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Where is my mother tongue?

May 15 was celebrated as Kurdish Language Day all over the world, except in Turkey.

Almost 20 million Kurdish people live in Turkey – the highest Kurdish population in the world – but education in Kurdish is still forbidden.

This has serious effects on the educational landscape. When the mother tongue is different from the official language in schools, educational achievement is often low.

The number of children dropping out of school is high in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority regions. Kurdish children struggle because of poor communication, and because of stigma, marginalisation, passive attitudes, and problems with self-confidence. As a result, they are rarely able to develop their full potential.

Like many other Kurdish people, language is one of the issues that I am most sensitive about because I know how it feels to not know your mother tongue. For Kurdish children of my generation, it was traumatic to grow up in an environment in which Turkish and Turkishness were glorified and Kurdish and Kurdishness were punished.

Millions of Kurdish people like me have been educated in Turkish schools and do not know their mother tongue. I remember the daily morning ritual in our schools reciting the pledge dedicating our existence to the Turkish nation. The pledge finished by saying “how happy to call oneself a Turk”. This pledge created deep traumas in us, most of us wanted to be “Turkish, upstanding, hardworking and happy”.

Not knowing your mother tongue affects your relations with your relatives – even with your parents. On the one hand, you have a large family – on the other hand, you can’t communicate because of the language barrier. There is a loss of connection: no past, no family history, you don’t understand each other.

As a mother and child your songs are different now; the things you laugh at are different, the jokes are different, your dreams are different. My dreams are in Turkish and my mother’s dreams are in Kurdish.

Language is a world, and when you lose it, you lose a world. When you are torn from your mother tongue, you are also torn from the world encompassed by your mother tongue.

Thirty years passed and Kurdish children are still in the same situation.

Thirty years passed and I am still looking for my mother tongue.

Where is my mother tongue?

Yazar Hakkında

Nurcan Baysal