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Turkey: Access to education in mother languages is a human right

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International Mother Language Day is held annually on 21 February and is an opportunity to promote the preservation and protection of all languages. A mother language, commonly referred to as a ‘mother tongue’ or ‘first language’ is the language one speaks from earliest childhood. It is an essential element of identity and culture, ensuring the transmission of knowledge from past generations.

In Turkey, there are currently several civic initiatives to promote multilingualism in the country. The government too is engaging with the issue with some programmes. For example, worth noting is Living Languages and Dialects, an elective language course that commenced in 2012. The programme allows children who belong to linguistic minority communities to study in their mother tongue for a few hours each week at schools, though each course can only be opened when a minimum of ten students are registered. Within the scope of this programme, the languages available are Abazian, Adyghe, Albanian, Bosnian, Georgian, Kurdish, Laz and Zaza.

This year marks a decade since the Living Languages and Dialects elective course came into effect. During this period, elective courses have been delivered, textbooks prepared, and thousands of students have accessed opportunities to study in their mother languages at public schools. The programme has undoubtedly been impactful and positive.

However, there have clearly been bumps on the road. Children whose mother language is Hemshin, Pomak, Romeika, Hertevin, Chechen or Ossetian still face difficulty in accessing education in their respective mother language. Some reports even indicate that parents are discouraged to enrol in the course due to stigma, particularly in the South Eastern region of Turkey. Furthermore, some classes still cannot even run due to the requirement of having at least 10 students in enrolled on each course.

According to a survey on ‘the Preference of Use and Education in the Mother Languages’ conducted in January 2022 by the Socio-Political Field Research Center, 87.7 per cent of respondents demanding education in the mother language starting from the pre-school. It is crucial for the government of Turkey to ensure that all children can access education in their mother language without fear of stigma. Moreover, the government should encourage research into language rights in order to strengthen cultural and linguistic diversity in Turkey.

Today and every day, Minority Rights Group (MRG) stands in solidarity with all civic initiatives aiming to promote education in mother languages in Turkey. The Kurdish Language Platform (Platforma Zimanê Kurdî) wrote an open letter to the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, urging for the Kurdish language be officially recognized. Additionally, the Language Rights Monitoring, Documentation and Reporting Network (DHIBRA) comprized of 99 organizations, institutions and platforms, is marking the International Day by calling for the removal of barriers announced in accessing education in mother languages for all minorities in Turkey.

This issue is not only present in Turkey. Around the world, every day, there are countless minority and indigenous communities facing barriers to the enjoyment of practicing their mother language, be it in education or wider society. On this International Day, MRG joins the world in celebrating linguistic diversity, culture and multilingualism.

Click here to read about MRG’s work in Turkey. This programme is funded by the European Union and in cooperation with Civil Society Dialogue.

Photo: Istanbul, Turkey. Credit: Erkan / Pixnio. Image in the public domain.

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Filed Under: Europe, Turkey, Language
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