Once a bea­con of hope, Kur­dish school shut down

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

When it opened three years ago in Turkey’s big­gest Kur­dish-ma­jor­ity city, it was a sym­bol of Ankara’s chang­ing - and more lib­eral - at­ti­tudes to­ward Kur­dish-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion. The school in the south­east­ern city of Di­yarbakir was one of five pri­mary schools since 2013 that of­fered a fully Kur­dish-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion. From 2014 on­wards, it was also the first school in Turkey to give par­ents their chil­dren’s re­port cards in the Kur­dish lan­guage.

But that has now come to an end af­ter it be­came the first Kur­dish school to be closed down in Oc­to­ber by the gov­er­nor. All five such schools in the south­east have now been shut. Some 238 stu­dents aged be­tween five and 11 have been left with­out a school place in the new aca­demic year. The move comes af­ter a frag­ile cease­fire col­lapsed last year with Kur­dish mil­i­tants wag­ing an in­sur­gency inside Turkey and a crack­down since the July 15 failed coup on those sus­pected of links to rebels.

Par­ents and teach­ers only dis­cov­ered the school had been shut down when a seal was placed on the door by po­lice say­ing it was closed due to vi­o­la­tions of Turk­ish laws. But the school’s de­fend­ers say it was al­ways act­ing out­side of the law against of­fer­ing a fully Kur­dish lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion but with the state’s knowl­edge and tacit ap­proval. Kur­dish lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion had been for­bid­den un­der the Turk­ish con­sti­tu­tion, which states: “No lan­guage other than Turk­ish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turk­ish citizens at any in­sti­tu­tion of ed­u­ca­tion.”

Some Turk­ish of­fi­cials also feared the use of the Kur­dish lan­guage would di­vide the coun­try along eth­nic lines. But in June 2012, then-prime min­is­ter now Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan said Kur­dish could be taught in pub­lic schools as op­tional cour­ses if there was a suf­fi­cient num­ber of stu­dents. It was part of a num­ber of gov­ern­ment re­forms un­der Er­do­gan to ease re­stric­tions on the Kur­dish lan­guage and Kur­dish broad­casts un­der pres­sure from the Euro­pean Union as part Ankara’s mem­ber­ship bid.

Sources in the gov­er­nor’s of­fice told AFP the school was closed be­cause of “unau­tho­rized ac­tiv­i­ties”, while the lat­est re­port by the schools man­age­ment board on it was crit­i­cal. The school was named af­ter Ferzad Ke­man­gar, an Ira­nian Kur­dish pri­mary school teacher ex­e­cuted by Tehran in 2010 on charges of mem­ber­ship in the out­lawed Kur­dish mil­i­tant group PEJAK, which his sup­port­ers have al­ways ve­he­mently re­jected. Two days be­fore clos­ing on Oct 9, the in­spec­tors vis­ited the school and their re­port said the ed­u­ca­tion pro­vided was “con­trary to na­tional ed­u­ca­tion reg­u­la­tions and leg­is­la­tion”. De­spite re­forms, the sta­tus of such schools was never made le­gal of­fi­cially.

‘Wait­ing for my school’

Adil Er­can, a teacher at Ferzad, said in­spec­tors did not have any­thing “un­fa­vor­able or un­suit­able” to say about the school. He added they were told on Oct 7 the school would be closed and would have 15 days to chal­lenge the de­ci­sion. But two days later, par­ents called teach­ers in the evening ask­ing what had hap­pened af­ter the school was sealed with only a piece of card­board with a red seal. “We ar­rived in the morn­ing and it was sealed. They did not give us any rea­son. We will seek our le­gal rights,” Er­can said.

Dis­ap­pointed stu­dents and par­ents told AFP that they would wait at home un­til it opened again, in­clud­ing seven-year-old Sarya Alici. “I am wait­ing for my school. When­ever it opens, I will go. What will I do if it doesn’t open? I will wait at home.” Ci­han Koyun said her fam­ily would not send chil­dren to an­other school. “We are wait­ing for our school to open. What­ever hap­pens, our school must open.”

Since the at­tempted putsch, pro-Kur­dish media out­lets have been shut down, may­ors in ma­jor­ity Kur­dish ci­ties ar­rested and law­mak­ers from the proKur­dish Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP) also jailed un­der the state of emer­gency im­posed late July. They are ac­cused of act­ing as pro­pa­ganda for the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK), a pro­scribed ter­ror group by Turkey and its West­ern al­lies.

The Kur­dish mil­i­tants are not linked to the at­tempted coup and crit­ics say that the gov­ern­ment is us­ing the state of emer­gency to in­tim­i­date all its crit­ics. The gov­ern­ment in­sists it is not at­tack­ing the Kur­dish com­mu­nity, an es­ti­mated 20 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion - but deal­ing with PKK “ter­ror­ists” fight­ing against Turkey since 1984. —AFP

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