Turkey’s endangered languages

March 1st, 2020 by Eighteen languages in Turkey are currently listed as endangered, vulnerable, or have become extinct, according to UNESCO. This is a result of decades of government policies that have not put other languages on an equal footing with Turkish, the first language of around 80 percent of the population. The history of forced Turkification targeting non-Turkish languages and cultures goes back to the early years of the new Republic of Turkey in the 1920s and 1930s. Non-Turkish names of towns and villages across the country were Turkified and changed. In 1924, Turkish became the sole medium of education, except for a small number of non-Muslim schools. In 1928, a student association in Istanbul launched a campaign to stop the public use of non-Turkish languages, and a 1934 law banned the adoption of non-Turkish surnames. Kurdish is the mostly widely spoken mother tongue in Turkey after Turkish, but such is the number of Kurds – some 15 percent of the population of around 80 million - that UNESCO does not see it as being in danger. Other minority languages though are listed as endangered and the bans and pressure from the state and the public have had a deleterious effect. Laz, the language of a people living in the Black Sea region of Turkey and parts of Georgia, is listed as a definitely endangered by UNESCO. According to the Istanbul-based Laz Cultural Association, there are an estimated 1.5 million Laz people in Turkey, around 70 percent of whom can understand the language, but only 40 percent can speak it. Read more: Ahval

Turkey’s language activists keep Armenian dialect alive in music, literature

February 24th, 2020 by His most recent album sung in Homshetsi can be taken as an SOS call, says Hikmet Akcicek. The tongue, a northwestern dialect of Western Armenian, is one of 15 endangered languages spoken in Turkey — and Akcicek’s band Vova means to keep it alive. The cover of the band's July record, “Garmi Doc” (“Red Truck” in Homshetsi), shows a woman in red traditional clothing. For Akcicek, it's a chance to showcase his culture and mother tongue, spoken in the mountainous northeastern Black Sea region of Turkey, and becoming extinct for a combination of reasons. “Every kid born in Hopa [a town in Artvin province in the northeastern Black Sea region] would first learn Homshetsi, use it in daily life and marry a fellow Homshetsi. Now, kids learn Turkish first thing, and their daily lives are dominated by Turkish,” Akcicek told Al-Monitor. He added that since the 1980s, many of the Homshetsi (or Hemshin) people from the coastline along Rize’s Ikizdere county up to the Georgian border — have moved to big cities. For various reasons, many of them have migrated from the region to other Turkish provinces such as Sakarya and Erzurum or abroad to Russia, Abkhazia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Akcicek said, “Like many local languages, Homshetsi and its culture are fading.” Read more: Al-Monitor

In A Turkish Village, A Conversation With Whistles, Not Words

September 28th, 2015 by In a remote mountain village high above Turkey's Black Sea coast, there are villagers who still communicate across valleys by whistling. Not just whistling as in a non-verbal, "Hey, you!" But actually using what they call their "bird language," Turkish words expressed as a series of piercing whistles. The village is Kuskoy, and it's inhabited by farmers who raise tea, corn, beets and other crops, and also keep livestock. The landscape is unusual by Turkish standards, and the residents are also considered a bit eccentric by other Turks. Everyone we met in Kuskoy was warm, welcoming and very generous. But when our meeting with Nazmiye Cakir, 60, was interrupted by an eruption of gunfire from across the valley, our hosts smiled reassuringly and paused, as if waiting for more. Sure enough, a few seconds later came an even louder volley – a response from our side of the mountain. Read more: NPR