A reply from Kurdish students to the authorities of the colonial state

Modernism is used in the context of oppressive policies and practices; therefore, Kurds’ relations with modern institutions have always been difficult. The memories of starting school are bittersweet for every Kurdish person because modern schools are one of those institutions. The pillars of grammar, history, literature, religion, and knowledge of civics surround children and pick […]

A reply from Kurdish students to the authorities of the colonial state
A reply from Kurdish students to the authorities of the colonial state
  • Yayınlanma22 June 2023 05:54

Modernism is used in the context of oppressive policies and practices; therefore, Kurds’ relations with modern institutions have always been difficult. The memories of starting school are bittersweet for every Kurdish person because modern schools are one of those institutions. The pillars of grammar, history, literature, religion, and knowledge of civics surround children and pick off their connection with their world.

In front of the school gates, the children present their existence to the authorities of the colonial state, and abandon the language of the fathers and mothers in the same place, next to their existence. The purpose of this kind of pedagogy is for children to put them in a new existence through language and school sciences. The basis of that pedagogy is to teach the “official” language, which at the same time represents modern life with all its signs. My father was also one of those children who learned the Turkish language for the first time in school. One day he told me a memory of starting school.

Sixty years ago, in the village of Diyarbakir, in a scrap school, all the students were gathered in the classroom. With their dirty clothing, the children look at the teacher. The teacher asks them their names and surnames one by one: “Adın soyadın nedir?” [*] [1] Teacher first points with his fingers to a student whose name is Hasan. Hasan stops for a few minutes. He knows what ‘ad’ is but doesn’t know what ‘soyad’ is. Hasan forces himself to find the meaning of ‘surname’. Then he thinks “I guess he is asking about sola diya min[**] ” and he answers: “The name is Hasan and sola diya min is rubbers.”

When my father told me this memory, my heart burned with them and my conscience did not accept the rules of school language. Throughout my education, the shadow of Hasen’s mother was always on me and greatly impressed my journey toward Kurdish.

Time marches on, and the worms turn. In 2012, an academic of the Turkish literature department at one of the universities in Istanbul shared a memory with the phd students and said:

One day, a very smart and sweet student of mine came and stood in front of me with a gift pack book in his hand. With excitement and a smile, he handed me the book and said ‘Teacher, I want to present this book to you’. I enjoyed it a lot. I eagerly took out the book in wrapped the gift. I took the book, but I could not read it. The language was strange. Two or three times, I carefully looked at it to find out what it was. The language of the book is not Turkish. Thanks to several names of people and places, I realized that it is in Kurdish. I said to him in surprise, ‘But this is in Kurdish’. He stopped, looked into my eyes, and mockingly said ‘You don’t know Kurdish. I never guessed. You mentioned the brotherhood of thousands of years, I said that you have learned the languages ​​of your brothers and sisters by now!

Then, the teacher continues,

All those mise en scenes were organized to convey his message to me. I have never been embarrassed so much in my life. That Kurdish student taught me a life lesson that I will never forget. I smiled and said ‘I received your message, thank you for this gift.

Because modern institutions are used as tools of colonialism by leaders of nation-states, modernization takes place in the form of assimilation. The authorities of the colonial state try to oblige colonized people in only two ways: either to assimilate in the name of modernity or to imagine their culture and language as something unchangeable outside of history.

However, some theoreticians and intellectuals of postcolonialism have identified this impossibility and noticing the trap of and other ways and solutions. They defined another model instead of abstract formulas, based on the experience of some European countries:

Colonized people build their modernisms through their experiences of fighting against oppression. In this phase, on the one hand, they expose the racism of modern state institutions, on the other hand, they create a new perspective of modernity and nationhood for themselves and humanity through anti-colonialism experiences.   

The student who gave a Kurdish book to the teacher of the Turkish literature department at the university, whose curriculum did not have any reference to Kurdish literature, is the member and the result of this struggle. Only with this struggle, any authorities can ask Hasan to give his existence to them and remove the question of his “first-last name”.

That Kurdish student tried to avenge Hasen and thousands of students like him gifting a Kurdish book to a Turkish university, in the literature department.  Because they had been forced to present their existence to the authorities of the colonial state.

Notes and Bibliography:

*In English: What is your name and last name?

**The pronunciation of ‘soyadı’ is very similar with ‘sol’ in Kurdish.

1)A similar story written by Murat Bayram: Via bianet

This news was translated by Yonca Sarsilmaz