Erhan Ustundað

March 6 2008

Local authorities in Diyarbakir have found a creative means of
criticising the ban on Kurdish: They have added Chinese to their
repertoire and are awaiting reactions...

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.

Use of Kurdish is often prosecuted Because municipalities in Diyarbakir
constantly face prosecution for using Kurdish in official texts,
they have found a creative means to protest: This year's congratulary
posters for Women's Day on 8 March have been printed in Turkish,
Kurdish and Chinese.

Sefik Turk, 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 open Kurdish language
courses and to sing Kurdish songs. The reality is different."

"Konnichiwa, Erdogan..."

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

A gathering for 8 March will use Chinese slogans, and 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.

Use of Kurdish leads to sanctions 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 been opened against Osman Baydemir, mayor of
Greater Diyarbakir, for printing invitations to Diyarbakir's 6th
Culture and Arts Festival in Turkish and Kurdish.

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

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.

"A future of peace, democracy and equality" Presumably slightly tongue
in cheek, deputy mayor Turk 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."

36 languages in Turkey The Ethnologue survey based on data from the
1980s and 90s says that there are 36 languages spoken in Turkey, with
more than five 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 multi-lingual
services, it did a survey according to which 24 percent spoke Turkish
as their mother tongue, 72 spoke Kurdish, 1 percent spoke Arabic and
3 percent spoke Armenian or Syriac.