern provinces,” he said.

Girasun wrote his undergraduate thesis in the Kurdish language and on the topic of Judaism in the Kurdish oral culture at Mardin Artuklu University. However, he is now obliged to write his master’s thesis in Turkish, which is not his mother tongue.

“As political tensions escalate domestically and regionally among Turks and Kurds, the crackdown on the universities is mounting. The government doesn’t appoint teachers to the Kurdish language departments of the universities, which naturally discourages citizens from applying to those universities due to the lack of qualified academic staff. What we are witnessing is the criminalization of the Kurdish language,” Girasun said.

Esat Sanli, a doctoral candidate at Dicle University, is another student who will be affected by the decision.

“The decision will directly target students willing to write history and culture-focused dissertations. On the other hand, it will also have international repercussions. Any dissertation that is written in Kurdish will be taken as a lack of capacity of the student in linguistic skills,” Sanli told Arab News.

According to Sanli, the decision will also be a disincentive for Kurdish students to continue their academic career in the Kurdish language.

“There was a significant interest in choosing these Kurdish departments simply for the opportunity to write academic dissertations in their mother tongue. But now these universities risk losing their appeal in the eyes of the students,” he said.

A recent study showed that only 18 percent of the 600 young Kurds surveyed — aged between 18 and 30 — could speak, read and write in Kurdish. The categorization of Kurdish language as an “unknown language” by the judicial system is another marginalization of the language, sometimes even criticized by government officials.

Max Hoffman, a Turkey analyst from the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said that the Kurdish language was another front in Turkey’s culture war.

“Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost most of their Kurdish support with the resumption of the PKK conflict and the accompanying harsh government repression. Since July 2015, they have only intensified the crackdown, including removing duly elected mayors from the HDP,” he told Arab News.

According to Hoffman, just as Erdogan drove the Hagia Sophia controversy in the hope that secular Turkey and the West would react — allowing him to pose as the defender of the faithful — he is trying to use Kurdish language and culture as another wedge to force the opposition to either defend Kurdish cultural rights, driving away nationalist voters, or abandon Kurdish cultural rights, driving away Kurdish voters.

“This move should be seen as a sign of political concern about his right-wing, as well as an attempt by the AKP to cause tension in the informal opposition electoral alliance,” he said.


Is France helping Lebanon, or trying to reconquer it?

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a press conference in Beirut on Thursday, two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital. (AFP)
Updated 09 August 2020

Is France helping Lebanon, or trying to reconquer it?

  • A surprising online petition emerged this week asking France to temporarily restore its mandate, saying Lebanon’s leaders have shown “total inability to secure and manage the country”

PARIS: It was almost as if Emmanuel Macron forgot that Lebanon is no longer a French protectorate.
Visiting explosion-ravaged Beirut this week, France’s leader comforted distraught crowds, promised to rebuild the city and claimed that the blast pierced France’s own heart. “France will never let Lebanon go,” Macron said. “The heart of the French people still beats to the pulse of Beirut.”
His critics denounced the overtures as a neocolonialist foray by a European leader seeking to restore sway over a troubled Middle Eastern land — and distract from mounting problems at home. A meme circulating online dubbed him Macron Bonaparte, a 21st century Emperor Napoleon.
But Macron’s defenders — including desperate Beirut residents who called him “our only hope” — praised him for visiting gutted neighborhoods where Lebanese leaders fear to tread, and for trying to hold Lebanon’s politicians accountable for the corruption and mismanagement blamed for Tuesday’s deadly blast.
Macron’s visit exposed France’s central challenge as it prepares to host an international donors conference for Lebanon on Sunday: How to help a country in crisis, where French economic ties run deep, without interfering in its internal affairs.
“We are walking on the edge of a precipice. We have to aid, support and encourage the Lebanese people, but at the same time not give the impression that we want to establish a new protectorate, which would be completely stupid,” said Jack Lang, a former French government minister who now heads the Arab World Institute in Paris. “We must find new, intelligent solutions to aid the Lebanese.”
France’s ties with Lebanon reach back at least to the 16th century, when the French monarchy negotiated with Ottoman rulers to protect Christians — and secure influence — in the region. By the time of the 1920-1946 French mandate, Lebanon already had a network of French schools and French speakers that survives to this day — along with France’s cozy relationships with Lebanon’s power brokers, including some accused of fueling its political and economic crisis.


Macron’s defenders — including desperate Beirut residents who called him ‘our only hope’ — praised him for visiting gutted neighborhoods where Lebanese leaders fear to tread

A surprising online petition emerged this week asking France to temporarily restore its mandate, saying Lebanon’s leaders have shown “total inability to secure and manage the country.”
It is widely seen as an absurd idea — Macron himself told Beirut residents on Wednesday that “it’s up to you to write your history” — but 60,000 people have signed it, including members of France’s 250,000-strong Lebanese diaspora and people in Lebanon who said it is a way to express their desperation and distrust of the political class.
Aside from a show of much-needed international support, many in Lebanon viewed Macron’s visit as a way to secure financial assistance for a country wracked with debt.
The French leader also managed to bring the divided political class together, if briefly. In a rare scene, the heads of Lebanon’s political factions — some of them still bitter enemies from the 1975-1990 civil war — appeared together at the Palais des Pins, the French Embassy headquarters in Beirut, and filed out after meeting Macron.
But to many, the visit was seen as patronizing. Some lashed out at the petition and those celebrating “France, the tender mother.”
One writer, Samer Frangieh, said Macron gathered the politicians as “schoolchildren,” reprimanding them for failing to carry out their duties.
There were other, more subtle jabs against France’s show of influence. While Macron was touring neighborhoods torn apart by the explosion, the health minister in the Hezbollah-backed government toured field hospitals donated by Iran and Russia, major power players in the region.
“I get the people who want the mandate. They have no hope,” said Leah, an engineering student in Beirut who did not want her last name published out of concern for political repercussions. She spoke out strongly against the idea, and against those who see Macron as Lebanon’s “savior.”
She said that risks worsening Lebanon’s divisions, as Maronite Christians and French-educated Muslims embrace Macron while others lean away. “He hasn’t resolved his issues with his country, with his people. How is he giving advice to us?” she asked.
In Paris, Macron’s domestic political opponents from the far left to the far right warned the centrist leader against creeping neocolonialism, and extracting political concessions from Lebanon in exchange for aid. “Solidarity with Lebanon should be unconditional,” tweeted Julien Bayou, head of the popular Greens party.
Macron himself firmly rejected the idea of reviving the French mandate.
“You can’t ask me to substitute for your leaders. It’s not possible,” he said. “There is no French solution.”
But he made a point of noting that he plans to return to Lebanon to verify that promised reforms are being undertaken on Sept. 1, the 100th anniversary of the declaration of Greater Lebanon — and the beginning of French rule.