Letters of the Diaspora from the United
Kingdom: Aspiring Kurdish Linguist, Deniz Ekici
Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 4, August 2009 - by Vahal A.
I once heard that the majority of those who
identify themselves as Kurds cannot claim fluency in Kurdish,
and this shocking fact was recently confirmed to me by a young
Kurdish linguist, Deniz Ekici, who currently is pursuing a Ph.D.
at Exeter University’s Center for Kurdish Studies. Fortunately,
Mr. Ekici himself has devoted a significant portion of his 33
years of life focusing on the preservation and promotion of the
Kurdish language and, by extension, the Kurdish identity.
Mr. Ekici explains that he believes that there is a direct
link between national identity and language, and states that
number of Kurds, especially in Turkey, continue to use Turkish
as their primary language at home. Years after the relaxing
of restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language in Turkey,
most common excuse for the use of Turkish at home is that they
can express themselves better in this language than in Kurdish.
Furthermore, many parents believe that it is important for
their children to have a proper command of the Turkish language
succeed in their classes, which are, of course, conducted exclusively
in Turkish. He explained that some parents take the risk of drawing
the wrath of authorities by giving their children Kurdish names,
but when it is time to call their children into another room
or explain something to them, they cannot help but use Turkish.
Deniz Ekici, Aspiring Kurdish
Linguist © Kurdish
His assessment of this insistence on the use of Turkish, rather
than Kurdish, is that they do not have enough awareness about
the significance of language and how that significance directly
affects one's sense of belonging.
So how has this distinct, ancient language survived in Turkey?
Mr. Ekici attributes its survival to Kurdish mothers, specifically
in rural Kurdistan whose lack of direct communication with
the Turkish state kept them in the Kurdish-speaking world.
of Kurdish intellectuals in the Diaspora also play a role in
the survival of the Kurdish language. Deniz Ekici is certainly
one such intellectual. He has published a number of books on
Kurmanci-Kurdish linguistics and contributed to the Encyclopedia
of Protest and Revolution in World History: 1600 to Present by profiling Kurdish leaders and movements who have played
role in the history of the Kurdish people. Just this month,
Mr. Ekici's latest work, an instructional CD-ROM on beginner
Kurmanci, was released by the University of Arizona Critical
Languages Program and the UA Computer Assisted Language Instruction
Group. This novel work presents an interactive approach to
learning Kurdish and is equivalent to a one-year college
Fluent in both Kurmanci and Turkish, Mr. Ekici, through his
own studies, now has a very strong command of the Sorani-Kurdish
dialect as well. There is no doubt that Mr. Ekici is an emerging
star in the world of Kurdish linguistics; a world sorely in need
of dedicated intellectuals motivated by the idea of service to
When I asked Mr. Ekici where the best place was for one to pursue
a study of Kurdish linguistics, he immediately said, "Iraqi
Kurdistan", as it is the only place in the world where Kurdish
is the first language. However, even inside KRG-administered
borders, there is a linguistic division between speakers of the
Kurmanci and Sorani dialects, with the overwhelming majority
of residents speaking the latter. Kurmanci in Iraqi Kurdistan
is nonetheless important because the governorate of Dohuk is
home to some one million Kurmanci speakers, and the region as
a whole is just south of Turkey’s Kurdish region; a large
area that is home to many millions of native speakers of the
When pressed on issues of dialect, Mr. Ekici does not believe
that there should be any efforts by the KRG to impose Sorani
or Kurmanci on people, as the two can and should coexist and
be mastered, especially by the residents of Iraqi Kurdistan.
As to the issue of mixing the two dialects, and proposed use
of a unified dialect incorporating elements of both Kurmanci
and Sorani (i.e., “Sormanci”), he rejects it on linguistic
grounds, saying that such they possess distinct features in tactical,
lexical, temporal and grammatical terms.
Iraqi Kurds' recent experience with self-rule has contributed
tremendously to the advancement of the Kurdish language, but
more needs to be done to ensure that Kurds use Kurdish as their
language of preference, Mr. Ekici believes. He is greatly concerned
with the minority Hewrami and Zazaki dialects being overtaken
by Sorani and Kurmanci, respectively, and believes that immediate
measures should be taken to ensure the survival of these Kurdish
dialects. And, furthermore, more efforts must be made by millions
of Kurds to promote the use of the more dominant dialects. Mr.
Ekici’s message to Diaspora Kurds is short and to the point: “Speak
to your kids in Kurdish."