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Letters of the Diaspora from the United Kingdom: Aspiring Kurdish Linguist, Deniz Ekici

 

Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 4, August 2009 - by Vahal A. Abdulrahman

 

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 a significant 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, the 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 to 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 Herald 2009

 

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. The efforts 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 a significant role in the history of the Kurdish people. Just this month, Mr. Ekici's latest work, an instructional CD-ROM on beginner level 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 course.

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 their nation.


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 Kurmanci dialect.


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."

 

 

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