Turkey opposition candidate for Istanbul pledges to provide Kurdish courses

Although nicknamed "Kurdistanbul" by some, the city of Istanbul is home to the world's largest Kurdish population but does not provide Kurdish language education.

ISTANBUL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey’s opposition candidate for the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, on Thursday said that if elected, his municipal administration would provide Kurdish language courses.

“The Kurdish language and songs are a part of Turkey’s societal unity,” Imamoglu of the main opposition Peoples' Republican Party (CHP) told Kurdistan 24 at an electoral event less than two weeks before the re-run elections in Istanbul. “Kurdish language courses and even more should be provided, depending on demand.”

“Whatever I think for my Kurdish citizen’s child, I think the same for my Turkish citizen’s child,” he added.

“I am this clear. I know my Kurdish citizenry will decide [in the election] with its mind, heart, moral virtues, and sense of justice.”

In the highly centralized Turkey, education, including school curricula, all over the county is organized and regulated by the Ankara government. Municipalities retain less power but still can offer training for jobs, cultural events, and language teaching programs.

Kurdish women dance during a Newroz celebration in Istanbul, Turkey, March 21, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)
Kurdish women dance during a Newroz celebration in Istanbul, Turkey, March 21, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

Istanbul, with its 16 million residents, is also home to the world’s largest Kurdish population thought to be around four million, more than any other city in the world, including those in Kurdistan.

It is sometimes unofficially nicknamed “Kurdistanbul” by the Kurds, and Kurdish dialects constitute the second most widely used language after Turkish.

Although Kurdish history in the city dates back to its 15th-century Ottoman capture from the Eastern Roman Empire, successive mass migrations have multiplied the number of Kurds there, largely thanks to Istanbul’s attraction as Turkey’s central economic powerhouse.

The past three decades saw an increased influx of Kurds from parts of the Kurdistan of Turkey into Istanbul because of the Turkish army-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) conflict over self-rule and cultural rights.

However, Istanbul’s local administration that provides foreign language courses, from Russian, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Persian, French to Spanish, German, and English has never opened an education center for teaching Kurdish or native minority languages such as Greek, Armenian, Georgian, or Laz.

Imamoglu, who until recently was a little-known politician as the mayor of the city’s Beylikduzu district, rose to prominence after he defeated Binali Yildirim, the candidate of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the March 31 local elections.

His victory, partly attributed to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) strategic decision not to field a candidate, was a shock to the AKP, which along with its predecessors, has dominated Istanbul since 1994 when current President Erdogan was elected as the mayor in 1994.

Last month, after weeks-long objections and pressure by Erdogan, the country’s supreme electoral board ordered a re-do of elections on June 23.

Although a significant portion of Kurds still vote for AKP and other Turkish parties, HDP’s Istanbul voters that amount to some 13 percent or over a million are well consolidated as the party reiterated its backing for Imamoglu.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Cesim Ilhan and Ercan Dag of Kurdistan 24’s Istanbul bureau contributed to this report)