Report from a scientific expedition to NK, part 2

1. Meeting in Kurdî Der office (05 April 2015)

About Kurdî Der itself

The main aim of Kurdî Der’s activity is to counteract assimilation policy of Turkish state and raise Kurdish people’s knowledge of their mother language and ethnic identity and their consciousness about their rights to learn and speak in Kurdish. In further perspective Kurdî Der wishes also to change Turkish law in favour of Kurdish people. But since Kurdî Der has itself little qualifications to deal with and propose legal changes in Turkish law, it cooperates with other organizations in this regards e.g. from Catalonia.


As the Kurdî Der leaders persuade, current position of Kurdish language (mostly kurmanji but also zaza dialect) in Turkey is ambiguous and uncertain. On one hand, Kurdish children are generally allowed to learn Kurdish language if one school finds no less than 12 pupils eager to learn it and one Kurdish language teacher. Otherwise the school cannot employ the Kurdish language teacher. On the other hand, currently Kurdish children can be taught only Kurdish language itself by other school subjects must be taught in Turkish, not Kurdish. Moreover, a status of Kurdish language in Turkey has still weak consolidation in legal basis and can be easily deteriorated by any future government inimical to Kurdish culture development.


Kurdish people in Turkey are generally bilingual i.e. they speak both Turkish and Kurdish languages. But many of them not always can speak Kurdish language and sometimes, even if they speak, they cannot write and read the language. Nowadays Kurdî Der runs a few projects dedicated to the development of Kurdish language teaching and consciousness:


- Teaching Kurdish language in Kurdî Der headquarter in Amed

- Writing down historical stories and legends known and told by elder Kurdish people


Teaching Kurdish language in Kurdî Der is offered in two dialects: kurmanji and zaza and for three kinds of target groups:

- beginners (for free),

- students (for 50 Turkish Liras per person for three-month course) and

- non-students/ adults (for 100 Turkish Liras per person for three-month course).


Nowadays there are eight classes learning Kurdish language in Kurdî Der. The teachers do not charge money for their work, they teach voluntarily. The tuitions of 50 and 100 TRY are used to cover costs of teaching material. Members of all these groups must be over 15 years old and most of them are Kurds, we can find there also some Turks and Armenians who learn Kurdish. Lessons for all of them are held twice a week. Additionally, Kurdî Der opens its classes for Armenians to take lessons of Armenian language as well. Graduates of the Kurdish language course get certificate from Kurdî Der. Kurdî Der put a much attention to write all its documents in Kurdish.



2. Visit at a primary Kurdish school in Amed (06.04.2015)

There are three Kurdish schools in Turkey: in Amed, Jazire and Yuksekova. The school in Amed, we visited, was opened 15 September 2014 and has 8 teachers and 100 pupils gathered in 5 classes. It has no official status, however gets assistance from Diyarbakir municipality and from local people, who give money convey their own money for the school, so it could buy teaching materials for its pupils. Also local Kurdish people prepare lunch for the pupils during workdays.


The school is run outside official educational system of Turkey, so according to Turkish law it is illegal. It has actually no single director, but is run by an executive body consisted of three persons who cooperate with other teachers and parents. Together with Kurdî Der, Marper and Egitim Sen they are currently striving to establish Mesopotamia University in Northern Kurdistan.



As far as the methodology of teaching is concerned the school board patterns educational models of Finland and Germany and in this way Kurdish teachers prepare textbooks by themselves. The program of teaching is consulted with the pupils’ parents. Later, when a special commission acknowledges the books, the municipality helps them with printing the books and the cost of it is covered by the school. The following subjects are taught in the school:

- Kurdish language (writing and reading)

- Mathematics

- Music

- Sport

- Social culture

- History

- Painting

- Ecology


Except music and sport other subjects are taught by one teacher. Pupils are not taught about political issues about Kurds because, firstly, they are too young to understand politics’ complexity and, secondly, since all of them, soon or later, as every adolescent Kurd will be taught about these questions at their homes by their parents. The classes are mixed consisting of boys and girls. Children are encouraged to share their school equipment and in this way learn to use joint property.



The teachers try to keep their lessons away from tension, stressful atmosphere among the pupils. don’t give the pupils any negative marks, just positive ones – good or very good. They also don’t punish children physically for their bad behaviour. Instead, they prefer physiological approach. If, for example, a pupil feels tired with a lesson, he or she can leave it and have a break. Moreover, pupils usually are given little homework.



3. Meeting with a head of the Department for Culture and Tourism of the Municipality of Diyarbakir (06.04.2015)


According to the statistical data of Department for Culture and Tourism of Diyarbakir the region is annually visited by 200,000 tourists. It has over 8,000 historical places. In the past there were forty churches here, now there are only three.

One of important manifestation of cultural life in the region are Komalas – social associations that may have various scope e.g. Kurdish, Turkish or religious. In Amed there are almost one thousand different Komalas. They fund their organizational activity by themselves.

The Department for Culture and Tourism cooperates with central Turkish authority, although lately it is more independent with their decisions. Formerly, till 2004 they had had to get permission of Turkish government even for the content of posters it stuck up in the city. In 2013 even the censorship in theatres was abolished. Yet in 1999 the municipality was punished for sending invitations in Kurdish language to teachers, even though the conference was about Kurdish language. The Department for Culture and Tourism of Amed cooperates with other cities in European countries such as Nederland, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Russia. Once in Vienna they celebrated Day of Amed, while to Switzerland they arrived with an Amed theatre group to play ‘Hamlet’. Diyarbakir is now a candidate to become enlisted to the World Heritage Site of UNESCO. 15th of May is celebrated in the region as a ‘Day of Kurdish Language’ (‘Zmani Kurdi’).


In Amed the research team has visited two legal institutions subordinated to Amed municipality: Dengbej House (Mala Dengbeja) and Art Gallery in Sumer Park. Mala Dengbeja is a public open unique place gathering old and young folk Kurdish songsters who sing old Kurdish tales and legends. The Art Gallery in Sumer Park is a quite new but thriving institution, which thanks to its director and artist Bariş Seyitvan hosts exhibitions of Kurdish and non-Kurdish artists from all over the world.



4. Meeting at Eğitim Sen (06.04.2015)


Meeting in Education and Science Workers’ Union – Eğitim Sen (Eğitim ve Bilim Emekçileri Sendikası) – İşyeri Temisilcileri El Kitab. Generally there are three different confederations of teachers in Turkey:

a) Nationalists

b) Linked with government (AKP)

c) Leftist, linked with PKK (revolutionary) – Eğitim Sen


All these three unions are somehow linked with some political parties, although according to Turkish law teachers cannot officially belong to any political party. Eğitim Sen was set up in 1993 and was not acknowledged by the law until 2001. Its headquarter is in Ankara and it has over 100 offices in Turkey, the biggest one in Amed (Diyarbakir) with 9200 members. In the entire Turkey it has now almost 200,000 members. It runs its own website. The union has repeatedly had more or less severe problems in its relations with the Turkish government. In 2004 it was suspended by the government because one of regulation of its statute demanded establishing education of Kurdish Turkish citizens in their mother tongue, which actually is in contradiction with Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution. Afterwards, it has repeated this matter, but in softer way as a question, not an open demand. Since 2001 twenty first members of Eğitim Sen had lost their lives in suspicious circumstances and the perpetrators of their death have remained unknown. Besides, Eğitim Sen’s website was hacked in 2008. Moreover, it is commonplace that inconvenient Kurdish teachers are forced by the Turkish authority to move from their own town with Kurdish inhabitants to another town with Turkish majority, where, in fact, nobody is interested in learning Kurdish.


The vast majority of Eğitim Sen is made up by Kurds, although it includes some Turkish members as well. The executive board comprises of seven people – five men and two women, which are elected every three years by the national congress. The leadership Eğitim Sen is held by two heads, chairman and co-chairman, mostly consisting of one man and one women. Questions to be considered or pursuit by the organisation are usually submitted upwards, from the ordinary members’ level to the executive board.


The membership fee is 12 TR per month and 60 per cent of the total collected sum is bequeathed to headquarter in Ankara, while the rest 40 per cent goes to local office. The organization works on six fields:

1) law

2) education

3) hospital

4) commerce

5) management

6) women/gender issues


Regarding the latter issue the organisation strives to empower Kurdish women, but it is difficult to pursuit this goal because of tradition customaries deep rooted in the society. As concerns as country law Eğitim Sen’s aim is to make a democratic law in Turkey, especially to make a draft of a new constitution, whereas the educational object is to assert education in mother tongue for Kurdish people. It is believed that nowadays native inhabitants of Turkey speak 19 local languages. Eğitim Sen cooperates with Diçle University in Diyarbakir, Kurdî Der and the Young Woman Assembly (see link). Recently it has sent Kurdish teachers to IDP’s camp in Suruç.



5. Internally Displaced People’s camp in Suruç (07.04.2015)


There are seven city camps with schools in Suruç set for IDPs from Kobane. At the peak time there have been around 50,000 IDPs from Kobane in Turkish border area. Now, after liberation of Kobane from ISIS by YPG, almost half of the IDPS have return to the city and Rojava region in Syria. In the Suruç camps there are up to 4,000 IDP children. Now, in the camp, our group visited, stay 250 children.


At the beginning it was really difficult to organize education for IDP children. There was no place where teachers could work and no materials to teach from. Later, most books and materials have been provided by Kurdî Der. At first there had been 60 voluntary teachers in the camps, now only 10 have left. They teach three targeting groups of children:

- children of age of 3 to 6

- children of age of 7 to 10

- pupils of age 11 to 15


The Kurdish teachers are focusing mostly on the youngest group. Lessons are provided 1 or 2 hours per day, usually mornings between 8-11 am for first class and afternoon between 12-4 pm for second class. By and large, one class comprises of 20 pupils. They are taught Kurdish language, history and ecology. The middle group (age of 7-10) is taught supplementary subjects as maths and music, while the oldest group learn also English and Arabic.


Among others, the Kurdish teachers get financial support from Danish Refrugee Council (DRC). Till now UN hasn’t provided any support for them and IDPs. Nowadays 15 teachers stay in the Teacher’s House in Suruç. Most of the teachers are women. They cooperate with Kurdî Der, Eğitim Sen and Saziya Zabane Kurdî.


The camp, as we have seen, is inhabited by around 1000 people, mostly women, children and old men. They don’t call themselves refugees but IDPs, because they feel that, although they have left Syria, they are still in Kurdistan area. The IDPs live in tough, extraordinary conditions and are lacked almost everything that usually is needed for normal life. Every day they got the same food from people from aid organisations. They can do the laundry in the camp, but since it is located near a main road all day there is full of dust floating above clothes. So, actually all the time they wear dirty clothes. Moreover, they have no place to hide from the sun. Not only the tents are too hot in spring and summer to stay there during a day, but also there are no trees nearby or any buildings where they could find a shadow.



6. Meeting in mayor’s office in Suruç with Mustafa Can (08.04.2015)


The meeting was devoted mostly to security situation on the Turkish-Syrian border and recent tragic events that took place there. Two Kurdish women fighters have been recalled. The first one was Arin Mirhan, who after losing all her family in revenge committed suicide killing 72 ISIS (Daeesh) fighters. One of the IDPs camp took her name. The second one was Kader Ortakaya who had been injured but ISIS in Kobane and has not allowed by Turkish border guards to enter Turkey to go to the nearest hospital. She had had to wait too long for an ambulance and as a result she has lost her life.


Only a few months ago Turkish citizens and foreigners were allowed to cross Turkish border near Kobane. This way many foreigners have joined ISIS. Now the border-crossing is closed for foreigners and only Turkish citizens from area adjacent to Kobane are allowed to cross it. Currently 103 municipality offices from Turkey are sending humanitarian aid to Kobane’s people, who are given support also from their Kurdish relatives living on the Turkish side.



8. Artuklu University in Mardin (09.04.2015)


Generally in Turkey there are five academic institutes that teach Kurdish language:

1) Mardin Artuklu University

2) Van Yüzüncü Yil University

3) Muş Alparslan University

4) Bingol University

5) Tunceli University


All of them offer teaching kurmanji dialect, while Mardin and Bingol additionally teach also zaza dialect.

Mardin Artuklu University was established in 2007 and now has almost 10,000 students. Institute of Living Languages was opened in 2010 and now consists of three departments:

1) Department of Kurdish Language and Culture

2) Department of Arabic Language and Culture

3) Department of Syriac Language and Culture


According to accounts of local Kurdish scholars the name ‘Institute of Living Languages’ has been invented by Turkish authorities only to avoid a word ‘Kurdish’ in its official name. Indeed, the first idea that had stood behind opening this institute was to set up institute for teaching Kurdish language. But then Turkish authorities have decided to extend the forthcoming institute to include two new departments: Arabic and Syriac. As a consequence, the name of the institute had to take more general word to render its whole three-part structure. What speaks in favour of this story is fact that the Department of Kurdish Language and Culture remain the biggest one and till now educated over 1000 students, while Syriac and Arabic departments each has only about 20 students per year. The number of staff working in the Kurdish department is 40, whereas staff of Syriac and Arabic each has as much as 3-4 lecturers.


The Kurdish department offers two kinds of supplementary/ postgraduate studies: without MA thesis, which lasts one year, and with master thesis lasting two years. Both of them entitle graduates to teach Kurdish language at schools. Till now the first kind of studies (without thesis) completed almost 1,000 students, while the studies with MA thesis only 150. Forty thesis have been written in three dialects of Kurdish language: kurmanji, sorani and zaza, as all of them are taught at the department. Nevertheless, kurmanji remains the focus of attention in the curriculum.


Unfortunately, so far as much as 18 graduates have found jobs as teachers of Kurdish language. A few factors contribute to so little number of Kurdish teachers. Firstly, the course of Kurdish language can be open in school only if there are ten pupils eager to learn it. Secondly, it is director of a school who decided whether the course can be launched or not, and, as it goes without saying, directors of public schools are reluctant to open such courses, instead preferring opening additional religious, Islamic courses. Now it is commonplace that in most public schools there are three lessons of religion per week, while Kurdish lessons are voluntary and maximum two hours per week. Therefore, financially it is difficult to work as a Kurdish language teacher. For example, in Mardin one teacher teaches Kurdish language in a few public schools to earn a living.


In Kurdish department work now 10 lectors, 37 scholars; three of them are women (assistants). Among others, the MA programme includes subjects such as:

- Grammar

- syntax

- writing

- classical literature

- modern literature

- folklore culture


Books for teaching Kurdish are prepared by the teachers themselves and sometimes they use also materials from foreign universities, mostly in English. For example, book for teaching Kurdish (kurmanji and zaza) has been written by Prof. dr Kadri Yıldırım, dr Abdurrahman Adak, dr Hayrullah Acar and lectors: Zülküf Ergün, İbrahim Bingöl and Ramazan Pertev.

However, the environment of job of the University’s, including Kurdish department’s, staff cannot be describe as easy and comfortable. First of all, at the beginning the Turkish government opposed to opening Kurdish department. But despite the fact that finally it has approved of it, the Kurdish department is under constant surveillance. On the other hand, the staff have met with criticism of more radical Kurdish activists, who accused them of collaboration with Turkish nationalist-minded state education system approving most of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s heritage, which actually has an apparent anti-Kurdish attitude. But, in fact, the Kurdish staff cannot explicitly oppose the education system in Turkey and Mustafa Atatürk’s heritage, because the Mardin Artuklu University is part of this system within higher education network. As a consequence the staff is stranded and have no outside support for their work as both Turkish and radical Kurdish sides treat them suspiciously. So, all the time they have to negotiate their stance between the Turkish superiors and more radical Kurdish activists such as Kurdî Der in order, on one hand, to be able to evolve education in Kurdish language and on the other hand, to work legally and to not lose conveniences and facilities in developing and dissemination of Kurdish language that provide public university.


Subjects of thesis writing at the Kurdish department concern not only language and literature studies but refer also to historical, sociological, cultural and political research. However, the political and law issues are mostly the objects of Institute of Social Science. The scholars from this institute have confirmed that nowadays, actually, they don’t feel any pressure from the government to speak freely about political questions during their lessons.


Nonetheless, in recent years have arose a tension between the management of the Institute of Living Languages and Turkish authorities. From 2010 Prof. dr Kadri Yıldırım had been the head of the institute, but after announcing his will to take part in parliamentary election in 2015 he (along with his deputies) has been dismissed from his post and replaced by Turkish scholar Prof. dr Mehmet Sait Toprak. But officially, Prof. Yıldırım lost his stand as a reaction of suspicions of misappropriation of university funds. Now Prof. Yıldırım is a director of the Department of Kurdish Language and Culture.



9. Meeting in mayor’s office in Mardin (09.04.2015)


Meeting with co-mayor of Mardin Ms Februniye Akyol. Legally, there is no post such as co-mayor, only mayor is acknowledged by Turkish law. The stand co-mayor was invented by BDP in 2011 as a new system of power sharing and has been implemented only over areas where BDP won political majority in municipal authorities. And this is the case of Mardin, which is a capital of Mardin province embracing districts such as Midiyat, Nusaybin, Kızıltepe, Derik, Mazıdağı, Savur, Dargeçit, Ömerli, Yeşilli and, of course, Mardin itself.


The idea of BDP’s (presently HDP) power sharing system is that top posts in municipal power system is shared by two persons (diarchy) e.g. mayor and co-mayor, always one men and one woman. For example, if a mayor is a men, then a co-mayor is woman, while woman mayor holds the post with men co-mayor. Mayor shares with co-mayor not only power, but also an equal amount of his/her salary. They both have the same rights and entitlements and each decision has to get approval of both diarchy persons. But since it is internal system of HDP (only applied within HDP) all decisions are officially approved and signed by mayor, who is the legal head of municipality according to Turkish law.


This system seems very democratic since if there is any disagreement between mayor and co-mayor they call a meeting of city council and don’t make any final decision unless they find a solution by common consent.

The other rule of the diarchy system provides that in areas inhabited by Christian minority HDP share its power with representatives of this minority. And this is exactly the case of Mardin province, which is inhabited by almost 750,000 people, of whom roughly 70 per cent are Kurds, 15 per cent Arabs and 5 per cent Syriac people (Suroyo) and Armenians. The general power sharing rule of HDP for Mardin says that Syriacs and Arabs should hold the same number of stands in municipality, while together they should have as much posts as the Kurds (HDP) hold. This particular rule was preceded by announcement of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan’s “Letter to the Syriac People”, in which he encouraged both Syriacs and Kurds to start mutual political cooperation on the local and nationwide level ‘to help overcome the tragic history of this ancient Mesopotamian people and to enable its resurrection’. Since 2011 Syriacs have even their representative in Turkey’s national parliament in Ankara for the first time since the foundation of the republic, with Syriac MP Erol Dora elected to the Grand National Assembly on the BDP ticket in 2011.


The ethnic diversity of the municipality board results also in its language variety. Though Turkish language is the official one of the municipality, in practice there are four working languages there: Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac and all issues of enquirers can be dealt with these four languages. Even a tablet with a name of the municipality office hanging above its entrance has inscriptions in these four languages.


One of the most important issues being considered and investigated by Mardin municipality, which 30 per cent of its employees make women, is a question of empowerment women. The office offers consultation for local women about their problems, psychological and financial support and special courses to raise the standard of their education and improve their job qualifications.



Krzysztof Lalik