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A page of the English-Kurdish wordlist featuring terms of common usage. Early 19th century (Photo: Add MS 26319, ff. 9v-10r)

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Media reports state that elective Kurdish language classes are to be offered to students studying in Turkey, provided that 10 students sign up for the class. In an interview Dr. Shamal Mirza of the University College Dublin explained, “There are currently four universities in Turkey providing Kurdish language courses as part of an elective subject.”

Now added to the education programs, Rudow reported that elective Kurdish language classes will be offered from the 5th to 8th grades. Lessons are provided in both dialects of Kurdish language: Kurmanji and Zazaki.

These elective courses will be taught to students for a few hours each week, although a final exam will not be provided, as the course is considered elective and not mandatory. “We know that the elective courses are not sufficient to learn Kurdish language but it is a chance,” Ebru Gunay, spokesperson for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said in a press conference. 

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s former Prime Minister who recently established the Future Party, also called upon Turks to study Kurdish: “I hope that not only those people whose mother tongue is Kurdish but everyone who lives in this country is interested in Kurdish and learns this ancient language.” 

Members of his Future Party’s office in Van province published a video, encouraging Kurdish parents to register their children to Kurdish elective lessons.

 “Two main factors explain Turkey’s current changing political climate regarding the Kurdish language courses,” explained Dr. Mirza. “One is the political weight the Kurds have gained in Turkey during the last decade. The parliamentary struggle of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members who are not shy away from speaking in Kurdish in the Turkish Parliament leads to greater awareness among the Kurds in Turkey to pay more attention to the Kurdish language and seek out their identity.”

“In the recent campaign launched by the HDP announced in February last year, the participants asked the Turkish government to recognize Kurdish as a language of education and an official language,” Dr. Mirza noted.  “As part of the campaign, the HDP set up a special commission to work on language rights and encouraged high official party members in leadership positions to participate in the Kurdish language course.”

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Dr. Mirza provided an overview of the political considerations behind the initiative.

“One should also consider Erdogan populist policy in using the Kurdish language as the last political tool in gaining votes in the Kurdish populated area in Turkey, a cause that has united Kurds of the various spectrums, from conservatives to nationalist and secular leftists. Previously, Erdogan had used religion successfully to attract the conservative spectrum of the Kurdish society; he also strategically initiated the ‘Peace process’ to appease Kurdish nationalists’ voters that also helped Erdogan win the election.”

However, in the aftermath of “his alliance with the MHP and disrupting the peace process, he lost the confidence of many Kurds in Turkey.”

“Perhaps the language course would be the last political device that Erdogan can use to gain access to the hearts of the Kurdish people in Turkey,” concluded Dr. Mirza.

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”  

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