Turkey protests Kurdish language classes at Japanese University

“This is an academic issue, there is no reason for the Turkish Foreign Ministry or anyone else to interfere.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Turkish Foreign Ministry is against the start of Kurdish language classes at a university in Japan, a faculty member at the University of Tokyo said on Monday.

Vakkak Çolak is currently teaching 40 Japanese students the Kurdish language at the University of Tokyo, a program which began on April 1.

He told Kurdistan 24 on Monday that Turkey’s interference is counterproductive, adding that the university is free and independent to make its own decisions.

“This is an academic issue, there is no reason for the Turkish Foreign Ministry or anyone else to interfere,” he stated. “There is academic freedom.”

The University of Tokyo.
The University of Tokyo.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited the Kurdistan Region on Sunday after a trip to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Çolak said the Turkish government has contradictory policies regarding the Kurds.  

“On the one hand, they are trying to make good relations with one part of [the Greater] Kurdistan and, on the other hand, they are against the teaching of Kurdish in a foreign country.”

He noted that Turkish is also taught at schools and universities in the Kurdistan Region, especially to the Turkmen minority.

“They should act in a fair way. They should not interfere in such kind of things.”

The University of Tokyo campus.
The University of Tokyo campus.

Çolak, a Kurdish community leader in Japan, who is also a member of the Japan-Kurdistan Friendship Association, previously published the first Kurdish-Japanese dictionary, and the first Kurdish-Japanese grammar book.

Regarding his course, the Kurdish teacher described it as “a historical moment.” Although nearly 2,000 Kurds live in Japan, his students will mostly be Japanese.

“Other nations should learn about the Kurdish issue and the Kurdish language from Kurds,” he told Kurdistan 24.

Çolak explained that just as Armenian history should not be taught by the Turkish people, nor the Turkish story by Greek people, Kurdish history should be taught by Kurds.

So far, the Turkish embassy in Japan has not released any public statement or confirmed the news.

Kurdish teacher Vakkak Çolak.
Kurdish teacher Vakkak Çolak.

Kurdish Affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu, who teaches Kurdish at universities in the United States such as the University of Arizona, and recently Stratford University, said Turkey’s reaction is “sad to see.”

“Turkey should be happy about Kurdish being taught at prestigious universities,” he told Kurdistan 24.

According to Civiroglu, there is now a “strong interest” among Ph.D. students, government officials, and others who want to learn Kurdish especially after the Kurds’ success against the so-called Islamic State, especially by Syrian Kurds.

“In Japan, the Japanese people want to learn the Kurdish language and culture,” he added. “It’s a linguistic course; it’s nothing political, and nothing threatening.”

Turkish remains the sole official language in Turkey as the Kurds – who number over 20 million – and other ethnic groups continue to demand education in their mother tongue.

In Turkey, successive governments have imposed outright bans or suppression to a high extent on the Kurdish language, spoken in the three forms of Kurmanji, Zazaki, and Sorani (present in central Anatolia) throughout most of the 20th century Turkey since the republic’s foundation in 1923.

Despite a gradual ease since the early 1990s, the lifting of a ban on Kurdish names in 2000, and further liberalization under the rule of a young Justice and Development Party (AKP) including the opening of a Kurdish-language government channel in 2009, the government has reverted to former practices.

Since the failed military coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP in 2016, authorities have shuttered scores of Kurdish language institutes, dailies, websites, TVs, including a cartoon channel for kids that was later allowed to re-air, and other media networks.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany