On Sept. 15, the school year started in Turkey. Yet, most schools in northern Kurdistan (southeastern Turkey) were without students. Several Kurdish nongovernmental organizations and two major Kurdish political parties supported a weeklong boycott to stand up for the right to education in Kurdish in all subjects. So far, the Turkish government has only allowed the Kurdish language to be offered as an elective in schools and has resisted all other Kurdish demands. In several cities in the southeast, Kurds have established private schools to provide education in Kurdish for the coming school year. However, since Sept. 15, the police have been shutting down these private schools.
Kurdish is a sensitive issue in Turkey. Throughout my childhood, I believed Kurdish was a language that was only "whispered." My best friend’s parents were from Diyarbakir — a city in the southeast with a majority of the population being Kurdish. Whenever I visited her house, I would hear Kurdish spoken by the adults, but they were always whispering. When I asked, “Why do they whisper? We don't understand it anyway,” my friend Zeynep — who to this day does not speak a word of Kurdish — told me, “They don't whisper to prevent us from hearing them. It is just a soft-spoken language. You don't speak Kurdish loudly.” At the age of 8, we were young enough to believe Kurdish was a language that was whispered. Almost three decades later, following the Kurdish Initiative — a reform package introduced in 2009 that intended to expand the political and cultural rights of Kurds in Turkey — and the peace process with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), is Kurdish still a language of whispers in Turkey?