ANKARA - Kurdish language courses will be introduced in Turkey's schools in an attempt to democratize the education system and ease tensions with the country's largest minority, which accounts for nearly 20% of the population.

“Kurdish will be taught as an elective lesson if there is a sufficient number of students" demanding it, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in his weekly address to his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Parliament on Monday.  

The Minister of Education, Omer Dincer, is currently in talks with middle schools across the country regarding the logistics of the elective courses, with details expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

The Education Ministry expects high demand for the language courses in Eastern Turkey, where the majority of the Kurdish population resides.

The Kurdish courses will start from the fifth grade and will be available for 4 to 6 hours per week, alongside other language electives including English, German and French. High school students will also be able to opt for Kurdish lessons for 3 to 4 hours per week. Kurdish CDs and DVDs are being prepared as learning aids for electives, to assist with diction and vocabulary.

Erdogan has called the move a “historic step,” as it will be the first time in Turkey’s history that another ethnic language will be taught in public schools.

The ruling AKP party has taken several steps over recent years to meet Kurdish demands, including establishing a state Kurdish broadcaster and allowing the Kurdish language to be taught privately.

Still, the initiatives fall short of Kurdish demands, according to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP) party. The Kurdish population wants their language to be recognized as an official language of Turkey. 

“There is nothing as despotic as teaching a mother tongue as an elective course,” said Gultan Kısanak, co-chairperson of the BDP. "How can you conduct such cruelty toward Kurds? In addition, it will [only] be offered after fifth grade; meaning, ‘First be assimilated and then learn your mother tongue."

Kısanak compared the plan to Germany’s practices toward Turks. “When Erdogan was in Germany he was saying, ‘Assimilation is a crime against humanity.’ Yes, he is right, but now he is committing the same crime.”

The introduction of Kurdish elective courses is part of a new education reform known as the “4+4+4 system,” which is paving the way for more students to have the option of choosing imam-hatip schools (religious vocational schools) and introducing religious studies as electives in public schools.

As a part of the new reform, electives will also be offered in other religions such as Christianity and Judaism, while authorities also consider classes on human rights and citizenship. 

Read the original article in Turkish

Photo - Flickr/daweiding

*This is a digest item, not a direct translation