Kurds gather around a bonfire for Newroz celebrations for Newroz in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey. File photo: Bulent Kilic | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The jailed Kurdish leader, Selahattin Demirtas, has warned that the Kurdish language is in danger of disappearing if the Turkish government keeps prohibiting it.
"Each of the languages on the Earth is individually beautiful and precious. It is very important to adopt or promote languages which are prohibited or on the brink of extinction. Kurdish is one of those languages," the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) tweeted through his lawyer.
Demirtas, who previously said that he is not fluent in Kurdish because he did not have time to develop it, has started improving his Kurdish over the past year by reading books.
The 45-year-old politician was born in Elazig province, where many speak the Kurdish dialect of Zazaki. He publicly speaks in Turkish. The majority of Kurds speak the Kurmanji dialect.
A number of Kurdish political parties in Turkey, including the HDP, recently held a panel in Diyarbakir in a bid to promote the Kurdish language.
In Demirtas’ tweets, he expressed support for the work of some Kurdish artists and academics who have been promoting the language in the country despite censorship.
“The ban on mother tongue is nonsense and unbelievable and offending laws have to be lifted,” Demirtas tweeted.
Demirtas recommended for Kurds and non-Kurds to learn Kurdish in order to strengthen social ties.
“One does not have to be a Brit to learn English and one does not have to be a Turk to learn Turkish. In the same way, you do not have to be Kurd to learn Kurdish. It is enough to be human for each,” he added.
“I do not recommend only for native speakers to learn the Kurdish language. We live and will continue living together. So, let’s respect each other’s languages and learn them. This does not hurt our relationships, but beautifies and strengthens it,” he continued.
The Turkish government has been blamed internationally for prohibiting the Kurdish language, or shutting down institutions which promote Kurdish language.
Human Rights Watch released a report on the government’s crackdown on academic, interviewing some academics.
One academic told HRW that they were warned by university administrators not to touch subjects related to Kurdish language and rights.
“One academic who wished to remain anonymous said that the university administration asked the academic to ‘be cautious’ in choosing seminar and research topics, saying the administration regarded subjects pertaining to longstanding efforts by the Kurdish population to obtain greater language and political rights, and religious minorities in Turkey as ‘too sensitive at the moment.’ ”
HDP has launched a hashtag on Twitter, #TwitterStopCensoringKurds, claiming that the platform is being used to censor Kurdish language.
“Hostility against a people’s language means hostility against all languages. International corporations sentence the world to a single perception: Give it up Twitter, the world is a garden of many languages, religions and folks,” tweeted the party late Monday.
It also tweeted: "Our language is like our skin. An attack on our language is an attack on our existence. We do not tolerate these attacks."
The hashtag has been widely used by Kurds. One user claimed that her account has been “blocked” in Turkey for two years.
"Almost every Kurdish activist has experienced censorship on social media. Twitter is closing, banning & deleting accounts & contents of Kurdish activists on Turkey’s request. For example, my account has been blocked in Turkey since 2 years," tweeted one activist.
It is forbidden to speak Kurdish for official matters in the parliament. Former HDP MP Osman Baydemir won the hearts of many Kurds when he was asked “Where is Kurdistan?”
He replied (in Turkish): “It is here,” clapping his hand over his heart.
He is among a group of HDP MPs facing terror-related charges. Ankara has accused the party of having ties with the banned PKK — a charge the HDP denies.
Turkish officials regularly refuse to use the word “Kurdistan” — both inside and outside of the country.