Preserving embattled literature against odds

ISTANBUL - The Istanbul Kurdish Institute has been working to develop the Kurdish language since 1992 and continues to contribute to the language by publishing dictionaries, articles on grammar and holding language courses.

by Şafak Timur
Gathered together in a small office library were a print of the Kurdistan newspaper from the period of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamit, the Kurdish journal "Jin" published in Istanbul in 1918 and "Hawar," the first publication of Kurmanci in the Latin alphabet in Damascus at the beginning of the 1930s were all laying on the table.

Alongside these historic documents were current publications in Kurdish: dictionaries Kurdish-Turkish, Turkish-Kurdish, journals and many more. The Istanbul Kurdish Institute on the top floor of a building in Istanbul’s central Aksaray district has been working to develop the Kurdish language since 1992 and continues to contribute to the language by publishing dictionaries, articles on grammar and holding language courses.

Some say the demand to learn Kurdish is not strong enough, however proponents of the Kurdish language lament the possibility of a world with Kurdish language rights, but no one to speak the language.

Prominent Kurdish intellectuals İsmail Beşikçi, Cemşid Bender and Musa Anter, who was murdered six months after the institute opened, are among the founders of the institute.

"The murder of Musa Anter interrupted the work of the institute. Even though the institute focused on Kurdish language, history and literature," said Sami Tan, the head of the institute. Institute tasks include rewriting Kurdish classics from Arabic into the Latin alphabet, transforming oral literature into written anthologies, dictionaries and other works to systematize grammar. In 2000, the first Turkish-Kurdish dictionary was printed and contained 60,000 words, in 2004, its reprint by Zana Farqini contained 131,000 words.

"We can say that it is the widest scope Turkish-Kurdish dictionary in Turkey and abroad," said Tan, who has his own grammar books as well for Kurdish teaching. Tan, who was born in southeastern province of Adıyaman, is in command of three dialects of Kurdish: Kurmanci, Sorani and Zazaki.

Kurdish language courses are another significant part of the work done by the institute. Currently more than 200 people are learning Kurdish through their courses. Most of the students are young people. Those who can speak but barely write and read Kurdish and those who are starting from nothing participate in the courses. The institute is also training teachers to teach Kurdish.

Auto-assimilation should be prevented
By 2000, the Kurdish issue started to become normalized in Turkey because of the European Union accession process and the Kurdish political movement, according to Tan. The official opening of Kurdish language courses was a step within that process. In 2004 the state allowed the opening of private Kurdish language courses, however, after a while courses started to close one-by-one because of low demand. Tan believes, however, that this process should be questioned.

"The demand was not low. The expectations for participation were too high," he said, adding the Kurdish political movement should focus on the courses more. "The prestige of the Kurdish language should be enriched again to prevent auto-assimilation among Kurds," he said.

Tan said political cadres of the Kurdish movement should work on the language, too. "A struggle to make Kurdish culture and Kurdish language the primary one among Kurds is necessary," he said.

The institute also heads the Kurdish Language and Education Movement, or TZPKurdî, which campaigns for education in the Kurdish mother tongue.

"The struggle of Kurdish history and language is a part of Turkey’s democratization process," Tan said, adding that he is worried, however, that Kurdish language rights might be recognized after there is no one left to exercise these rights.

"The citizenship of poet Nazım Hikmet was restored after communism lost its potential as a threat," he said, "It is not meaningful to give these rights to people when there are no people who can use them. The Turkish state has a solution to the Kurdish issue without Kurds. The will of Kurd’s should be taken into account."



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