13 March 2008


Various Diyarbakir authorities charged for publishing information in Kurdish or allowing language's use at public events

Incident details

Firat Anli, Osman Baydemir

(BIANET/IFEX) - A number of municipalities and local mayors in Diyarbakir are facing criminal proceedings for using Kurdish in their communications with the public, or even for simply allowing it to be used by citizens during public events.

Diyarbakir is a Kurdish-majority city in the south-east of Turkey which has exploded in size because of migration from the countryside, both because of forced village clearances and general unemployment.

Because municipalities in Diyarbakir constantly face prosecution for using Kurdish in official texts, they have found a creative means to protest: posters celebrating Women's Day on 8 March 2008 were printed in Turkish, Kurdish and Chinese.

Sefik Türk, deputy mayor of the Yenisehir district of Diyarbakir explains: "There are five court cases and three investigations against our mayor, Firat Anli, at the moment. They are telling us, 'You can publish messages, but you cannot write it in the language which people understand.' Let us see if they will open an investigation against the Chinese posters."

He added, "Government members boast that democratic reforms have been carried out, and that people are free to offer Kurdish language courses and to sing Kurdish songs. The reality is different."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit the southeastern provinces of Turkey at the end of March, and Türk hints that he might well be welcomed in Japanese.

A gathering for 8 March planned to use Chinese slogans. Presumably slightly tongue in cheek, deputy mayor Türk said that they had chosen Chinese "despite the fact that it is far away and perhaps only three people come as tourists, so that they can find something of themselves in Diyarbakir." The posters were prepared with the help of tourists to the region. "We also wanted to express our respect for the cultures and languages of other peoples. We may prepare posters in other languages, too." The 8 March posters prepared in Kurdish, Turkish and Chinese, read: "We congratulate all our women on 8 March International Women's Day, believing in a future of peace, democracy and equality."

The posters for the Newroz festival at the end of March will also be prepared in Chinese.

This festival, written "Nevruz" in Turkish and "Newroz" in Kurdish, has long been a time of tensions. First of all, the Turkish government bans the use of the letter "w" in such contexts and has claimed the festival as a Turkish one. Kurds on the other hand, have used the festival as a day of protests, which is why Turkish authorities, in the past, often banned celebrations in the Kurdish-majority provinces altogether.

Using Kurdish can still lead to official sanctions. For instance, there has been an investigation against the Yenisehir municipality in Diyarbakir because its children's choir sang a "Kurdish march." The regional "Coban Atesi" (Shepherd's Fire) newspaper in Gaziantep was confiscated for an article written in Kurdish. Students were kicked out of Mersin University in southern Turkey for "singing Kurdish songs and dancing."

An investigation has also been opened against Osman Baydemir, mayor of Greater Diyarbakir, for printing invitations to Diyarbakir's Sixth Culture and Arts Festival in Turkish and Kurdish.

The State Council has removed the mayor of the Surici municipality in Diyarbakir from office for offering multi-lingual municipal services.

The trials against politicians and public employees using Kurdish are usually opened under the Law on Political Parties and the Law on the Acceptance and Application of Turkish Letters, the latter dating back to the 1930s.

The Ethnologue survey, based on data from the 1980s and 1990s, says that there are 36 languages spoken in Turkey, with more than 5 million people speaking Kurdish as their mother tongue. According to research by the KONDA company in 2007, 11.5 million people in Turkey define themselves as Kurdish. This is out of a total population of around 70 million people.

Before the Surici municipality in Diyarbakir offered multilingual services, it did a survey, which found that 24 percent of the population spoke Turkish as their mother tongue, 72 percent spoke Kurdish, 1 percent spoke Arabic and 3 percent spoke Armenian or Syriac.


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