Abdullah Demirbas, Mayor of Sur District, Diyarbakir, interviewed by Servet Tosun for Kurdish Herald
Diyarbakir, Turkey – Diyarbakir’s Sur District Mayor Abdullah Demirbas is one of the most significant figures with regards to his great emphasis on Kurdish culture and language. I visited him at his office to talk about his recent project called “Sere seve Cirokek u her malek Dibistane,” (A Story for each night and every house is a School).
Despite being deposed from his duty as a mayor for promoting “Multilingual Municipality Service,” he was re-elected by the people. Mayor Demirbas is persistently and passionately working for the preservation of Kurdish culture..
Kurdish Herald: What is the purpose of placing emphasis on preserving the mother tongue through your recent project? To whom do you want to reach out with your project? What are your expectations from it?
Mayor Demirbas: As an educator and sociologist, I see the importance of culture and language. Educating a person with his or her mother tongue helps to develop his psychology and cognitivity. People who grow up freely can interact with their society more easily and are more functional. Therefore, forbiddances of any language or culture have negative consequences on a person.
Researches’ results have shown that a person who learns his or her mother tongue can learn a second language better and is academically more successful and compatible with his or her society. Municipalities have a mission of educating and informing society and preparing people for their future. An important part of this mission is to develop communication among people so that they can be a part of society. This would also help reduce the number of problems that occur with the process of urbanization [in Turkey].
For years, Kurds have been the victim of Turkish state ideology. People in Turkey (regardless of ethnicity) have grown up with a uniform way-of-life. Our Sur Municipality has initiated an alternative education model called “Transforming Every House into to a School.” In this project, ‘stories’ are our main tools. Stories have positive effects on the development of children. If parents tell stories to their children before they sleep, it can help shape the socialization of children. Stories propagate history and culture to the future generations. In so doing, stories disseminate good types of behaviors that are desired by all societies.
The Turkish state ideology has prohibited the Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, and other ethnic groups from learning their own languages at schools. If we wait for the state to take a step to allow us to learn our mother tongue at schools, it might be too late. We should realize that homes are only places where the state cannot easily occupy. With this project, we can show the Turkish state that nobody can stop us from learning our mother tongue, and we will always try to find alternatives against the state’s suppression. Therefore, our project’s theme is focused on the phrase, “Sere seve Cirokek u her malek Dibistane,” (A Story for each night and every house is a School).
Kurdish Herald: How did you come up with this idea? Which culture or ethnic group did you choose for the project other than Kurdish stories?
Mayor Demirbas: This project was initially prepared by a Kurdish writer, Selim Temo. It is a unique project in terms of its originality and its mission. It consists of 365 stories. We divided these stories by months and made them into 12 fascicules. Every night, each story tells us about life of an important Kurdish figure such as Ahmede Xani, Melaye Ciziri, Dr. Qasimlo, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Abdulqadire Geylani, Seide Kurdi and others. We also included Armenian and Assyrian stories in these books. These stories will be published as fascicules and will be broadcasted in the near future. We will also make audio version of the stories with professional storytellers so that people can access them over the Internet. Stories will also be made available to people with hearing disabilities.
We planned and developed this project before I was confronted with the deposition of my official duty as a mayor at Sur Municipality in 2007 due to my “Multilingual Municipality Service.” Because of the deposition, our project remained unfinished. However, we started to work on it after I was re-elected by our people. We published a magazine called “Semamok” in five different languages and it contains short comical stories called “fikra,” puzzles and other stories.
As you know, the success of education should be measured with a long-term vision. We will see the results of this project in 10-15 years. People will educate their children with their own language and culture as free citizens so that they will be more productive in the future. With this project, we should not be limited to teach our children their language only by telling stories. We also intend to develop new interactions between parents and children, and families to neighbors so that it will help people integrate in the modern city life. In this sense, our city will witness positive outcomes from this model. As I mentioned before, not only does this project embrace the Kurds, but it also covers Armenians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Turkmens, Arabs, Turks and other ethnic groups.
Kurdish Herald: Can you tell us the financial aspects of your project? What kind of difficulties have you encountered during the preparation of the project? What kind of assistance do you further need?
Mayor Demirbas: For this project we have used our own financial resources and also received help from Kurdish Institute Flemish Culture Ministry in Brussels. We still need a lot of support for this project. For example, we would like to publish 15,000 - instead of 5,000 - story books. We would like to reach people more easily and convince them to participate in our project. In Yuksekova [a town in Hakkari], a Kurdish cultural organization called “Kurdi-Der” came up with a new idea in which their members attend weddings, inform people about our project, and distribute books to grooms and brides as gifts. A nine-year old Kurdish girl at Kurdi-Der particularly liked this project and has created a classroom with ten students and has taught them all Kurdish. Our municipality supported her and attended a symbolic “grade report ceremony” of this class. We want to show that we are ready to help anyone who involves themselves with our project and transforms his or her house into a school.
Kurdish Herald: How is state approaching this project? How is their attitude?
Mayor Demirbas: The Turkish state dismissed my official duty as a mayor because of our Multilingual Municipality Service, but now governorship of Diyarbakir and the government are using our project. Now the government has opened a Kurdish TV program, TRT 6. Diyarbakir Governorship has established a call center in Kurdish. The ones who once dismissed us initially are using our project now. History shows that we were right. Had we not fought for it, these things would never have happened.
I believe that if we succeed in transforming a house into a school, the state will try to find a way to teach Kurdish at schools just to stop us. In that way, they will be forced to change their policies. Therefore, we need not only economic support but also active involvement of people in order to accomplish our goal.
The way in which the state approaches this project is not very different from how it treats other Kurdish cultural works. After we published books for our project, the state opened various allegations against us. For example, there are twenty-three prison sentences against me for total ninety-eight years of imprisonment. The main charge in these accusations is an alleged act against the Turkish Alphabet and violation of Article 3 and Article 42 of the Turkish constitution. Article 3 states that the state’s official language is Turkish and prohibits the use of any other language. Article 42 states that the state’s education language is only Turkish and prohibits any other language. When I attended the symbolic “grade report ceremony” of the nine-year old Kurdish girl, the Diyarbakir education administrator accused me of illegal conducts. In reference to our project, he described to the media that education cannot be given in homes. The Turkish State ideology does not even have the patience for education.
The state has averted the development of the education in Kurdish language by closing madrassas in the past, but Kurdish stories and music have helped the Kurdish language to survive. Therefore, we will re-establish our education system with this project, and we hope that the Kurdish language will live forever.
Source: The International Kurdish Hareld, (Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 3, July 2009 - Interview conducted by Servet Tosun for Kurdish Herald in Diyarbakir, Turkey.)