Cablegate: Private Kurdish Language Schools Fight Red Tape

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary: Five private Kurdish language instruction
schools (Van, Batman, Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir and Adana) are open
for business and have registered hundreds of new students for
the fall, after completing lengthy application procedures and
meeting strict building code requirements to which few other
private learning institutions are held. The schools continue to
face administrative challenges, including a recent Ministry of
Education decision prohibiting the use of textbooks and
dictionaries that instructors had been employing for several
months. Despite Turkey's progress in implementing important
language rights reform measures, activists in Turkey's southeast
continue to advocate for free elective Kurdish courses in public
institutions, arguing that "Turkey can't solve its language
problem with a few schools." End Summary.

2. (U) Since the passage of reform laws in 2002 which allowed
private courses in Kurdish and other non-Turkish languages "used
by Turkish citizens in their daily lives," five private Kurdish
language instruction schools have opened their doors and at
least two others may follow suit later this month. From
September 1 through 3, poloff visited schools in Batman,
Sanliurfa and Diyarbakir to discuss with instructors and
administrators their experiences with the approval process and
opening of the schools. (Note: In addition to schools in these
three cities, a course has been operating in Van, and an
approved school in Adana will begin classes on September 20.
Press reports indicate that schools have been approved or will
soon be approved in Istanbul and Kiziltepe, District of Mardin
Province, as well. End note.)

Twenty days vs. Two Years

3. (SBU) Officials at the school in Sanliurfa said they opened
in March 2004, after an application process lasting more than
two years. (Note: They claimed their formal application was
made in December 2001, which would have preceded the passage of
implementing regulations for legislation allowing Kurdish
instruction. End note.) In Batman, the school opened its doors
in April 2004, twelve months after beginning the application
process. School administrators held an opening celebration in
Diyarbakir in August 2004, after sixteen months of seeking
approval. In contrast, said a teacher in Batman, a nearby
driving school with the same status under the Ministry of
Education completed the process in just twenty days. "There is
a reason for this," he said. "It is natural that there is
awkwardness as this is the first time. Ministry officials were
afraid, and we all paid the price," he added. The Batman school
reportedly had visits from at least ten different government
agencies, ranging from municipal health and fire officials to
Public Prosecutor officials checking inventories, before being
given the green light.

Every centimeter counts

4. (SBU) Administrators from all three schools report being
subjected to building code requirements during the approval
process to which few other institutions are held. In
Diyarbakir, for example, three proposed classrooms were deemed
unfit for use because only 15 percent of the classroom area was
covered by windows as opposed to 20 percent. The result is that
the school will use nine rather than 12 of its rooms for
instruction. (Note: This was reportedly due to students' need
to be exposed to sunlight for health reasons; at the same time
schools are authorized to give night classes. End note.) In
Batman, a doorframe was determined to be five centimeters too
narrow and had to be widened, with an extension added to the
door so it would close properly. One observer pointed out that
the Sanliurfa school is just about the only building in town
with a fire escape, and it is only a two-story building.
Throughout the application process, the school buildings had to
be open and accessible to inspectors. Since most are housed in
rented properties, this resulted in significant costs before any
income was gained through student fees. Private individuals
reportedly covered these and other start-up costs for the

What is advanced ability?

5. (SBU) Each of the schools was required to submit the names
of at least one third of its teachers at the time of
application. In most cases, this amounted to just one name.
The Batman school currently has three teachers (two permanent at
30 hour per week, and one contract at eight hours per week) and
Sanliurfa has two teachers. The Diyarbakir school has been
authorized to employ four teachers, but has not completed its
hiring process yet. An official at the Sanliurfa school
characterized the process of getting teachers certified as
problematic. He said that the prerequisites set by the Ministry
for potential teachers were: graduation from a teacher training
program, two years experience, and "advanced ability." As for
advanced ability, though, he said the Ministry did not issue
clear standards. Contacts in Diyarbakir agreed, saying "we just
had to certify we could teach Kurdish." If the Ministry is
requiring certifications regarding ability, they argue, there
should be a specific university faculty created, as well as
texts, to prepare and test such ability.

6. (SBU) The Ministry did not approve several candidates put
forward for contract positions by the school in Sanliurfa,
because the individuals reportedly worked too many hours in
other teaching jobs. The principal in Diyarbakir claimed that
their school's first nominee for Director was a thirty-year
teaching veteran, but he was not approved because he had been
demoted once in his career. (Note: Despite these complaints
about getting teachers approved, it is interesting that our
contact in Batman was approved despite the fact that, as he told
us, he had given six unauthorized classes in the past and had
been "exiled to Yozgat" at one point in his career. End note.)

Facts and figures

7. (SBU) At all three locations, one course of study consists
of 180 hours of classroom instruction and costs 100 million
Turkish Lira (TL). While only one level of course curriculum
has been authorized by the Ministry of Education, in practice
each of the schools appears to be performing informal testing of
registrants to determine students' level of ability and grouping
them in classes accordingly. Class hours vary from school to
school, but each has weekend and evening classes in addition to
hours during the week. To date classes have been in Kurmanji,
which is the most widely spoken form of Kurdish in Turkey.

8. (SBU) In Diyarbakir there are currently 207 students
enrolled for the school's first term, set to begin September 14.
According to the school's officials, potential students must
have completed at least four years of elementary school,
regardless of their age. They said they had received some 40 to
50 individuals when registration opened who had wanted to apply
since they had "waited a lifetime to learn their language in
school," but they were turned away because they had not studied
a sufficient amount of time in Turkish public schools. In
contrast to earlier reports that students had to be at least 16
years old, Diyarbakir school contacts said that with parental
permission, and fulfilling other requirements regarding public
schooling, students as young as 11 could register.

9. (SBU) In Sanliurfa, the school started out last spring with
33 students. Contacts at the school claim they purposely
limited the number for their first term as they worked out how
the school would function. During their summer term they had 58
students in two classes, with an average age somewhere between
30 and 35. Of these, 12 students were under the age of 16. The
capacity of the Sanliurfa school is 80 students. In Batman, 79
students attended classes during the school's first term.
Forty-two of the students were university graduates, 20 were
high school graduates and 17 had finished just elementary
school. Twenty-six of those students were women, and the large
majority of students were adults. For the summer course in
Batman, 60 students registered, but only 50 or so attended.

The next important battle: Textbooks

10. (SBU) During their first two terms, the schools in
Sanliurfa and Batman had been using a variety of texts and
materials in support of their instruction. The Sanliurfa school
reportedly submitted a list of these texts for approval to the
Ministry as early as January 2004. In July, however, the
Ministry of Education issued a notice that six or seven of the
texts, in their current forms, were "not appropriate as
education tools." (Note: The Diyarbakir school had not
received this official notification as of September 3, but
expected it would receive the same news soon. End note.) The
Ministry report states that the texts contain "ideological
aspects per the attached report," and are therefore not suitable
in the classroom. Neither the Batman nor the Sanliurfa schools,
however, report having received the "attached report" referred
to in the Ministry notice.

11. (SBU) In one dictionary, for example, there is reference to
"Kurdistan" and the "Kurdish people," explained contacts in
Sanliurfa. In another instance, a text states that "[Kurdish]
people have been subject to assimilation and therefore an
overwhelming majority has forgotten the language." In its
notice prohibiting the texts, the Ministry of Education has not
suggested others that would be suitable, though it does allow
that the texts can be used if the offending passages are
removed. However this becomes a copyright issue, argue school
officials. They cannot simply remove pages of books that were
published by other companies.

12. (SBU) Administrators of the schools are communicating among
themselves and with the Istanbul Cultural Institute, the
publisher of at least one of the books in question, about next
steps regarding the texts. The principal of the Diyarbakir
school stated that he also found the texts inadequate, but for
pedagogical reasons (i.e. he did not find the "offensive"
passages to be derogatory to the state). His school has formed
an experts committee (comprising two Turkish language teachers,
two English teachers, and two other classroom teachers) to
discuss the problem of texts, in general. In the meantime,
until new materials are developed, it is unclear how and if the
Ministry will enforce its prohibition of the existing texts. An
official in Batman implied that he will keep using them: "We
think they'll change their mentality," he said; "they have to."

Bring the Inspectors, Not Police

13. (SBU) In addition to the flap over course materials, the
Diyarbakir school is also facing problems due to two signs they
have hung at the school for what they claim are "promotional"
purposes. Government officials have charged that two signs at
the school must be removed because their colors are those of the
flag used by the PKK/Kongra Gel terrorist group. According to
school officials, some 25 policemen came to the school on August
20 and stayed for three to four hours, insisting that the signs
be removed. The school's administration held its ground,
stating that the people "liked those colors," and that if there
were a problem, they expected that the Ministry of Education
would send inspectors to give official notice of the need to
remove the signs. The signs were still present as of September

14. (SBU) Comment: Each of the schools is housed in attractive
facilities, none more impressive than the brightly painted seven
story building in Diyarbakir, which also houses the Kurdish Pen
organization and the Kurdish Institute. Busts and official
portraits of Ataturk look out over Kurdish language wall
decorations, and vocabulary flash cards mark doors, chairs and
windows in Turkish and Kurdish. Clearly change has come to the
Southeast. Nevertheless, the red tape facing administrators of
these private Kurdish language instruction centers is ponderous,
arbitrary, and deliberate. School officials also argue that the
"hassles" and occasional police presence deter students from
registering, claiming that students will be labeled as
separatists. (Note: Government officials assert that the
numbers of students to date simply indicate low interest. End

15. (SBU) Comment, cont'd: Moreover, school officials were
bothered by inquiries focusing on facts and figures, arguing
that discussing details about the schools doesn't get at the
real issue. "Turkey can't solve its language problem with a few
schools," they say. They argue that Kurds in Turkey pay taxes,
send their sons to the army, and fulfill other requirements of
good citizenry. In return, they assert, the state offers no
resources to fund this "inadequate" answer to demands for
language rights. While the pioneers in Kurdish language
instruction in Turkey are busy opening private schools for the
moment, their struggle for free elective Kurdish courses in
public institutions in Turkey will continue.


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