Conferences : World Congress of KURDISH STUDIES : Abdullah KESKIN


Section PRESSE
World Congress of

Irbil, 6-9 September 2006

Organized by the Kurdish Institute of Paris in partnership with
Salahadin University (Irbil) and with the support of the
Kurdistan Regional Government and of the
French Ministry for Foreign Affairs

The emergence of Kurdish studies in North and Turkey

By Abdullah KESKIN (*)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I see the presence of many Kurdologists and Kurdish scholars here today, who, by their scientific approaches, will throw a new light on the Kurdish scholarship and the dilemmas of Kurdology. In my presentation, I shall try to deliver a tangible picture of my experiences in northern Kurdistan and Turkey during last 15-20 years. First some historical facts about the subject:

There are three different periods of the modern time. First stage concerns the period from the end of 19th century to the foundation of the Republic. Shortly expressed from the publication of the first Kurdish newspaper "Kurdistan" until the Koçgiri uprising, i.e. the period between 1898 till 1922. In this period the cultural center was Istanbul, since almost the entire Kurdish intelligentsia was gathered there. In the first instance the group tried to maintain and preserve the Ottoman identity, but this idea was eroded by the Turkish nationalism. The Kurdish cultural elite brought forth many of their initial literary works and associational movements here in Istanbul; the unofficial capital of the Kurdish culture at the time. They published periodicals and newspapers, founded associations, parties, civil society networks and even banks. The initial phase of "Kurdayetî", i.e. Kurdish nationalism, emerged during this period, which was interrupted later by the establishment of the Turkish Republic. From the Shah Said rebellion to the trial of the 49s in 1959 not a single Kurdish word has been written and published in Turkey. The new republic had been founded on the basis of one ethnicity enshrined in the Turkish nation-state. As the contemporary Turkish minister of Interior affairs expressed it: Turk olmayan unsurun tek bir hakkı vardır, o da Türke köle olma hakkı, which means "the non-Turkish elements have only one right, and that is to be the slave of the Turks". Kurdish was prohibited even as the spoken language in the country.

In a time when the Kurdish periodical "Têgeyîştinî Rasti" was published here (in South), everywhere on the streets of northern part the instruction tablets were announcing: Vatandaş Türkçe konuş! (Citizens, speak Turkish), and for every Kurdish word the [Kurdish] citizens had to pay a fine.

Second period: The year is 1959. Some headlines from newspapers: "Molla Mustafa Barzani returned from Soviet together with his peshmergas." "The Kurds and the Iraqi government began negotiations about Kurdish national rights." "Turkey deployed its troops alongside the northern Iraqi borders." "49 Kurdish intellectuals were arrested in Ankara and Istanbul."

One may ask if these events have any connections. I believe they have. I even believe that all events are the chain results of each other. At the same time the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet published a news with the headline: Diyarbakır 'da bir gazete hinge bir iir yayımladı (a newspaper in Diyarbakir published a Kurdish poem). The news was published with such astonishment that it could be compared with mankind's walk on the moon. Musa Anter, one of those 49 arrested intellectuals, compiled a Kurdish dictionary in the prison. Some years later Mehmet Emin Bozarslan published a Kurdish ABC-book, which was confiscated already in the print! He was sentenced to prison.

After the coups d'etat of 1972 all Kurdish intellectuals were arrested. This time they were not in Istanbul, but in Diyarbekir prison. During the processes the major aspiration of the Kurdish intellectuals was to prove that Kurds constituted a nation with a distinct language and culture; this was clearly tangible in the DDKO's (Revolutionary Cultural Associations of East) defenses at the courts, which at the same time can be considered as important documents about the Kurdish studies.

After 1975 some important works on Kurdology were translated from foreign languages; these translations, about 20-30 books, were published by Komal and Riya Azadi publishing houses.

The coups d'etat of 1980 put an end to this period and the darkness of the former 30 years was in charge again. Everything concerning, or even mentioning Kurds was banned. Once again the very speaking of Kurdish was forbidden by the article 2932 in the constitution. I belong to the generation of this period. Many Kurds of my generation have a bitter experience persecution from this period, solely because they had spoken Kurdish or listened to the Kurdish music.

My first experience of reading a Kurdish book was during my student years in Ankara in 1988, when I, by using the membership card of a Kurdish MP, entered the library of the Turkish parliament and saw some Kurdish books and some books in Turkish about the Kurds. I got some books, which made my day at that time unforgettable. I ran the whole way back home to read those books.

In the end of 80s and beginning of 90s the Kurdish intellectuals engaged another attempt to revive the Kurdish language and literature. Kurdish books and CDs, or books concerning Kurds in Turkish, were brought forth in small but increasing quantities. In 1991 the government eventually was forced to remove the law number 2932 that prohibited speaking Kurdish. The removal of this law did not automatically concern the written works. But the Kurds considered the law as an aperture and increased their publications. And this is the third period that began in 1991 and continues to our days.

In the beginning, the Kurdish publications attracted much attention. Within couple of years tens of Kurdish periodicals, hundreds of Kurdish books and CDs were published. Publishing houses that never had paid attention to the Kurds began to publish works on Kurds. Once again the government tried to prevent this evolution. This attempt was particularly expressed through instituting the so called SS (Censure and deportation) provisions, which aimed to restrain Kurdish publishing houses from publishing works on Turkish about Kurds. The policy against the publications in Kurdish took a bizarre shape; officially there was no Kurdish language. The Kurdish books, periodicals and newspapers were not prohibited. Until now a very few number of publications in Kurdish has been banned. The policy against the publications in Kurdish goes as such: if Kurdish is not distributed and read, then it is harmless and can be free. Only if they constitute some threats then they will be prohibited. In the juridical documentations the Kurdish language was mentioned as the incomprehensible language. The juridical self-contradiction became an obstacle to prevent Kurdish publications by means of law. Now when it was difficult to prevent Kurdish publications legally, then the pressure became more severe. Crimes conducted by the so called unknown perpetuators increased. Hundreds of journalists were sentenced to prison or fined astronomic sums of money. Many had to go into exile; tens of people were murdered, bookshops and other cultural centers were bombed by unknown perpetuators. Ordinary channels, through which Kurdish publications were distributed, were obstructed; thus, they were isolated from the readers. The Kurdish publications were neither supported nor hindered by the judiciary system during the period from 1991 till 2002, but it existed in practice.

Right now we can do our job; the bans are less than before, but the authorities have taken all necessary measures to prevent any comprehensive work. Today, cultural work and intellectual productions are more complicated than before. Historical reasons cannot alone explain the difficulties concerning the cultural and intellectual works in Kurdish, but they definitely should be one of the main reasons. The situation today has both positive and negative aspects. These aspects may neutralize each other, but our reality is such.

The positive aspect can be explained as such that the Kurdish publication has never been so much extensive as today; the number of published books during one year now is much more than 70 or 80 years ago. There are about ten till fifteen publishing houses. Even though the number is low, there are some periodicals, weeklies and even recently a daily newspaper in Kurdish. The situation of a forbidden language can scarcely be better than this. If the major Turkish publications such as newspapers, periodicals and even publishing houses had met obstacles of this magnitude they would close down within couple of weeks; economically they would go bankrupt. The Kurdish language is neither the language of the market and media nor the language of education system. The Kurdish is a home-language; the language of intimacy and love, the language of solitude and yearning, the language of frustration and wrath.

But one can ask why the number of publications has increased. The language was banned during a period of 80 years. Since 2004 every year a quantity of 30-40 Kurdish books, alongside approximately 200 Turkish books concerning Kurds, has been published. Can we consider this as a progress? Note that in many countries the number of published books only during one day is as much as those published in Kurdish or even related to the Kurds. And also note that many of these books have a conspicuously low quality. Many publishing houses can scarcely reach the international standards; and the serious ones can barely break even. There is not a single periodical or newspaper worth archiving. They are accepted solely because they are in Kurdish. True, they have resisted suppression, but what is the price of their persistent existence. This point can be extensively discussed.

Western travelers and missionaries, who traveled to Kurdistan 200-300 years ago, were astonished how this society had survived till their age. Whatever obstacles and hardships the Kurds managed to enter the 21st century. This is the historical victory of the Kurds. We are living at the age of Internet; for example two professionals can do the job of a ministry of culture. We do not experience more difficult circumstance than those Celadet Bedirkhan met.

I'll briefly give some information about our work. The Avesta Publishing House has existed in ten years. It has published 210 book titles. Its center is situated in Istanbul, but 1999 we opened a branch office in Diyarbekir. If the conditions allow we will open an office here in Hewler too. %60 of our books is in Turkish and the rest in Kurdish. We have translations from more than ten languages. We have around 20 serials. We have categorized works on Kurdology in some serials. The largest serial – about hundred works, both translated and compiled - is in fact works concerning Kurdish studies. They are both in Kurdish and Turkish, but mainly in Turkish. Of course, we try to increase the number of Kurdish books.

Fifteen books published by us have been banned; about the fines and prison sentence I have lost count. Concerning southern Kurdistan we have translations from travelers, missionaries, researchers about Kirkuk, stories and novels written by southern Kurds and documentary works on Anfal campaign. Now we dare to consider the southern works as an own literary category.

When it comes to Kurdology works we should pay attention to some important points and categorize the works accordingly as following:

  1. What has been written until now about Kurds? We gather all major works by travelers and translate all important works. A considerable part of this serial considers travel books, such as Wigram's The craddle of humanity, Layard, Hamilton, Rich and etc.

  2. Collecting the works of missionaries and military officers, who have been active here, such as Edmonds, Hay, Soane and etc.

  3. As complement to these works we also publish historical works such as Sherefname, The History of Kurds and Kurdistan by Mihemed Emin Zeki Beg, The History of Kurdistan from
    Russian, The Kurdish National Movement by Chris Kutchera, The Principals of Social Organization in Kurdistan by Fredrik Barth and etc.

  4. We have started a new serial under the title "Kürt Araştırmalar", i.e. Kurdish Studies. The serial considers publishing academic works, particularly compiled or written by Kurdish scholars such as Abbas Vali, Amir Hassanpur, Bozarslan and etc.

  5. The serial "Kurt dünyası" (The Kurdish World) has newly been started. The first book is about the Jordanian Kurds.

In translating and publishing these works we keep rigorously some principals; first the works must be translated from the original language, secondly the translation must be true to the original, without any censure. This is of course a normal approach, but since in Turkey people scarcely keep these principals, that is why I am mentioning it. For example if a book 100 or 150 years ago has mentioned some negative points about the Turks, it has not been translated and published; if done it has been censured. And if the publishing house publishes without censure the authorities ban it. In those books that we have published there are some critical points about Kurds; about some of them we may even disagree with the author. I would proudly state that beside some very limited reactions the Kurdish approach towards those negative points has been very tolerant and democratic. The scholars in Turkey pay a lot of attention to these books. During recent years some major scientific works have been conducted by scholar in Turkey about the Kurds. We have made new translations of some books. When looking at the bibliography of those scientific works we see the title of many of our books, which quoted by the authors. They have also some influence on the discussions that have been prevalent in media. At the same time even specific Turkish institutions, which work with strategy and ideas benefit from these books. Circles that have influence on the state policy-making pay more attention to these translated works about Kurds than the Kurdish intellectuals. Our serials with Kurdology books will continue with more works. Very soon, in cooperation with Kurdish Institute in Paris we will publish a periodical about Kurdish Studies.

I would like to mention some words about South too. Turkey has a very sensitive and mostly reactive approach towards the Kurds. Already now Turkey tries to prevent that the evolution and progress in South permeate through North. As the old proverb says: while raining here, we become wet there. The influence of South on North has until now only been moral. The number of people in North that morally are influenced by South is constantly increasing. The South Kurdistani cultural institutions are not so promising in the foreseeable future. The KRG still does not have any office or institution for the Kurds outside South. The cultural institutions are malfunctioning here in South. Other parts of Kurdistan are outside the "circle of interest".

Supporting a culture and language that has been subjected to oppression and banned in decades is not only a political or national obligation, but also an ethical commitment.

Thank you!

(*) The editor of Avesta Publishing House, Istanbul