Istanbul's migrant students chat about 'another language'

ISTANBUL - Radikal | 9/30/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The Kurdish children of Istanbul's Hacıahmet neighborhood are a striking example of the mother-tongue education problem.

The children of Hacıahmet neighborhood, next to Istanbul Bilgi University’s Dolapdere campus, who have migrated from Southeast Turkey with their families, are a striking example of the mother-tongue education problem.

These children do not attend a village school in Turkey’s Şanlıurfa, Şırnak or Diyarbakır provinces like the students in the documentary “On the Way to School.” The Hacıahmet neighborhood, extending toward Istanbul’s Okmeydanı district, was established due to forced migration after the 1990s “village burning” events in the Southeast.

The population, mainly composed of Kurdish families migrated from Mardin, Batman, Siirt and Diyarbakır, lives in poverty. Once you enter the neighborhood, hundreds of children running on the streets and women sitting in front of their houses welcome you. Not only are the houses intertwined, but the people are as well. People living in this neighborhood have mingled with each other and speak Kurdish as “the neighborhood language” in the markets, the bazaars and among themselves.

The discussion of education in one’s mother tongue has brought hope to these families. Families point to the grief that their children experience due to the gap between the two worlds and say their children would be more successful with access to Kurdish-language education. Saying that the children speak Kurdish in their homes and on the streets, Vetha Akyüz, a mother of seven, said her children have problems in school when they run into a completely different language, Turkish.

“Sometimes the teacher rebukes the child if he doesn’t understand the course. [As a result] their minds are puzzled as they struggle with the course and try to learn Turkish [at the same time],” said Akyüz. Agreeing that their children would be more successful if they could learn in Kurdish, another woman who preferred to remain anonymous said the victims of the mother-tongue education problem are children. “The TRT Şeş channel [a Kurdish-language television channel] was established, but the country did not split. It would not be split if education in one’s mother tongue was offered, either,” said the woman.

After school is out for the day, the children scattered around the streets forget about Turkish and return to their own language. They say they even speak Kurdish during the school breaks. IT was not possible to hear their stories about the hardships they experience, because most of them cannot speak Turkish. While the elder ones can express themselves in halting Turkish, several of the first- and second-graders could not speak any Turkish. They decide to continue with Kurdish after they realized that they could not comprehend the questions we asked. “Education in one’s mother tongue” sounds like a term to them. What they really care about is understanding the lesson.

Second-grade student S.Y. said he couldn’t raise his hand in class out of fear of being unable to express himself, even though he knows the answer to the question. “If our teacher could speak in Kurdish, I would be happier, because I could express myself better,” said S.Y.

Fourth-grader S.Ö. said during his first days going to school, he cried frequently as learning Turkish was hard for him. “Once I had to use the toilet [during class time], but as I didn’t know how to tell the teacher, I told my friend instead. Then he told [my request] to the teacher, instead of me,” said S.Ö.



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