Repression of the Kurds reaches into classrooms

30th August 1996 at 01:00
Turkey. James Montgomery meets a teachers' leader jailed several times by the military for his views.

Hasan Kacan, president of the teachers' union in the Kurdish region of south-east Turkey, has been imprisoned on several occasions by the military rulers.

Twenty of his teacher colleagues have been assassinated in recent years, in so-called "unknown perpetrator killings". Mr Kacan was in Britain last week visiting trade unions to tell them of the widespread persecution teachers in the area suffer. Teaching the Kurdish language or culture is prohibited, and living standards have collapsed.

Mr Kacan, president of the teachers' union in Diyarbakir, capital of the Kurdish area, made the trip following a visit by Plaid Cymru MPs to Turkey. He had been invited back to see how a native tongue like Welsh can be taught alongside English.

"As an education union, we believe everyone has the right to be educated in their mother language," Mr Kacan, who is a primary teacher, told The TES. "But it is written in law that everyone must be taught in Turkish.

"You cannot give anyone or anything a Kurdish name. You have no right or opportunity to study in any institution."

In the Kurdish area, some 4,000 schools have been closed. As refugees flee the villages for the cities, the remaining schools have had to teach as many as 130 pupils in a class. "Because they cannot speak in their own language, school for them is like a prison," Mr Kacan said.

"Children who do not know Turkish have to come to school and start learning it. They have serious difficulties as a result."

Teachers themselves also face a life of hardship. Wages have fallen from Pounds 375 a month in 1993 to just Pounds 165 a month, hardly enough to buy food. State employees had the highest rate of suicide in the country.

Teachers who attempt to organise trade unions or voice dissent face persecution. State employees are not allowed to join political parties, and 80 members of his trade union have been sent into internal exile.

Trade unions are allowed, but strikes are banned. "We are very unhappy about this because if a trade union has no right to go on strike, it is no different to some other kind of society or organisation," Mr Kacan said.

"We know that we will be unable to gain our cultural and political rights and improve our economic situation without being unionised.

"These are serious social and political problems, which have not been solved in the 70 years since the foundation of the republic. It is a situation of chaos, with no opportunity for reconciliation."

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