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Kurdish Linguistic Policies

Kaitlin Horst Rachel Nye


first descendents of the Kurds, among them the Guti, Mannai, Hurrian and the Medes, were ruled by the Persians Until from 66 to 384 CE, the large areas of Kurdish territory were under Roman control In the 7th century, the area inhabited by the Kurdish people was taken over by the Arabs Term ‘Kurdistan’ first coined in the 12th century Kurds bitterly oppressed in WWI by the Turks After WWI and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were promised a nation-state by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres; the treaty was rejected for Treaty of Lausanne

Kurdish Nation-State Proposed by the Treaty of Sevres

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‘Kurdistan’ becomes the territory of several modern nation-states, such as Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Revolts by Kurds in Turkey in 1925 and 1930 were put down forcibly; Kurds were slaughtered by the Turkish government in 1937-38 Iranian Kurds rebelled in the 1920’s Leads to a brief Soviet-backed Kurdish republic at the end of WWII

Language Information

An Indo-European language, in the Irano-Aryan group Many words that are cognates in Kurdish and other Indo-European languages such as Avestan, Persian, Sanskrit, German, English, Latin and Greek


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Northern Kurdish – known as Kurmanji and Badinani Central Kurdish known as Sorani Southern Kurdish

Writing System

Three different writing systems
– Arabic alphabet in Iran and Iraq – Latin alphabet in Turkey and Syria – Cyrillic alphabet in former USSR

Kurdish literary tradition
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Difficult to date the origin Most famous poet – Melaye Jeziri Greatest period of Kurdish literature end of WWII Works are published in Iran, but literary life suffers heavily in Iraq.

Kurds in Syria
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Largest ethnic minority; 10% of population or 2 million people Most are Sunni Muslim Allowed to speak Kurdish in public, though there are bans on its use No political parties allowed Cannot register children with Kurdish names Kurdish place names replaced with Arabic names Businesses must have Arabic names No Kurdish private schools allowed Kurdish flag is banned Books and other materials written in Kurdish prohibited

Oppression of Syrian Kurds
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Nov. 1962, Syrian government declared 100,000 Kurds were not citizens; number has grown to more than 200,000 Lost rights to practice medicine or engineering, work at government or state-owned agencies Not permitted to own land, housing or businesses Cannot legally marry a Syrian citizen Do not have the right to vote in elections or run for public office Stripped of passports and other international travel documents, therefore may not legally leave or return to Syria

Kurds in Turkey

Approximately 10 million Kurds, making up 20% of population Turks suppressed by Kemal Ataturk after WWII Estimated 350,000 – 1 million IDP’s from the 1984-99 Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and Turkish military wars

Oppression of Turkish Kurds
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Kurdish language banned until 1991 To ease entry in EU; Kurdish was allowed to be taught privately and broadcast on television and radio in 2003 as part of a language reform movement Centers have since closed down due to lack of interest and financial difficulties Kurdish banned in state institutions, official affairs and commerce Kurdish not taught in schools

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15% - 20% of Iraq Kurdish is the official language in Kurdish regions Al-Anfal Campaign 1986 – 1989, then uprising by Kurds in 1992 Cooperated with the US and backing the new government

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7% Kurd, 7.6 million speakers Kurdistan is a province in Iran Have the right to teach the language in schools and have publications, but these rights are not often respected. Censored, but still thrives Kurdish language chairs established in universities in 1997


The Kurds have historically been oppressed by every great power in the region, but have managed to keep their language alive and maintain a thriving literary tradition Recent events in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey have lessened the oppression.

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Bodnarchuk, Kari J. Kurdistan, Region Under Siege. Minneapolis: Learner Publications Company, 2000. Izady, Mehrdad. The Kurds: A Concise Handbook. Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis: 1992. CIA World Fact Book
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