After years of efforts, a number of rejections and strong debates, Turkey’s first undergraduate-level Kurdish language and literature department is welcoming students for its first class today in the southeastern province Mardin’s Artuklu University.
The beginning of the first undergraduate-level Kurdish program, which many consider a positive development, comes at a time of recent tension over discussions on Turkey’s new constitution, which are about to commence between the ruling and oppositional parties, including the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is primarily focused on the Kurdish issue.
While tension among the delegates is expected to rise especially on the first three articles, which discuss “the characteristics of the Republic,” an academic move to officially integrate Kurdish culture into Turkey’s education system is already regarded as a sign of development.
“When we established the School of Eastern Languages, I had planned to set up a Kurdish Language and Literature Department and kept re-applying to YÖK [Higher Education Board]. This city is the center of upper Mesopotamia, and Kurdish [culture] is a major part of this,” Artuklu University Rector Serdar Bedii Omay said.
Twenty-one students have enrolled in the four-year undergraduate program, which was established at the School of Eastern Languages and Literatures.
As the academic season starts, department head Professor Kadri Yıldırım said there had been a considerable number of applications from students who have shown interest in the program. Many of them, however, are concerned about what will happen once they graduate.
“Students who have applied to the program are all keen on studying Kurdish, yet they have questions on how they will find employment opportunities,” Yıldırım said.
Yıldırım said the students would likely be able to get jobs with the university as it offers Kurdish as an elective class to all students.
“There will not be any problems in employing the first-year graduates, and I also think that as other universities start opening Kurdish-language classes and once Kurdish is used in the primary education system, this department will become more popular,” Yıldırım added.
Indeed, several other universities in the eastern region of Turkey such as Hakkari, Muş, Tunceli and Bingöl have also started offering Kurdish-language classes in recent years. Istanbul’s Bilgi University has offered a Kurdish course since 2009 as well.
Classes such as this one are part of a wider debate in Turkey – a country in which the Constitution decrees that only Turkish is permitted as a language for primary education. But members of other ethnic groups, especially Kurds, have been increasingly challenging this law, demanding that their native tongues also become a language of instruction.
Artuklu University founded the first Kurdish department offering post-graduate work in 2009 as part of the Living Languages Institute.
Lack of textbooks
In the first year of Kurdish education, students will take a grammar course, a Kurdish folk literature, history of the Kurdish language and a course on Kurdish poetry. Four of the five faculty members in the program will teach the Kurmanji dialect, which is the most widely spoken Kurdish dialect in Turkey; one professor will teach Zazaki.
Still, Yıldırım said the department lacked the necessary textbooks for the classes. “We are preparing our own books. We finished the grammar and folklore books, and for others we will go through our class notes,” he said.