Thursday, October 3, 2013

Report Exposes Kurdish Torment at Turkish Schools | Rudaw

A Kurdish boy listening to a Turkish class. Photo: AFP
Rudaw | By Uzay Bulut | ANKARA, Turkey – A report released by the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly about the role of schools in Ankara’s peace process with the country’s oppressed Kurdish minority exposes the racism and difficulties Kurdish children and teachers face in Turkish state schools.

The report, titled The role of teachers in societal peace building - how the Kurdish issue is reflected in schools, exposes the bullying, discrimination and violence that Kurdish students and teachers experience at schools in Turkey, often resulting in life-long traumas.

“Kurdish children feel more and more worthless in an environment where Turkish and Turkishness are sanctified,” a teacher is quoted as saying in the report.

“The problem of mother tongue especially in the first, second, and third grades are very serious. The children who speak Kurdish at home start having confidence issues when they go to school,” the report says.

“That the education system is monolingual is the problem. They get stuck in the middle and have difficulty in getting out of the linguistic area in which they express themselves and entering a new one. After they start speaking Turkish, they drift away from their mothers because their mothers do not know Turkish,” it adds.

Another striking problem exposed by the report is that dozens of Kurdish children fail at schools because of problems with their knowledge of Turkish. When children, exposed to Turkish for the first time in school, face problems with the language, they often have to undergo “mental disability tests.” Since these are administered in Turkish, they do not do well again, and end up in “special education centers,” where they are separated from their peers and forced to get education below their mental capacity.

Many Kurdish children in the province of Van have to start working at a very young age since their fathers are put behind bars as political prisoners, another teacher said in the report.

It said that Kurdish teachers are also subjected to coercion and discrimination at schools. They are expected to make more effort to prove their “Turkishness.”

Why should we have our mother tongue as an elective course? To me, the foreign language is Turkish.

For example, while the Turkish national anthem is sung at schools, special attention is paid to Kurdish teachers to see if they really are singing along.

Kurdish painter and art teacher Serpil Odabası had to leave her job at a public school in Istanbul due to the pressure she faced regarding the Turkish national anthem. “Some Turkish nationalist teachers made a complaint to the school administration that I did not sing the national anthem. The rumors were turned into a social and psychological lynching campaign against me,” said Odabası, who lives in Canada.

“When I first went to school, I did not know Turkish. I understood Turkish but could not speak it. (As a punishment) they cut my hair, and even shaved it. In 1976, my teacher hit my hand with a stick 280 times because I said I was Kurdish. I did not count it, my friends did. I was going to the sixth grade back then,” another Kurdish teacher said.

“I had a student who always humiliated Kurds in the classroom. His statements were full of hatred (towards Kurds),” according to another unnamed teacher in the report. Then I met his family and learnt that his father was Kurdish. I was shocked. I also learnt that he shouted at his own father while he spoke Kurdish with his grandmother on the phone. He said ‘Why are you speaking your language? Shut up. I don’t want to hear it.’”

“Is there any other nation who has been made its own worst enemy that much? Is there any other nation whose brain and heart have been played with that much? The children deny themselves (because) being a Kurd is a pain in the neck; it means failure, ignorance, exclusion, and being the other. All negative traits are about Kurdishness. The children do not understand history but they grow up hating their own people,” said the same teacher.

The report is filled with dramatic stories told by Kurdish parents about the discrimination that they and their children have been subjected to at schools.

“The students also understand (that we are different). They say, ‘Kurds have come to school.’ My son tells me not to go to his school with my white scarf. He says ‘Never let the teacher see you like that. Speak proper Turkish with the teacher,’” a Kurdish parent said.

Kurdish parents also state that they are not content with Kurdish being an elective among other lessons in schools:

“People are not pleased with Kurdish being an elective course. Why should we have our mother tongue as an elective course? To me, the foreign language is Turkish. Only Turkish can be an elective course for me,” another Kurdish parent said.

Report Exposes Kurdish Torment at Turkish SchoolsBy RUDAW 12 hours ago
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