Turkey’s continued rejection of its indigenous languages: Syriac, Kurmancî, Zazaki and Arabic

On the occasion of International Mother Language Day HDP deputies Alican Önlü, Ayşe Sürücü, Dersim Dağ, Dilan Dirayet Taşdemir, Ebru Günay, Erdal Aydemir, Hasan Özgüneş, Hişyar Özsoy, Hüseyin Kaçmaz, İmam Taşçıer, Meral Danış Beştaş, Muazzez Orhan, Murat Sarısaç, Nuran İmir, Nusrettin Maçin, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, Ömer Öcalan, Pero Dündar, Remziye Tosun, Şevin Coşkun, Tuma Çelik and Tülay Hatimoğulları, submitted to Turkish Parliament motions regarding the constitutional rights of indigenous mother languages facing extinction in Turkey, i.e. Arabic, Kurmancî, Turkish, Syriac and Zazaki. While the Turkish-only motions were accepted to the parliament’s agenda, the bilingual motions prepared in Turkish in combination with Arabic, Kurmancî, Syriac or Zazaki were not accepted by the parliament’s presidency.

Ayşe Sürücü, Dersim Dağ, Nuran İmir, Pero Dündar, Remziye Tosun, Şevin Çoşkun, Hüseyin Kaçmaz, Hasan Özgüneş, İmam Taşçıer, Nusrettin Maçin submitted in Kurmancî; Alican Önlü, Ebru Günay, Erdal Aydemir submitted in Turkish and Zazaki, Ömer Öcalan in Zazaki-only; Tülay Hatimoğluları in Arabic and Tuma Çelik in Syriac… all were not considered. The motions by Dilan Dirayet Taşdemir, Hişyar Özsoy, Muazzez Orhan, Ömer Gergerlioğlu, Meral Danış Beştaş and Murat Sarısaç in Turkish-only were considered.

Tuma Çelik who wrote in Turkish and Syriac (see cover photo) commented on the rejection of the motions by the presidency of the National Assembly. He states that the rejection of the motions written up in the 15 languages under threat of extinction in Turkey, mean that the National Assembly continues to ignore the pluralist fabric of Turkey:

“Turkey is a country. The rejection of our motions of differences means to reject those differences. It means to impose monism on the people, and this does not suit Turkey. There are different languages ​​whether those who have authority accept it or not.

The Lausanne Treaty (1923) implies the provision of education in Armenian, Syriac and Greek. But the National Assembly denies these languages. This clearly means denying us. Turkey has a pluralist society, but this pluralism is denied. We will continue to fight for the vitalization of this pluralism.”

Tulay Hatimoğullari whose Arabic motion was also not considered to parliament said,

“Because of International Mother Language Day, the other HDP MPs a me submitted the motions in our own mother tongue. We have submitted the motions in the language of the people who live here in Turkey. Ignoring the motions means to refuse us. There is already an embargo in place on Kurdish and other languages in Turkey. We want the people to be able to express themselves in their own language.

It is a right to live in the mother tongue. In order to be able to live in the mother tongue, the mother tongue needs to be publicized, and this requires education in the mother tongue. Now one language only is imposed, but we want the native languages ​​to be publicized. Arabic is among the languages ​​spoken in this country, but like all other languages, Arabic is also ignored.”

Take precautions against the danger of extinction

HDP Mardin Deputy Tuma Çelik also demanded the opening of a parliamentary survey to preserve Syriac, which is in danger of disappearing. In his survey proposal submitted to the presidency of the Turkish Parliament, Çelik pointed out that Syriac should be protected because it is clearly in danger of extinction. The proposal included the following:

“Syriac, which is clearly under threat, is still one of the languages spoken by a considerable number of citizens of Turkey. As a developed language Syriac has a literary and cultural heritage. Assumed amongst the oldest languages ​​in the world, Syriac is a branch of Aramaic, which was widely used in the Middle East from the 7th century BC to several centuries AD. In general, Aramaic was in use both in writing and as a spoken language in Upper Mesopotamia (Urfa, Mardin, Turabdin, Urmia, Nineveh), Antakya and Aleppo, in the land of Judea and Palestine. The Syriacs who inherited the Assyrian, Babylonian, Chaldean and Aramaic civilizations, created a more religiously oriented culture and civilization after transitioning to Christianity.

The academies of Urfa and Nusaybin, which are considered amongst the first universities of the world in the period between the 4th and 7th century – the golden ages of the Syriac language – were established as well as many churches and monasteries providing education in the field of religion and language. In these academies, education was provided in many fields such as grammar, poetry, logic and philosophy, medical sciences, mathematics, geometry, astronomy, medicine, history, theology, church laws, civil law and church music.

Today, Syriac has two branches, Eastern and Western. Western Syriacs (Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics and Maronites) use the Western Syriac dialect and writing style, Eastern Syriacs (Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldeans) use the Eastern Syriac Dialect and writing style.

In its methodology of determining the “Vitality and Endangerment” of a language UNESCO uses nine criteria: intergenerational language transmission; absolute number of speakers; proportion of speakers within the total population; shifts in domains of language use; Response to new domains and media; availability of materials for language education and literacy; governmental and institutional language attitudes and policies, including official status and use; community members’ attitudes towards their Own Language; type and quality of documentation. These nine UNESCO criteria used to determine to what extent a language is sensitive of become extinct, should be taken into account in any research on the different languages and dialects spoken in Turkey.

Furthermore, education in the mother tongue is a fundamental right stressed 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 Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 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 contribute to the maintenance of peace.

The last two schools providing education in Syriac in the history of the Turkish Republic were closed in Mardin and Diyarbakir in 1928 and a school providing education in Syriac was not allowed to open for 86 years. For years, no institutional work has been carried out on Syriac, except for the Syriac community’s own efforts.

Our country has a cultural richness in which different languages ​​and dialects are spoken. Bringing this cultural wealth to life within the framework of scientific perspectives will prevent the diversity we have from disappearing and further strengthen our cultural wealth.

In this context, I would like to open a Parliamentary Survey to prevent the disappearance of Syriac which is in danger and to ensure its institutional development.”

Translated from Turkish. Published on 13 March 2020 www.gazetesabro.org