The Kurdish “non – education” in southeast Turkey


Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish provinces in the Southeast still lag far behind the rest of the country in every socioeconomic index, largely as a result of the lack of education in the region. Poor education and high illiteracy rates are directly connected to language barriers for the inhabitants. Education in languages other than Turkish is forbidden by the Turkish Constitution (as formalised in 1982 and in several subsequent laws), rendering teaching the Kurdish language illegal.

In addition, broadcasts cannot have an educational content, they are banned from disseminating the Kurdish language or history, while they have to carry Turkish subtitles. Even with the enactment of the 2004 legislation, only three media outlets received authorization and started broadcasting in Kurdish dialects, however with limited duration and with no educational scope. Apart from the Turkish national television, permission was granted to two local TV channels in Diyarbakır and to one radio station in Şanlıurfa to broadcast in Kurdish for just 30 minutes per week.

However, with the exception of films and music programs, time restrictions apply and all broadcasts, except for music shows, must be subtitled or translated into Turkish. In addition, the 2004 establishment of the first official private Kurdish language school, under EU pressure towards Turkey to recognise Kurdish cultural rights, was short-lived given that it was unaffordable for most Kurds to attend.

Nevertheless, despite long-standing official attempts to suppress it, most Kurds have retained their native language, basically expressed through the dialects of Kermanji and Zaza. Yet, in south-eastern Turkey (mainly in the triangular region between Diyarbakir, Ezurum, and Sivas) children often begin school speaking only their native Kurdish language and thus having little chance of any remarkable school achievement.

Besides, many of them do not even complete the compulsory eight years of elementary education, mainly due to the lack of employment opportunities and poverty. The Mayor of Batman revealed recently that for six months of the year 50% of families migrate to the farms of western Turkey as seasonal agricultural workers. Those children who have started school rarely return to classes.

The lack of school buildings for primary education also contributes to the low rates of schooling. South- east Turkey counts 5594 primary schools, most of them deficient in basic educational material and equipment. At the same time, the shortage of educational personnel results in swelling classrooms for Kurdish students. According to Turkstat statistics, in 2007, there was one teacher for every 30.1 school students in the region, compared to 19.2 in the Aegean coasts.

Generally, in the elementary schools of the region classes number around 60 pupils, while classes of 90- 100 students are also not an unusual phenomenon. The majority of Turkey’s teachers consist of newly- qualified university graduates, who do not wish to teach in the region due to the threat of terrorism, security problems and limited social life, some of them resigning from the job. Their task is to promote through the book manuals the basic principles of Turkishness (Turkluk ilkeleri) as expressed in the Constitution of

1982. Any reference to the Kurdish culture or use of language is illegal. infuse students with the maximum of Turkish common culture in at least 3 years of education. Southeast Turkey covers 546 secondary schools (general and vocational) with a low numbers of student enrolment, especially amongst the Kurdish youth. The small share of Kurdish youth entering secondary educational level is, however, proportionate to the small number of graduates. Approximately 800,000 Kurdish students graduate from high school annually, but half of them are unable to make use of their skills and education due to high levels of unemployment in the region. Only in 2006, the most recent period for which official figures are available, the labour force participation rate in Southeast Turkey stood at just 34.3% compared to a still low 48.0 % in the country as a whole. What is more, the region has the highest fertility rates in Turkey, with young Kurds thus being affected the most by unemployment throughout the region.

As regards higher education, the central campus of Dicle University in Diyarbak?r, counting 11 Faculties and 11 vocational schools, is the only existing institute of higher education, not allowing however any research into the Kurdish language, literature, or culture. At present, roughly 70% percent of the students studying at Dicle University come primarily from Diyarbakir and different cities and towns of the East and South East, while the rest correspond to Turkish students who have not been successful enough in nationwide general proficiency examinations (OSS). In fact, the figure for Kurdish youth entering university is 0.01%, compared to 3% for Turkish students. Kurdish graduates from Dicle University also represent the majority of the qualified labour-force in Diyarbakir and other southeast cities, trying to take advantage of the recent government subsidies for the development of the region.

Within the framework of the South East Anatolian Project (SEAP) (GAP in Turkish) and in addition to state funding for infrastructure and irrigation, R. T. Erdogan recently pledged an additional $850 million for education in the region, as well as the creation of four million new jobs. During one of his speeches in Diyarbakir, Erdogan also promised the restoration of boarding primary schools in Kurdish provinces, as well as the implementation of revised curricula for primary and vocational education.

This recent economic development initiative is seen as a “social restoration project”, aiming to “restrict the terrorist organization’s field for exploitation” by the end of 2012. Nevertheless, the prime minister dismissed calls for wider Kurdish-language education and open broadcasting, arguing that other minorities would demand similar rights.

At the same time a coalition of Kurdish grass-roots organizations supported by university students has already begun a large campaign called “I want to be taught in my mother tongue,” increasingly pressuring the Turkish government to institute Kurdish language education in public schools according to the EU.

Accession Partnership program, while the pro-Kurdish DTP party demands the same through a regional autonomous status for the Kurds.

The Ministry of Education, however, has already clarified its position with a 27-page indictment, accusing students of being part of a campaign that aims to carve a Kurdish homeland inside Turkey. Kemal Guruz, the head of Turkey’s higher education body, ruled out any possibility of Kurdish being used in public education, characterising the Kurdish language as a creation of Kurdish activists (“PKK-inspired”) with the backing of European countries trying to divide Turkey.

Kurdish educational rights are still significantly limited in Turkey. Even if the AKP honors its latest pledges, those will still be merely a substitute for a flourishing Kurdish education. The latter presumes the recognition of the Kurdish minority. In fact, it presumes that Turkey transforms from a state-nation to a modern civil society.

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