Interest drops in Turkey’s minority language courses

Interest drops in Turkey’s minority language courses

ISTANBUL-Hürriyet Daily News
Interest drops in Turkey’s minority language courses

This file photo shows groups of students attending Anatolia Research and Culture Association, which teaches a number of languages including Armenian, Kurdish and Arabic. Altan Açıkdilli, the head of the the association says the mother tongues of Turkey’s minorities ought to be granted constitutional protection.

Private courses launched in recent years to teach Turkey’s minority languages have not attracted much attention despite the minimal fees they charge, and some believe the lack of interest in such courses has to do with Turkey’s long-lasting policies.

 “Attendance rates for these courses may be low; this goes to show how far people started losing their connection with their mother tongues. Imagine a person who knows his roots are Laz (a Black Sea people,) but who does not know his identity or language. It is very difficult for this person to attempt to learn the language because this has no reciprocity in life,” Altan Açıkdilli, the head of the Anatolia Research and Culture Association (AKA-DER,) told Hürriyet Daily News.

The mother tongues of Turkey’s minorities ought to be granted constitutional protection, rather than being forced to wage individual struggles to survive, according to Açıkdilli, whose organization launched courses in Istanbul, Ankara and Antakya two years ago to teach a number of languages, including Armenian, Kurdish and Zaza, a dialect of Kurdish.

“It is possible to jumpstart the teaching of these languages through courses, but strength of will, or constitutional guarantees, in other words, will be necessary for people to follow through with it. Infrastructure is a primary condition for learning languages, but the infrastructure needed to teach and learn many such languages is lacking on this geography,” Açıkdilli said.

Joint initiative

Some 23 organizations launched a joint initiative called “The Constitution of the Peoples,” including AKA-DER, the European Syriac Union, Nor Zartonk (a civil initiative of Istanbul Armenians) and the Georgian Platform, he said, adding they had also appealed to the national government in Ankara to hold talks on the matter, but to no avail. “To gain the right to learn one’s mother tongue requires a political struggle in Turkey, and a price must be paid,” he said. “We are endeavoring to make progress in the midst of a great unknown. Learning one’s mother tongue as a child ought to be a natural part of life.

If you cultivate a tree and give it form, it then becomes difficult to give it another form,” Açıkdilli said. Prohibitive policies have reigned in Turkey for years, while many languages were banned, and they ostracized and humiliated, according to Açıkdilli. “This is part of the policy of denial. Denial also contains annihilation within itself. This process is unfortunately still in progress. Despite all the difficulties encountered, language courses ought to move forward with determination,” he said.