Kurdish parents and schoolchildren boycott Turkish-language schools, 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
15 September
2010
to
24 September
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
Turkey
Location Description: 
Southeastern Turkey, which has a high percentage of ethnic Kurds and is commonly known as Kurdistan
Goals: 
For the Turkish government to provide instruction in Kurdish at public schools.
 

The Kurdish people are the most populous ethnicity without their own nation-state in the world. The governments of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria have repeatedly disenfranchised and murdered Kurds since the end of World War One, when the Kurds were promised, and later denied, self-rule. In Turkey, where Kurds constitute 20% of the population, the ethnic Turk-dominated government long denied the existence of a Kurdish minority and has pursued an assimilationist agenda designed to quash Kurdish culture. Among other policies, this agenda dictates that primary and secondary schools cannot instruct in the Kurdish language. This is a serious hindrance to the continuation of Kurdish identity and heritage, as Kurdish children sometimes grow up without being fluent in the historic language of their people.

After years of divisive armed resistance by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey has recently been exploring more nonviolent direct action tactics. One example of this occurred in September 2010, when children across the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region of Turkey boycotted the first week of school to protest the lack of Kurdish-language education.

On Wednesday, September 15, five days before the first day of the school year, the Kurdish Education and Language Movement (TZP-Kurdi) proposed the boycott in Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish-majority city in Turkey. TZP-Kurdi coined the slogan “We want education in our mother tongue” to promote the campaign, and placed banners on billboards around Diyarbakir to encourage Kurdish parents not to send their children to school the following Monday. Immediately, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Turkey’s largest pro-Kurdish political party, publicly endorsed the campaign, with party leader Selahattin Demirtaş vowing not to send his child to school.

National Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu issued a written statement the same day that the campaign was announced to threaten legal reprisal against parents who withheld their children. She said, “Education is a constitutional right and [violating this right] is a misuse of parental rights.” The next day, a court in Diyarbakir ordered that all posters and banners advocating for the boycott be removed. Based on the news record, it is unclear whether or not TZP-Kurdi complied with this demand.

The following Monday, September 20, thousands of Kurdish children in Diyarbakir and other southeastern provinces did not report to school. Other scattered absences occurred throughout the Kurdish diaspora in other parts of Turkey. The BDP supported the boycott at a rally in downtown Istanbul by reading the Kurdish alphabet and giving a press release in Kurdish. Also on Monday, the PKK announced its support of the boycott. The government responded to the continuing disturbances by arresting three people in the town of Siirt who it accused of distributing leaflets and threatening parents who did not comply with the campaign.

Many Kurdish children continued the boycott through the end of the week, as planned. The most significant reprisal from the government occurred on Thursday, September 23, when police in Tutak arrested five children and the local BDP chairman for distributing leaflets on the topic of the boycott. Local officials released three of the children, but held and cited two more due to their older age.

On Friday, the last scheduled day of the boycott, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “Nobody should expect us to agree to education in the mother tongue. The official language in Turkey is Turkish.” The next week, students across southeastern Turkey returned to school without having achieved the main goal of education in the Kurdish language. However, the BDP continues to utilize direct action tactics into its push for Kurdish rights and autonomy in the time since the boycott.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The school boycott followed shortly after, and was inspired by, the Kurdish boycott of a national Constitutional referendum in Turkey that occurred earlier in September 2010. (1)

It is highly likely that this campaign directly influenced more recent acts of civil disobedience by the BDP. (2)

Sources: 
"Turkish court orders removal of school boycott posters." Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review. 16 Sept 2010. <http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=local-court-orders-seizure-of-banners-calling-to-boycot-shcools-2010-09-16>.

Fraser, Suzan. "Roadside bomb kills 9 aboard minibus in Turkey." Associated Press. 16 Sept 2010.

"Turkey's pro-Kurdish party reiterates support for school boycott." Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review. 20 Sept 2010. <http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=bdp-demands-education-in-kurdish-via-boycott-2010-09-20>.

"Kurdish rebels extend Turkish cease-fire one week." Associated Press. 20 Sept 2010.

Starr, Stephen. "Turkey's 'yes' vote muddies Kurdish question." Asia Times Online. 23 Sept 2010. <http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LI23Ak03.html>.

Birch, Nicholas. "Turkey: Is a Kurdish School Boycott a Sign of the Future?" Eurasianet.org. 24 Sept 2010. <http://www.eurasianet.org/node/62013>.

"5 Kurdish children arrested for school boycott campaign in Turkey." EKurd.net. 24 Sept 2010. <http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2010/9/turkey2955.htm>.

Pelek, Semra. "No Education in Mother Tongue with PM Erdoğan." Bianet. 24 Sept 2010. <http://www.bianet.org/english/minorities/125051-no-education-in-mother-tongue-with-pm-erdogan>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
William Lawrence, 7/4/2011