No room for Kurdish in Turkey’s multilingual city of İstanbul: report

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As a city that attracts millions of tourists from around the world, İstanbul is skilled at providing multilingual services for its visitors, but Kurdish is not one of those languages, the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Tuesday.

Turkey’s most populous city, İstanbul is not only a popular destination for tourists, including Kurds from other countries, but is also home to a huge Kurdish population, but no sign of the Kurdish language is visible across the city.

In the megacity with a population of 16 million, one can find brochures and menus in foreign languages, particularly English and Arabic, as well as first aid centers and hospitals with departments offering services in several foreign languages.

One can hear announcements in Turkish and English in subway cars, streetcars and metro buses. In some parts of the city such as Sultanahmet, menus, city guides and signboards have translations in Russian, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Italian, Greek and Portuguese, but no Kurdish.

No city guide in the Sorani dialect of Kurdish is available, although the city received some 946,000 tourists from Iraq, including 200,000 from the Kurdistan region in 2019.

The local Kurdish residents of the city, too, are unable to access services in their native language although some residential complexes offer services in Arabic and English.

İstanbul Kurdish Research Association Co-chair Eyüp Subaşı said İstanbul has been a multilingual city since its establishment, adding: “Dozens of languages are currently spoken in İstanbul. Kurdish is one of the main languages spoken. But municipal and other public authorities ignore it.”

Noting that Ekrem İmamoğlu, the city’s mayor from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), initially sent warm messages regarding Kurdish, Subaşı indicated that İmamoğlu had not taken any steps to promote Kurdish during the two years he has been in office.

“This is an opportunity for İmamoğlu and the CHP. If they miss this opportunity, they will suffer political consequences in the coming years,” Şubaşı said.

The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality is reluctant to answer questions about the inclusion of Kurdish as a language in the multilingual services offered to tourists or residents who speak languages other than Turkish, according to the report.

Likewise, the İstanbul Directorate of Culture and Tourism has failed to make any comment about the preparation of guides and brochures in Kurdish for tourists.

Prohibitions against the use of Kurdish in Turkey go back many years. Kurdish language, clothing, folklore and names had been banned since 1937. The words “Kurds,” “Kurdistan” and “Kurdish” were among those officially prohibited. After a military coup in 1980, speaking Kurdish was officially forbidden even in private life.

Many people who spoke, broadcast or sang in Kurdish were imprisoned. The ban officially continued until 1991. Kurds continue their struggle for Kurdish education in schools in the regions where they live. Between 2010 and 2014, when an attempt was made to solve Turkey’s Kurdish problem by means of an official “peace process,” lectures were given in Kurdish in some schools, and Kurdish signs were installed in the cities. These rights were taken back after the failure of the peace talks.

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