Asiwa and Dicle Anter
Asiwa and her father Dicle Anter.

Asîwa, a three-year-old child living in the Kurdish province of Batman in Turkey, will never meet her grandfather, who was killed years ago. But she already knows what it means to be discriminated against due to ethnic identity. For Asîwa has not been given her identity card by the birth registration office, because her name contains the letter "W". 

Her grandfather, Musa Anter, was a Kurdish intellectual who was one of the founders of the HEP (People's Labour Party), director of the Kurdish Institute in Istanbul, a journalist and leader-writer for the weekly newspaper Yeni Ülke and the daily newspaper Özgür Gündem. He was shot dead in 1992.

Twenty-one years after Musa Anter was killed, the Anter family is still subjected to the discriminatory policies of the Turkish institutions: Asîwa has not been given an identity card since the day she was born as her name, which means "horizon" in Kurdish, has the word "W", a letter which only exists in the Kurdish alphabet. Using Kurdish names in Turkish official documents is still outlawed in 21st century Turkey.

Dicle Anter, Asîwa's father, stayed in Sweden for several years and is a dual citizen of Turkey and Sweden. While Sweden has recognised Asîwa's name and given her an identity card without any problems, Turkey, where the ancestors of Anter's family have lived for centuries, has not accepted their application to get an ID card for their child.

"If our language does not exist, we will not exist either. We have struggled for this language for years and we have paid the price. No matter how many obstacles they expose us to, we will speak our mother tongue. We demand that they find an urgent solution for the Kurdish language immediately. Practical steps should be taken so that our children will not be deprived of their names," Dicle Anter said.

Prohibitions against the use of Kurdish date back to the establishment of the Turkish republic, whose fundamental ideology is based on the denial and annihilation of Kurds.  

The use of Kurdish in teaching and its public use - along with other languages - was prohibited during that period. By 1930, publishing in languages other than Turkish was outlawed by an act of parliament notified under the slogan of "Citizen, Speak Turkish!" The Kurdish names of towns and villages were also changed to Turkish.

The military coup of 1980 declared that "the mother tongue of all Turkish citizens is Turkish" and completely forbade the use of any language but Turkish "as a mother tongue." It also prohibited all publishing in Kurdish. 

Despite minor improvements that have taken place concerning ethnic identity and language use in recent years, serious problems still remain. 

"The public use by officials of the Kurdish language lays them open to prosecution, and public defence by individuals of Kurdish or minority interests also frequently leads to prosecutions under the Criminal Code," the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance reported.

In fact, the public use of Kurdish lays Kurds open not only to prosecution, but also to death: Emrah Gezer, a 29-year-old Kurdish man, was killed by 15 gunshots on 27 December 2009 in Ankara after he sang a Kurdish song at a club to celebrate his friend's birthday. The police officer who killed Gezer was first handed down a life sentence, but his punishment was then mitigated to imprisonment of 19 years and 5 months due to "unjust provocation."

"This ruling implies that if you sing a Kurdish song, people around you will be disturbed and provoked and if they shoot you, they will benefit from reduction of punishment," Selçuk Kozağaçlı, lawyer for Emrah Gezer's family, said. Kozağaçlı is also the head of the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) and has been in prison since January.

The United Nations decrees that "states should take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue," because "such persons have the right to enjoy their own culture, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination."

Turkey clearly violates this principle of the UN. But using your mother tongue freely is not only a human right. It is actually much more than that. Human rights are gained by persons and nations through struggle. But a mother tongue is a state of existence. A human being is born with her/his mother tongue and a society cannot exist without their native language.

Prohibitions against minority languages and policies of assimilation are an attack on the identity of a people, which aims to enslave them.

Today Kurds still do not have a single primary school in their native land where they can receive education in Kurdish. The Turkish authorities have left no stone unturned in their attempts to extinguish the language - showing just how committed they are to enslaving the Kurdish community living in Turkey.

Having consumed substantial energy and resources to outlaw Kurdish for decades, the Turkish institutions seem to function like a laboratory to demonstrate various methods of how to violate universal human rights and international law.

The Turkish government claims that it is "a new model for the Middle East",  but depriving a 3-year-old child of her identity card because of her name does not make a very positive impression as to what kind of a model Turkey could be for that region. Genocidal policies against Kurds will make Turkey neither a symbol of civilization nor a source of pride for its citizens.

"The problem in Turkey is the constitution is against the Kurds and the apartheid constitution is very similar to it," the International Human Rights Law Group reported in 1994. Nineteen years after this briefing was published, sadly little has changed for the Kurdish people.

Uzay Bulut is a freelance journalist based in Ankara.