HDP MP Tuma Çelik: Syriac language faces extinction in Turkey

On International Mother Language Day, HDP Member of Turkish Parliament Tuma Çelik submitted parliamentarian questions and a request for investigation by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on the danger of extinction of the Syriac language in Turkey to be put on the agenda of the Turkish parliament. His questions and request were not admitted for inclusion to the parliamentarian agenda because it was bilingual, in Turkish and in Syriac.

MP Tuma Çelik stated in his submission that Syriac is one of the languages on the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger prepared by UNESCO – an Atlas intended to raise awareness about language endangerment and the need to safeguard the world’s linguistic diversity among policy-makers, speaker communities and the general public. Çelik raises the question to the Minister of Culture and Tourism whether the Turkish government has any measures in place to prevent Syriac from disappearing in Turkey as Syriac is a language spoken by still a substantial number of citizens in Turkey. Moreover, it has a literary and cultural heritage. If there is no official public support, Syriac faces extinction in Turkey.

The last two schools providing education in Syriac in the history of the Turkish Republic were closed in 1928 in Mardin and Diyarbakir and a school providing education in Syriac was not allowed to open for 86 years. For years, no institutional work has been done on the Syriac language, except by the Syriac community itself. MP Tuma Çelik demanded the establishment of a investigation commission to determine the necessary public measures to be taken against the disappearance of Syriac from Turkey.

On the same matter of endangered languages in Turkey, HDP MP Garo Paylan submitted questions and a request to put into the Turkish constitution that endangered mother languages need to be protected and worked on. According to Garo Paylan there are currently 15 endangered languages in Turkey and three have already become extinct. Among the 15 are Syriac, Zaza and Pontic-Greek.

Education in one’s mother language is a fundamental right underlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights, the UNESCO Convention, and the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights obliges states to provide technical and vocational education in general and to create the opportunity for higher education. The Declaration states that education will foster understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations, races and religious groups, and contributes to the maintenance of peace.