Language is your innermost line of defense

The right to use the Kurdish language has been one of the major issues of controversy in Turkey during the republic’s entire existence. In recent years, the situation has been dedramatized and it is now possible to broadcast television programs and publish books in Kurdish. Despite the changes, many Kurdish-speaking authors still sit in prison without the right to defend themselves in their own language in court. The paradoxes surrounding the status of Kurdish live on—but in the end, the future of the language will be determined by those who use it, says Ayhan Geverî, researcher at Muș Alparslan University in Muș.

January 8 2013 Text: Ayhan Geverî Translation from Turkish: Merve Pehlivan

For Kurdish writers and men of letters, writing in Kurdish sometimes arouses a feeling of stealing jewellery from “ancient and hidden treasures” but it also mostly alludes to a continuous helplessness like the Sisyphus of the “Country of the Dead”. This is because Kurds, who have a tradition of ancient and rich literature, carry this heritage to the future when they express themselves best in their own language. However, Kurdish has struggled for life in narrow spaces both because they have had to live in a fragmented geography and because of the pressure and bans of the political authorities they have lived in. As a result of the political progress achieved in Southern Kurdistan and also the abandonment of oppressive policies in Turkey with an elimination (to some extent) of bans of Kurdish, the Kurds have taken a leap in the fields of literature and art. Particularly, as limitations in cultural communication have become meaningless, Kurds began communicating with one another, which enabled the rise of the quality of literary and artistic works and the articulation genetic/ traditional codes severed from each other. The scale of writers and men of literature writing in Kurdish have grown in the past two decades and the number of produced works and the diversity of literary genres have reached saturation. The main subject of Kurdish literature twenty years ago was built on “existence” and “asserting oneself”, and the “unfinished national song” of the early 20th century was completed by the republication of classical texts such as the masnavi and the diwan…

In contemporary Kurdish literature, the struggle for “survival” is replaced by the process of showing up in every field. Needless to say, the diminishing of bans and pressures, and the positive climate of the universal conjuncture play a big role in this. History of literature will determine if the Kurdish language and literature will gain value in world literature or will burgeon decrementally, despite the relaxed climate of today, like it did decades ago… However, the “steady” persistence of Kurds in every field continues, mainly in the language field.

This persistence bears fruit within the context of Kurds in Turkey. In spite of its shortcomings and defects, Kurdish is now becoming a market language and its status is rising each day with the incentives (maybe legitimization) of the state. The state has made major contributions to this process by establishing a TV channel broadcasting 24/7, opening Kurdish Language and Literature departments in universities, publishing a Kurdish classic every year via the Ministry of Culture and by removing bans on Kurdish press. However, it should not be forgotten that the impact of the persistence of Kurds on Kurdish and the above-mentioned conjuncture cannot be denied.

The situation we have presented so far points out to great and radical changes in Kurdish compared to the past. Nevertheless, every Kurdish writer knows well and feels that the fact that Kurdish, once even denied to breathe, has become a market language and that Kurds, once fined per word when they spoke Kurdish, can comfortably speak Kurdish now do not really count as radical changes. This is because it is not easy to compensate for the destruction and traumas in language and culture despite radical improvements. Therefore, actually, the biggest impact in the collective consciousness of Kurds has been that not a single Kurdish book was printed from the foundation of the Republic of Turkey until 1959, the number of published books since then (until the early 90s) has been very low and that those who wrote and published these books were under pressure. This state of woundedness still continues for Kurds, especially for writers and men of letters, who have become a people on the verge of losing their collective memory. Kurdish writers whose bond with language and tradition has been damaged sometimes lag far behind where they should be or they are nurtured by their wounds by turning them into themes for their literary texts. Wiping out the damage and dressing the wounds of Kurds can be possible only in an environment where they can use their language freely. Because the biggest treasure Kurds were bereft of has been their language and therefore it has turned into their biggest wound.  This is the reason why the relationship between language and the individual cannot thrive smoothly despite all the freedom and traumatic and psychological symptoms appear both at individual and social levels…

One of the biggest reasons why Kurdish has been a bleeding social wound has been, undoubtedly, that during certain periods, the use of the language by certain people was deemed legitimate and had become a taboo for some others. Language flows and flourishes in its natural pathway. Therefore, language itself should determine relationships of language in social life and instrumentalization of language for realpolitik should be abandoned. As the latest hunger strikes in Turkey have shown, mother tongue is the safe harbour when people are in a most helpless state. The world in which emotions closest to “essence” are woven is born out of mother-language…

Last but not least, it should be noted that people in Turkey are no more blacklisted or followed just because they are Kurds (there may be exceptions) or do not fall victim to unresolved murders. On the other hand, millions of people in Turkey are aggrieved in public institutions because they are not allowed to express themselves in their mother languages, they cannot defend themselves sufficiently in court and convey their thoughts and emotions. Particularly situations such as the inconsistency between the statement of interrogated people with the help of a translator and the recorded minutes of interrogation; the inability to meet this most basic need let alone produce literary works, show that the “Sisyphus syndrome” of Kurds still continue albeit at a decreasing level. Therefore, the use of Kurdish and other languages should be guaranteed within the framework of freedoms and of course Kurds’ persistence on Kurdish should be thoroughly evaluated and noticed…