Ez mafê xwe dizanim! I know my rights!

Manual on human rights education and the right to mother tongue education
Based on the experiences of Kurdish youth workers and Kurdish language teachers in Turkey

This manual is the result of the Erasmus+-project “Ez mafê xwe dizanim”, which means “I Know my Rights” in Kurdish. The project aims to enhance the awareness of the universal right to education in your own mother tongue among Kurdish youth in Turkey, and to provide a methodological framework which can benefit youth workers, both in the Kurdish regions and in various European countries.

The project ran from October 2014 to September 2016 and was carried out by the Kurdish Institute in Brussels (Belgium), Jagiellonian University in Krakow (Poland), Pro Humanitate in Cologne (Germany) and Kurdî Der in Amed/Diyarbakır (Turkey).

The case of Diyarbakir (Amed)

Diyarbakir (Amed in Kurdish) is considered the capital of the Kurdish region of Turkey. The over one million inhabitants of the city and the province exemplify the Anatolian ethnic and linguistic mosaic. The largest group are Kurds, but there are also significant Assyrian, Armenian, Turkish and Arab communities who make up the historical and social fabric of the region. According to a recent survey only 15% of the people in the Diyarbakir province consider Turkish their mother tongue.

This multi-ethnic and multilingual reality is not reflected in Turkish state policy. Turkish is the only official language and the only language allowed in public education. This strict monolingual policy reinforces the already severe socio-economic subordination of Kurdish people in the province.

Due to decades of violent conflict, deliberate economic neglect, scorched earth policies and structural discrimination, employment and economic development in the region are among the lowest in the wider European region. Many Kurdish families fled from the surrounding villages to the larger urban centers, creating a self-fulfilling concentration of multidimensional exclusion and generational poverty.

Importance of mother tongue education

Research shows almost unanimously that children who don’t receive primary education in their mother tongue are burdened with an unsurpassable disadvantage in their educational career, making social promotion impossible. This has consequences that widely transcend the educational sphere and affect Kurds, and other language minority youth, in all aspects of their life.
The UN recognizes the need for a consideration of pluralism in education in different conventions. Due to the failure of the Turkish state to comply with these, and other, articles of the convention, local Kurdish NGO’s, like Kurdi Der, started providing Kurdish language classes as well as after-school homework classes in Kurdish. These NGO’s don’t limit themselves to the educational sphere but support Kurdish youth in all aspects of their lives through different kinds of social and youth activities.

Fertile ties between European and Kurdish youth workers

The particular cultural and social context of the Kurdish community was the starting point of this project. We think however that the Kurdish experience can transcend its own local context and contains lessons on exclusion and how to fight it for a wider European public.

One of the objectives of this Erasmus+-project is raising awareness about the need and importance of mother tongue education, which is a theme with great relevance not only for Kurdish communities but also for multicultural Western European societies This manual is based on the experience of Kurdish Youth and Kurdish Youth NGO’s in Diyarbakir (Amed, Turkey) within the framework of Human Rights Education. We strongly believe however that the lessons learned from their experiences and the methodological framework which was developed, could be used in different kinds of similar contexts in various European countries (e.g. Roma, language minorities or migration youth).

This project is innovative since it takes as its starting point a very severe situation of exclusion, which is scarcely known in European countries. The Kurdish question is generally not considered a European problem, but keeping in mind the close relations between Turkey and the EU, and the presence of large Kurdish communities in Europe that keep close relations with the Kurdish communities in Turkey, we feel the European Union has a strong responsibility concerning the Kurdish question.

On the other hand Kurdish youth workers can benefit from the rich variety of materials and methodologies, both practical and theoretical, which are developed on the issue of youth work and human rights in the European Union. These kinds of materials and methodologies are almost completely absent in Kurdish, so this project will fill a real need in this respect. Kurdî Der is already very active in the youth field, but lacks professional support. This project will also serve as a boost for the work Kurdî Der is already doing.

Furthermore we hope that the important work in creating these fertile ties between Kurdish and European youth workers doesn’t end with this manual, but can be continued in the future.

Serious deterioration of situation in Kurdish region of Turkey

The situation in the Kurdish region has changed dramatically since the start of this project in 2014. Back then Kurdi Der was already operating in difficult circumstances, facing police repression and general hostilities from Turkish authorities. In the months leading up to the electoral breakthrough of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in June 2015, mob violence and even bomb attacks against Kurdish political parties, organizations and activists flared. The Turkish government ended the peace process with the Kurdish PKK-guerrilla and by the summer of 2015 the Kurdish region had turned into a general war zone.

In response to the government’s decision to end the peace process, several Kurdish cities declared self-rule. The Turkish government reacted by declaring round-the clock curfews on the rebel cities and sending in the army with tanks. During the military operations hundreds of civilians were killed and entire cities were demolished, more than 350.000 Kurds are now homeless. Many pro-Kurdish politicians, journalists, teachers, lawyers, activists and academics were arrested and Kurdish mayors were replaced by special administers appointed by the Turkish government.

In Diyarbakir nearly half of the old Sur-district, a UNESCO-heritage site, was demolished, first by Turkish forces and afterwards by bulldozers, rendering several thousands of the 24.000 inhabitants homeless.

Obviously, these developments didn’t make the work of Kurdi Der any easier. To make things worse their school got closed down by the Turkish authorities and in May the co-chair of Kurdi Der, mister Ozan Kilic, got arrested. He is currently still in jail, awaiting his trial.

After the failed coup attempt of July this year the general repression in Turkey got even worse, with several tens of thousands of people arrested and more than 80.000 people fired, among them all of the university chairs and several tens of thousands of teachers and academics.

When we started this project in 2014 we chose to put a strong emphasis on societal change, activism and empowerment. The aim of the methodology had to be to bring about change, to better the social position of the youths involved. We felt that sometimes in European youth work this urgency is missing. The main societal issue that we advocate is the universal right to mother tongue education.
Obviously, with the recent dramatic deterioration of the situation in Turkey, raising awareness in Europe about this topic on the one hand, and providing much needed support to Kurdish youth workers in Turkey on the other, has only become more pressing and important today. Kurdish youth work needs European support now more than ever and we generally hope this manual will inspire European youth workers to get involved in promoting educational human rights, both for Kurdish and for other young people.

Koerdisch Instituut vzw, December 2016

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