Lost words: The struggle to save Turkey’s disappearing languages

To reach her home, Ms Vaic, a 90-year-old woman from Turkey’s northeast Black Sea region, must climb a steep hill to the village of Xigoba, where she lives in a traditional wooden house.

Here in the hills of Hopa, the traditional language spoken by the people is Homshetsi. It is one of many endangered languages in the country and speaking it is dear to Ms Vaic’s heart.

She tells Middle East Eye that she counts on traditions such as holiday gatherings to help it survive. In Turkish, her village is called Basoba and it is that name you see depicted on road signs. 
With her daughter-in-law helping to translate from Homshetsi to Turkish, Ms Vaic says she also learned Turkish in school, where speaking her native language was prohibited.

“The teachers did not like it when we spoke Homshetsi. They would ask us to open our palms and act like they would hit [them] with the ruler if we spoke. They didn’t hit us though.”

The Homshetsi are one of Turkey’s minority ethnic groups, alongside the Armenians, Arabs, Kurds, Circassians and Zazas who help make up Turkey’s current population of just over 80 million. 

The republic has come a long way since the 1980 coup, when the constitution was designed to ban the public use of minority languages. Still, the damage done in those dark days makes the task of protecting these ethnic tongues much harder, members of three minority groups told Middle East Eye.

The next generation of Homshetsi, Laz and Syriac people of Turkey may not be able to speak their mother tongues, according to UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, which classifies three languages in the country as extinct and 15 more as endangered.

This is a region that has been home to countless peoples and cultures for thousands of years. 

Read more: Middle East Eye