Kurdish vs. Turkish: One nation, one language

Ceylan Ozbudak

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Turkey is at a crossroad. It is the Turkish language, along with religion and culture, that unites us a people. And yet attempts are being made to undermine the fabric of our national unity.

The United States of America is a bold project to implement a principle that people can come together to form “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” regardless of their ethnic and linguistic diversities. In its founding documents, America espoused these ideals; then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, it faced the task to form one nation amongst people of varied ethnicities and tongues. The ongoing aspiration to implement this ideal is one reason why America has been able to accomplish so much, while Europe continues to struggle find an identity for its people that unites and binds

Since we adopted our 1982 Constitution, the Turkish nation has been confronting the same opportunities and challenges which faced America from its own revolutionary beginnings---how to form one nation out of a plurality of peoples: Turkey’s response to these challenges will determine whether we reach our national potential, or whether we become like the Balkan peoples of central Europe. The answer is none too clear for some.

Mother tongues

For example, last February, Turkish “Peace and Democracy Party” (BDP) marked “International Mother Language Day.” This is a faux holiday, contrived for political purposes that seem to serve a divisive agenda. On February 21, BDP deputy Gülten Kışanak addressed a gathering of Turks, in the Turkish language, but then she also spoke in Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, Laz, Assyrian, Circassian, and Arabic. Apparently, Kışanak’s vision for Turkey calls for us to be, not “e pluribus unum,” but rather, a group of alien tribal groups, living side by side on the Turkish peninsula, and divided according to eight languages.

Turkey’s several wonderful languages are the treasure house of our great cultural heritage, which, in addition to several distinct Kurdish dialects, include Laz, Bosnian, Greek, Arabic, Caucassian and other tongues.

Ceylan Ozbudak

The benefits of multi-ethnicity are incalculable, because, when people are able to bridge the gaps, which diverse languages create, they are able to achieve great accomplishments. That is why those who are trying to mobilize public opinion in favor of the Kurdish language alongside Turkish as a second official language are actually speaking against the best interests of the Turkish people.

Of course, Turkey’s several wonderful languages are the treasure house of our great cultural heritage, which, in addition to several distinct Kurdish dialects, include Laz, Bosnian, Greek, Arabic, Caucassian and other tongues. It behooves all Turks to learn as many of these languages as possible, because they are our glory and our pride. That said, the “International Mother Language Day” celebration demonstrates how unwieldy it would be for Turkey to give equal place to local dialects alongside the Turkish language, which binds the nation together. Obviously, if we are to transact business across this vast peninsula; if we are to marry, travel and host each other; if Turkey is to be one nation, then she requires that we all communicate with fluency and ease. That is why it is essential that Turkish be the trans-Anatolian language, without rivalry or accommodation to any regional dialects.

Two-way traffic

Right now, Turkish firms in the west are preparing to make enormous investments in the east part of the country: Factories, hospitals, roads, airports, shopping malls, sports complexes, theaters, cinemas, schools and universities are all in the works. As the suspicions dissipate, and bombs gives place to construction, east Turkey will become another Riviera. The entire nation is coming together to accomplish this; Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Bosnians, Armenians and Jews; willingly, with fervor and love. But consider: If signs, conversations, health services, accommodations and restaurants are using Kurdish, then the other 70 million people in Turkey who do not understand Kurdish will be unable to move around or communicate with the locals without feeling like they are in a foreign country! All commercial activities will be discouraged, and social relations will also be suspended.

Trade and economic relations must be thought of as two-way traffic. Therefore, by the same token, the use of one language in Turkey will cause Eastern businessmen to start commercial activities all over Turkey, and will put them in the stream of all the entire country’s wealth. The wealth of the state must be equally available to all. Social, economic and all other relations can be best maintained on the basis of Turkish.

Ethnic communities in Turkey have intermingled to such an extent that the nation needs a common language.

The Turkish nation is the result of centuries of intermarriage between ethnic groups. Consequently, many different peoples have become fused together. In this situation, the most rational course of action is for all of us to communicate in one language.

To think of a different example, this would be no different to all the peoples who make up America wanting to use their own languages as official languages in those areas where they predominate. It would be like the official language in the south of America being Spanish, or if the North-West suburbs of Detroit became a Polish language enclave. European nations are already suffering from their inability to integrate descendants of immigrants from Pakistan or North Africa – Europe’s own lack of an overarching language contributes to its ongoing weakness in uniting its people. Turkey cannot repeat the mistakes of Britain or Germany.

There are many other incidental examples for why the interests of the Turkish people are best served by a single language. Health services are among the most important human needs, and Turkey is full of top class medical centers and hospitals all over the country. Of course these are available to Kurds as to everyone else, and doctors and nurses who speak Turkish freely provide their services to Kurdish speaking Turks.

However, if one is able to describe one’s symptoms to doctors and pharmacists in Turkish; if one is able to understand drug prospectuses in Turkish; if social services and aid services are all provided in Turkish, then there is an advantage of economy. To demand these services according to one’s local dialect is to put a burden on the delivery of these services by introducing new layers of bureaucracy through tranlsatords – again, a burden carried by the governments of Britain and Germany.

We can be ahead of Europe. The Turkish state is overcoming dozens of problems and is raising its quality levels by the day, and we are proceeding toward our aim of being a state envied by others. The state is providing the best of social services to its citizens in a range of fields. If all of our 75 million citizens are to enjoy these benefits equally they have to continue to speak one single official language. Turks will live together as one nation, regardless of ethnicity, and move forward together.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

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