October 12, 2005

Kurdish to be Co-official in Iraq

Article 4 of the draft of the new Constitution of Iraq makes Arabic and Kurdish co-official languages. Both languages are to be used in legislative bodies and courts, schools, and official publications and correspondence. This is great news for Kurdish and the Kurds, whose language has never before had official status. Indeed, until very recently, the public use of Kurdish was banned in Turkey, which denied the very existence of a distinct Kurdish people, calling them "Mountain Turks". The ban was lifted only as a result of pressure from the European Union, which Turkey badly wants to join. Even so, Turkey has a hard time with anything related to the Kurds. Only last March Turkey announced that henceforth it would consider the scientific name of the Red Fox to be Vulpes vulpes rather than Vulpes vulpes kurdistanica.

In Iran under the Shah Kurdish was suppressed, as described in Margaret Kahn's book Children of the Jinn. Kurdish is now in public use to some extent, but the use of the language is banned in schools and the Kurds are still oppressed. Among other things, since most are Sunni Muslims they are not permitted to vote.

In addition, the new constitution guarantees parents who speak other languages, such as Turkmen, Armenian, and "Syriac", the right to have their children educated, in government schools, in that language. Private schools are permitted to use any language as the language of instruction. By "Syriac" they don't mean the language that linguists call Syriac, which is an extinct branch of Eastern Aramaic in which some important early texts of the New Testament are written. They mean the several Northeastern Central dialects of Aramaic presently in use in Iraq, such as Chaldean Neo-Aramaic. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Constitution will actually be implemented. Article 15 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran guarantees the rights of linguistic minorities but is in practice ignored.

Posted by Bill Poser at October 12, 2005 07:52 PM