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DEM Party asks UNESCO to investigate violations of linguistic rights in Turkey

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Co-chairpersons of the pro-Kurdish Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) have in letter called on the UN’s cultural agency, UNESCO, to send a delegation to Turkey to investigate violations of the linguistic rights of religious and ethnic groups other than Turks, the party has announced.

DEM Party Co-chairpersons Tülay Hatimoğulları and Tuncer Bakırhan sent the letter to UNESCO in seven languages — Kurdish (Kurmancî), Kurdish (Kirmanckî), Arabic, Armenian, Syriac, English and Turkish — on the occasion of International Mother Language Day, marked on February 21.

In their letter the DEM Party leaders complained about the deprivation of the right to education in the mother tongue for speakers of various languages in Turkey, accusing the Turkish government pursuing a policy of assimilation of the speakers of 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.

Describing the right to education in the mother tongue as one of the most fundamental human rights that has been recognized by the United Nations and should be observed by all UN members, the co-chairs said this right has been denied to the Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Circassian and Laz people in Turkey.

“In this country, all languages other than Turkish are systematically banned and their speakers assimilated into the Turkish system. Due to assimilation policies, many languages in Turkey are in danger of extinction,” they said in the letter.

Referring to UNESCO’s Atlas of Endangered World Languages, they said 18 languages have either disappeared or are in danger of extinction in Turkey, the Kirmancki dialect of Kurdish being one of them.

“Assimilation of languages and cultural destruction policies are considered crimes against humanity. However, Turkey does not comply with international resolutions protecting languages, and continues to violate these rights,” they said.

They said the status of Kurdish (Kurmancî-Kirmanckî), Arabic, Armenian, Syriac, Circassian, Laz, Romani, Bosnian and all other languages must be recognized in Turkey as they called on the country to comply with international decisions on fundamental rights and fulfill the requirements of international agreements.

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.

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.

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