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Language is a sign of existence

Şerefxan Cizîrî was born in Syria, but has grown up in the Turkish part of Kurdistan. In 1975 he moved to Sweden. For three rounds he has been the local government commissioner in the municipality of Huddinge. He has written more than ten books in both Kurdish and Turkish. At present he lives in Diyarbakir and he is the spokesperson for the Kurdish language platform.

Credits Text: Şerefxan Cizîrî Translation: Joakim Wrethed Photo: Arif Altunkaynak May 11 2023

There are many opinions about human rights. But all of these opinions come together in a fundamental conception: Human rights—as it is perceived—is for all human beings. The right to a language applies also to all the people who speak an ethnic language in cultural contexts. It is also obvious that human language is a human, social and cultural right. All human beings have a distinct language since birth. This is their mother tongue, it is their identity and existence. Education in one’s mother tongue is also a human, social and cultural right.

It is well known that human rights have been ratified by many international organisations. The right to a language shows clearly in UN’s and EU’s declarations.

After the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923, the Turkish state decided that the Kurds should be assimilated. With all its institutions, with all of their economic, military and ideological resources, they wanted to eliminate the Kurdish nation, to Turkify the Kurds and force them to only speak Turkish. That was to be accomplished through the use of violence, but sometimes other more lenient methods were used too. The major purpose was assimilation, and therefore the Turkish state saw the Kurdish language as a decisive obstacle. Thus, it strived towards extinguishing Kurdish and to assimilate the Kurds with inhumane methods. Kurdish media, books and songs were forbidden everywhere, and spoken Kurdish was prohibited too. In short, the Kurdish language was banned from the whole of the construction of the society. One can speak about this denial of everything Kurdish as a never admitted illness within the Turkish state.

Without exaggerating, one can say that the state institutions maintained an ideological and cultural war towards the Kurdish language. All available means were used. This war continued without human norms, with all kinds of inhuman methods. In spite of all that, they did not completely succeed in fully assimilating the Kurds. The Kurds defended themselves, many intellectuals wrote in Kurdish, published books, journals and newspapers. People spoke Kurdish at home and with their families. They gave their children Kurdish names. Poets wrote poetry in Kurdish, singers sung songs in Kurdish. People developed a Kurdish stance against the assimilation and they fought for their cultural and linguistic values in various ways. This struggle goes on to this day. Therefore the Kurds have been forced into exile many times. And in exile they have become one with their language and contributed to the development of the Kurdish literature. Sweden is an interesting example in that respect. From the 80s the work with the Kurdish language and literature prospered in Sweden. Today all Kurds are proud of this.

Every nation, group and individual in the world are proud over their language. With their languages they create theatre, song, film, education, literature, media, research and religious sermons. All of that is of national importance and contributes to fellow feeling between human beings. A nation is its language and its intellectual, cultural and spiritual practice. All peoples and regions are denotified by and live through their language. When the language disappears from the memory of the people and the people is assimilated, the national unity also eventually disappears. This fact is clear and obvious to the Kurds in Turkey. Either the Kurds defend their language and their culture or they will be eliminated. The Kurdish language is the language for all Kurds and therefore all Kurds should get together in order to put the issue of language rights on.

If we do not want to contribute to the destruction of an ancient culture in the Middle East, we must defend the Kurdish language. It is a human, civil and historical duty. The language of the Kurds is their existence. The international community must take its humanitarian responsibility and push the question of the Kurdish language in international relations. One example: When Turkish politicians travel to Europe, they often say openly that assimilation is a crime against humanity! But as soon as they get home, the put everything they have officially said to the side and continue their assimilation politics against the Kurds! The double standards in the Turkish authorities is flagrant.

It is well known that Kurds as citizens of Turkey pay taxes to the state, do their military service and fulfil all of their duties as citizens. It is obvious that the Kurds also actively take part in politics, cultural life and all kinds of production of goods. But officially they are defined as Turks. The Kurdish population in Turkey today amounts to 25 million people. Sadly, Kurdish is not yet the language of education in the schools, it does not have any juridical status and is generally not accepted at all. We, as Kurdish citizens, demand that the Turkish state makes Kurdish a language of education, from elementary levels to the university. It is a right for all Kurds and the Kurds wholeheartedly demand this right to their own language.

Kurdish children in Turkey are taught in a foreign language. Even if Turkish is the official language, it is still a foreign language to Kurdish children. Kurds want their education in Kurdish. This is in all ways a human, social and cultural right. To normalise the right to the Kurdish language, to remove the fear and obstacles for the Kurdish language, it has to become an official language at the side of Turkish. Kurdish should be the norm for all types of social relations within the Kurdish community, and to be the language that is spoken in everyday communication. The Kurds need to act, get politically engaged and engage in cultural activities in their own language. All Kurdish artists, authors, and intellectuals ought to do their work in Kurdish and be honour those who work with the Kurdish language.

Put differently: Kurds should speak Kurdish with one another and to claim the political position of Kurdish. But Kurds should not be hostile to any other language either. All languages have a value and all languages’ rights and activities must be protected. The protection of Kurdish is not a hostile action towards the neighbour languages. The protection of languages is a human duty. Let thousands of languages prosper on the surface of the earth and enrich our human heritage and the civilisation with ourselves!

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