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Kurdish Lessons Now Allowed in Some Turkish Schools

A man reads a Kurdish newspaper in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in 2009

A man reads a Kurdish newspaper in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in 2009

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report in Special English.

Speaking Kurdish was a crime in Turkey until about twenty years ago. More recently the government has been easing some of its restrictions on the use of the language. Now, the government is letting some schools offer Kurdish language classes.

Halil Cecen teaches beginning Kurdish to medical students at Dicle University in Diyarbakir, in mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey. He spoke to reporter Dorian Jones about the change in policy.

"He says it's a beautiful feeling because the people had so many expectations, and the government responded. He says unfortunately it has taken many years – fifty or sixty – and it is only just being implemented."

A class like this would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago. Sabri Eyigun is the Kurdish deputy rector of the university.

"He says with the government's democratic initiative, many taboos have been broken. And life has begun to become normal. The Kurdish language was one of those taboos, he says."

Student Mazlum Ozer says he welcomes the classes. He speaks only a little Kurdish, he says, and he sees the classes as a big step but only the beginning. He thinks learning Kurdish should be required, especially in health education. He says it would be even more successful if Kurdish were taught starting at a young age.

A few hours down the road, across the border, Syrian Kurds seized control of their region from Syrian government forces earlier this year. Now children are learning Kurdish as a first language. Kurds in neighboring Iraq have had that right for years.

But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently rejected calls for Kurdish education in the mother tongue. He called it a terrorist demand of the Kurdish rebel group PKK.

"He says there is no such thing as education in the mother tongue. He says the country's official language is Turkish, and the government has its duty with Kurdish classes in schools and universities."

Kurdish politicians face increasing pressure if they violate language restrictions.

The latest offenses that Diyarbakir's mayor is accused of include publishing children's books in Kurdish. Thousands of members of his party have been detained this year under anti-terrorism laws.

But the Kurdish language and culture are increasingly making their presence felt. Dorian Jones spoke to Farqin, a local singer.

"He says the demands of Kurds in Iraq and in Syria will push the demands of Kurds in Turkey. He says any freedom struggle there will definitely affect the people in Turkey. He says Turkey is definitely under the shadow of the struggles in those countries and cannot be isolated."

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