Talkin' Kurdish Blues - Turkey Hopes Language Classes Can Ease Ethnic Tensions

Prime Minister Erdogan has confirmed the introduction of Kurdish language elective classes, beginning in the fifth grade, hoping to placate the country's largest minority. But some Kurds are hardly satisfied.

Kurdish school girls (daweiding)
Kurdish school girls (daweiding)

ANKARA - Kurdish language courses will be introduced in Turkey's schools in an attempt to democratize the education system and ease tensions with the country's largest minority, which accounts for nearly 20% of the population.

"Kurdish will be taught as an elective lesson if there is a sufficient number of students' demanding it, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in his weekly address to his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Parliament on Monday.

The Minister of Education, Omer Dincer, is currently in talks with middle schools across the country regarding the logistics of the elective courses, with details expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

The Education Ministry expects high demand for the language courses in Eastern Turkey, where the majority of the Kurdish population resides.

The Kurdish courses will start from the fifth grade and will be available for 4 to 6 hours per week, alongside other language electives including English, German and French. High school students will also be able to opt for Kurdish lessons for 3 to 4 hours per week. Kurdish CDs and DVDs are being prepared as learning aids for electives, to assist with diction and vocabulary.

Erdogan has called the move a "historic step," as it will be the first time in Turkey's history that another ethnic language will be taught in public schools.

The ruling AKP party has taken several steps over recent years to meet Kurdish demands, including establishing a state Kurdish broadcaster and allowing the Kurdish language to be taught privately.

Still, the initiatives fall short of Kurdish demands, according to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP) party. The Kurdish population wants their language to be recognized as an official language of Turkey.

"There is nothing as despotic as teaching a mother tongue as an elective course," said Gultan Kısanak, co-chairperson of the BDP. "How can you conduct such cruelty toward Kurds? In addition, it will only be offered after fifth grade; meaning, ‘First be assimilated and then learn your mother tongue."

Kısanak compared the plan to Germany's practices toward Turks. "When Erdogan was in Germany he was saying, ‘Assimilation is a crime against humanity." Yes, he is right, but now he is committing the same crime."

The introduction of Kurdish elective courses is part of a new education reform known as the "4+4+4 system," which is paving the way for more students to have the option of choosing imam-hatip schools (religious vocational schools) and introducing religious studies as electives in public schools.

As a part of the new reform, electives will also be offered in other religions such as Christianity and Judaism, while authorities also consider classes on human rights and citizenship.

Read the original article in Turkish

Photo - Flickr/daweiding

*This is a digest item, not a direct translation

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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