Turkey bans writing of university dissertations in Kurdish
ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Council of Higher Education has banned students
studying Kurdish language and literature at Turkish universities from
writing their dissertations in Kurdish.
All dissertations at Kurdish language departments will now have to be
written in Turkish.
The move is a step back from the government’s previous efforts to
provide Kurdish citizens, who make up about a fifth of Turkey’s
population, with an opportunity to receive an education in their
mother tongue. State schools have been offering Kurdish as an elective
language for the past seven years in a country where Turkish is the
only constitutionally recognized language.
Since 2013, Kurdish studies were introduced at universities during the
fragile and short-lived “Kurdish peace process” that aimed to increase
Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights but which ended suddenly in
Kurdish language departments previously received thousands of
applications from university students who wanted to have their
education in Kurdish but numbers have now dropped dramatically.
The decision will influence four universities in Turkey that are
allowed to open Kurdish language and literature departments: Dicle
University in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir, Mardin Artuklu
University, Bingol University and Mus University.
“The collapse of the peace process has resulted in such efforts to
target Kurdish language whose use has turned into a political leverage
and a means of criminalization in Turkey,” Roj Girasun, the head of
Diyarbakir-based Rawest Research Center, told Arab News. “However,
education in the mother tongue was one of the core campaign topics of
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2013 and in 2014 when he was
reaching out to Kurdish citizens in the southeastern provinces,” he
Girasun wrote his undergraduate thesis in the Kurdish language and on
the topic of Judaism in the Kurdish oral culture at Mardin Artuklu
University. However, he is now obliged to write his master’s thesis in
Turkish, which is not his mother tongue.
“As political tensions escalate domestically and regionally among
Turks and Kurds, the crackdown on the universities is mounting. The
government doesn’t appoint teachers to the Kurdish language
departments of the universities, which naturally discourages citizens
from applying to those universities due to the lack of qualified
academic staff. What we are witnessing is the criminalization of the
Kurdish language,” Girasun said.
Esat Sanli, a doctoral candidate at Dicle University, is another
student who will be affected by the decision.
“The decision will directly target students willing to write history
and culture-focused dissertations. On the other hand, it will also
have international repercussions. Any dissertation that is written in
Kurdish will be taken as a lack of capacity of the student in
linguistic skills,” Sanli told Arab News.
According to Sanli, the decision will also be a disincentive for
Kurdish students to continue their academic career in the Kurdish
“There was a significant interest in choosing these Kurdish
departments simply for the opportunity to write academic dissertations
in their mother tongue. But now these universities risk losing their
appeal in the eyes of the students,” he said.
A recent study showed that only 18 percent of the 600 young Kurds
surveyed — aged between 18 and 30 — could speak, read and write in
Kurdish. The categorization of Kurdish language as an “unknown
language” by the judicial system is another marginalization of the
language, sometimes even criticized by government officials.
Max Hoffman, a Turkey analyst from the Washington-based Center for
American Progress, said that the Kurdish language was another front in
Turkey’s culture war.
“Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost most
of their Kurdish support with the resumption of the PKK conflict and
the accompanying harsh government repression. Since July 2015, they
have only intensified the crackdown, including removing duly elected
mayors from the HDP,” he told Arab News.
According to Hoffman, just as Erdogan drove the Hagia Sophia
controversy in the hope that secular Turkey and the West would react —
allowing him to pose as the defender of the faithful — he is trying to
use Kurdish language and culture as another wedge to force the
opposition to either defend Kurdish cultural rights, driving away
nationalist voters, or abandon Kurdish cultural rights, driving away
“This move should be seen as a sign of political concern about his
right-wing, as well as an attempt by the AKP to cause tension in the
informal opposition electoral alliance,” he said.