Refuge makes for Turkish delight

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Fleeing persecution, many Turks have prospered in the UK. James Heartfield reports

There are around 100,000 Turkish nationals living in the UK (according to the Turkish Consulate), mostly in London, Manchester, Doncaster, Southampton, Leicester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds, though estimates by refugee support groups put the number much higher. In 2003, nearly 5,000 Turks became British citizens, and asylum applications have run at about 2,000 a year since 1991.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk carved a modern republic out of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, saving Turkish pride but making an unwieldy nation. Political and ethnic conflict there has fed migration to the UK, from the division of Cyprus in 1974 to the military coup and Kurdish rebellion in the Eighties.

Recently, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's liberalisation measures are preparing Turkey for membership of the European Union and legal migration to the UK.

From 1987, asylum seekers identified themselves as part of Turkey's Kurdish minority, or as leftists fearing persecution. In contrast to the longer established Turkish Cypriots (concentrated in Haringey and Enfield, both in north London), more recent refugee groups (centred on Dalston, north London) were dominated by Kurds and radicals.

Five years ago, Kurdish schoolgirl Nejla Kanteper set herself on fire as part of a wave of protests when the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was seized. Though vocal, the 2001 census shows that Kurds from Turkey make up around one-sixth of the total number of Turks in Britain.

Repressive as Turkey has been, many asylum seekers have abandoned their militant identification with Kurdistan and radical politics to get on with making a living in Britain. For many patriotic Turks, it is galling that the country's critics have monopolised public attitudes.

Turkish education was rudimentary, with only five years' compulsory schooling until reforms in 1998 raised that to eight years, with a school-leaving age of 15. Even then, attendance of girls in eastern Turkey ran at 60 per cent. Schools are considered secular and nationalistic.

Gul, a radical who spent her 20s underground, raised a son in exile in the UK with her partner. Their biggest disappointment was his attachment to "nihilistic" American music.


* Let children identify themselves either as Turkish, Cypriot, Kurdish, or Kurdish from Turkey, rather than try to legislate on the issue. The Kurdish language was banned in Turkey until recently, so speaking Turkish might be a sore point. Or, your child might be proud of his or her Turkish heritage.

* Results improved four-fold for Turkish-speaking GCSEscience students at White Hart Lane secondary, in the London borough of Haringey, when they were taught in their mother tongue.


English - Turkish

Good morning - Gunaydin

What is your name? Ismin nedir

Sit down, please - Oturun, luetfen

Do you want to go to the toilet? - Tuvalete gitmek ister misiniz?

Sit still, please - Harektsiz oturunuz, luetfen

Quiet please - Sessiz olun, luetfen



* Turkish Community Library, 86 Balls Pond Road, London N1 4AJ. Telephone: 020 7249 6980

Lends Turkish language books

* The exhibition, Turks 600-1600, runs until April 12 at the Royal Academy of ArtsTelephone: 0870 848 8484;

* Turkish Embassy, 43 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PA Telephone: 020 7393 0202

Community centres

* Day-Mer Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre, Former Library, Howard Road, London N16 8PR. Telephone: 020 7275 8440;

* Halkevi Kurdish Turkish Community Centre, 92 - 100 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 7XB. Telephone: 020 7249 6980;

* Turkish Cypriot Community Association, 117 Green Lanes, London N16 9DA. Telephone: 020 7359 5231

* Turkish Community Association, 35 Grainger Park Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE4 8SA. Telephone: 0191 2739000

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