Turkey opposition leader favorable to education in Kurdish

Kilicdaroglu said education in mother language was "inalienable" at an event Istanbul Kurds held ahead of re-do local elections there.

ISTANBUL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has stated the need for a legislative act to legalize education in the Kurdish language, putting out a favorable opinion regarding the contentious issue ahead of a re-do next month of local elections in the country’s economic powerhouse and largest city Istanbul.

Kilicdaroglu spoke with Kurdistan 24 at a weekend iftar event held by an Istanbul-based Kurdish civic organization led by intellectuals, businesspeople, and journalists.

“There needs to be legislation for the use, teaching, and learning of Kurdish. The address for such action is the parliament. If the ground is laid, I am sure all lawmakers will say ‘yes’ to this,” Kilicdaroglu said in answer to questions.

He said that education in the mother tongue was an inalienable right, but local administrations such as the Istanbul municipality did not have the authority to provide education in Kurdish.

“All they [municipalities] can do is open language classes,” he stated; reminding of the highly-centralized Ankara government’s monopoly on education throughout Turkey through the Ministry of National Education.

In attendance at the dinner along with Kilicdaroglu were CHP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu who won the later-canceled March 31 elections with a margin of 13,000 votes and the party’s head of Istanbul branch Canan Kaftancioglu.

“We have to enjoy equal rights as we live together. It is a necessity of democracy to enable equal rights. Individuals’ right to learn and get an education in their mother tongue, including Kurdish, is an inalienable right. Speaking from a human rights perspective, we all hope this gets done,” Kilicdaroglu explained.

Under weeks-long pressure by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s electoral board earlier this month ordered a re-do of Istanbul elections to be held on June 23.

Imamoglu won against Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) thanks to his party’s formal alliance with the opposition far-right nationalist IYI party and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) decision not to field a candidate.

In the general elections of June 2018, HDP got 12.7 percent of votes in the city with a large Kurdish population whose political choices may vary.

It remains to be seen if Kilicdaroglu’s remarks to Kurdistan 24 ahead of a landmark Istanbul election will turn into policy given CHP’s deep-running strain of Turkish nationalism rooted in its inception by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Under Kilicdaroglu, the party has rebranded itself as a “social democratic” force in a bid to expand its voter base which appears to have succeeded at least in Istanbul.

The teaching of the Kurdish language, its use in public, and education was legally outlawed and could be penalized for much of the 20th century Turkey until the country’s parliament lifted the ban in 1991.

Since then, little progress such as elective Kurdish language classes in a small number of public schools has taken place with broad and often arbitrary restrictions remaining in effect.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Kurdistan 24's Cesim Ilhan spoke to Kilicdaroglu)