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Pro-Kurdish party holds multilingual meeting in Turkish parliament

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The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) of Turkey held its weekly meeting in parliament on Tuesday in multiple languages in a bid to honor the use of mother tongues and celebrate International Mother Language Day, marked on February 21, the Artı Gerçek news website reported.

Party Co-hairperson Tuncer Bakırkan delivered his speech in Kurdish. Some DEM Party lawmakers and other participants also gave speeches in Arabic, Laz, a sister language of the Georgian spoken on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea, and Assyrian.

“The mother tongue is the honor of the people, it is our red line,” said Bakırkan in his speech.

He said there used to be 7,000 languages spoken around the world but that 90 percent of them have disappeared over time due to governments’ assimilation policies. He said there used to 20 languages spoken in Turkey a century ago but that 18 of them have fallen out of use as a result of government pressure on the people speaking those languages.

The Turkish Republic is a nation-state whose constitution holds that every citizen self-identifies as a Turk, and the country’s official language is Turkish.

Bakırhan said pressure on the Kurdish language has never ceased since the establishment of the Turkish Republic, accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of trying to create an alternative “Kurdology.”

He said although the AKP government established Kurdish language departments at universities, graduates of these departments are not appointed to state jobs. He said a state-run Kurdish TV station, launched by the AKP government in 2009 as part of its pledge to grant greater rights to Kurds, is only used to insult Kurds.

“The government wants to create a Kurdish population without their language,” he said.

Throughout most of the 20th century, successive governments have imposed outright bans on or suppression of the Kurdish language in Turkey. The existence of the Kurdish language has long been denied, and speakers of Kurdish have been associated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Since an attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP in July 2016, the government has shut down a number of Kurdish language institutes, dailies, websites and TV channels as part of a crackdown targeting the Kurdish political movement.

Bakırhan also said the pressure on the Kurdish language increased following the appointment of dozens of trustees to municipalities in predominantly Kurdish provinces and cities, replacing the democratically elected mayors from pro-Kurdish parties. He said the trustees banned the use of Kurdish names and Kurdish letters on signboards and closed down Kurdish magazines, radio stations and other media outlets in their cities as he described the trustees as “enemies” of the Kurdish language.

Along with Kurds, who constitute the country’s largest minority, other minorities in Turkey have also been denied full enjoyment of their language and culture.

George Aslan, a Syriac deputy from the DEM Party, faced hostile remarks from the far right for using his mother tongue to wish people a happy Christmas during a speech in parliament last December.

DEM Party politicians detained in İstanbul

Meanwhile, two local officials of the DEM Party in İstanbul’s Esenyurt district were detained in a police operation on Tuesday. The DEM Party Esenyurt branch co-chairpersons Bahar Karataş and Fatih Ergün were taken into custody following police raids on their houses on Tuesday morning, according to the Mezopotamya news agency.

The detentions took place after the DEM Party decided to support Ahmet Özer, the mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), in the local elections on March 31.

It was not clear why the politicians were taken into custody.

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