“Being able to study in Kurdish schools is a basic need, just as bread is. But the Turkish government does not let us open even one”

Ardîn Dîren

Film director

In the essay The art of fiction, James Salter states: “Your country is your language”. It means, he explains, that “your true country is not geographic but lingual, or that you are really living in a language, presumably your mother tongue. Your life loyalty, as contrasted to your patriotic loyalty, is to language.” This linguistic country that Salter describes is what is being destroyed now in Kurdistan, as portrayed in the documentary Her mal dibistanek (Each home is a school), directed by Ardîn Dîren (Kozluk, Batman, 1988). Released in 2019, the film is shown in the Barcelona Kurdish Film Festival this December.

The Ferzad Kemanger school was born in Amed (Diyarbakir) in 2013, becoming the first one to teach education in the Kurdish language. It offered educational training for 50 preschool students, 60 first-class students, 65 second-class students, and 63 third-class students, with 18 teachers. Three years later, the Turkish government sealed all schools that used Kurdish as a language, forcing those who wanted to maintain education in their mother tongue to do it in a clandestine way.

Nationalia: Her mal dibistanek is being shown in the Barcelona Kurdish Film Festival. What is the film about?

«The Turkish government saw that more and more people preferred sending their kids to Kurdish primary schools rather than the ones where the only official language is Turkish. And after three years, they closed them down.»

Ardîn Dîren: My film is about a school which has been shot down by the Turkish government. It is about the resistance of Kurds who want to protect their mother tongue and also their identity. The schools I have mentioned about are the pilot ones where, for the first time, Kurdish kids had the chance to study in their mother tongue, which was already taught in Iraqi Kurdistan. The government of course was not that supportive to this change. They saw that more and more people preferred sending their kids to Kurdish primary schools rather than the classical public ones where the only official language is Turkish. They saw it as a danger of separation and so they shot all the Kurdish pilot schools down. This documentary film tells the story of Turkish oppression against Kurdish language and, of course, the resistance of my people.

N: Which were the interests and motivations that drove you to make this documentary?

A. D.: As a filmmaker I wanted to tell about this historic moment of the first Kurdish primary schools supported by the municipalities. After centuries of assimilation and oppression against out identity, those schools were products of the revolution and they meant a lot to us. Unfortunately, after just 3 years or so the government shot them down one after another. This was very unfair, especially for the students. They had to continue their education in houses or cafes, as they didn’t want do go and start from zero in Turkish public schools. Both the parents and the kids fought a lot against this anti-democratic situation of not being able to study in your mother tongue in your own homeland. In 21st century as we all know, cinema is one of the most effective ways to let the world know about the oppression and unethical situation as above mentioned. My motivation is to let the Kurdish kids, who are to be our future generations, express their demand. If they are not allowed to study in this language, they will probably be assimilated in the future and our mother tongue won’t be used and improved and thus, it will disappear. This situation hurts me a lot as a Kurd who didn’t have the chance to study in my first language, not even a sentence during my whole schooling years in Turkey!

N: Did you have any problem while making the documentary?

A. D.: While I was shooting this documentary film, Amed was under an exceptional situation. Almost all activities or talks in Kurdish were forbidden one more time by the government. I felt the psychological threat and violence on me all the time, even though they didn’t attack me personally. I was forbidden to enter this school, as it had been shot down by the government. But we entered in it illegally to be able to record the abandoned situation of it. This footage is crucial for our collective memory.

N: What is the current political situation in Amed?

«Almost every day the police enter houses or centres to arrest Kurds. People are used to it; they keep living and creating, never stopping resisting against the occupation of oppressors»

A. D.: Life is always political in Amed in many ways. In the streets and roads of Amed, you can easily notice the political situation and the oppression. Almost every day the police enter houses or centres to arrest Kurds. We the people of Amed, we are used to it ironically, as this possibility is always there. (They will always have the perfect excuse to disturb you or detain you.) People keep living and creating, of course, while never stopping resisting against the occupation of the oppressors.

N: How does living in an area involved in conflict affect the learning or training process of children?

A. D.: The ongoing wars and the presence of anti-democratic regimes always have a huge impact on the kids’ psychology and self-confidence. As their mother tongue is kind of useless in the education system, Kurdish students mostly stop studying after primary. Actually we can feel the negative effect of the conflict on the all the stages of daily life. For example, after the government shot down the Kurdish pilot primary schools, they threatened hundreds of parents who refused to send their kids to Turkish public schools. Do you think the kids who see tanks and police in front of their school would feel safe anyway? You can hardly encounter such a brutal situation in the world.

N: How is repression affecting the education field? What is the response that citizens are giving to this repression?

A. D.: When they closed the schools in Amed, the students together with the teachers protested. It was a terrible moment. Almost every day the Turkish armed force blocked the schools with tanks. The conflict was really harsh at the time. Many protesters were hit and detained. Citizens did not agree with what was being done to protesters, but they could hardly march as they shot people in the streets. Finally, after several attacks and threats, the kids were forced to leave the school. For me the best protest was when the parents opened and turned their houses into a school and they kept the education there for a while. This was a symbol of the Kurds’ resistance for their language and identity, and thus, their existence.

N: Which is the importance of education in a situation like the one Kurdistan is living?

A. D.: Kurdish and modern education in Kurdistan as everywhere is crucially important. For us it is important to receive an objective, modern scientific education through which we are informed about our history, geography and culture. Unfortunately, nowadays in Turkish public schools, we are educated to be obeying Turks that are unaware of their culture. We have been treated as a threat of separatism and, as a consequence of that, we have suffered a process of assimilation in public schools for one hundred years. The Kurdish language is not official yet in Kurdistan. Turkey is for one language, one flag and the superior Turkish language and blood —that is why they keep lying to Kurdish kids in their schools. This violent system should be changed urgently and new generations should have the right to have alternative schools so they can decide where to study. We Kurds, as a nation, have the right of learning and improving our language and also living freely in our homeland.

N: Which is the importance of making a documentary about such a situation?

«I, as a filmmaker, find it important to record this moment of oppression and the resistance so it does not disappear»

A. D.: The idea was to show the oppression of Turkey on our culture. This has to be known and not to be forgotten. Our language and culture should be protected. I, as a filmmaker, find it important to record this moment of oppression and the resistance so it does not disappear. It is a part of our history. I think that cinema as a mean of art should possess its role in actual history. All the oppressors would love to hide the evidences of violent and anti-democratic regimes, and we should always be resisting against them! Documentaries should release the truths, and make them be known in the world.

N: How do you see the future of Kurdish schools and education?

A. D.: Nowadays, sadly, we have no Kurdish schools. It is still not legal to teach in Kurdish. In many cases it is forbidden to use the Kurdish alphabet. The ones who study in Kurdish, they do it in an underground way, so to say. Government forced people to study and learn only in Turkish. As we still have no schools, how would be able to speak about their future? If we had Kurdish schools, that would be a hope for our history and culture. As for all other ethnicities, education in mother tongue is a must for us too! Being able to study in Kurdish schools is a basic need, just as bread and water. Unfortunately, the Turkish government doesn’t let us open even one. This is a huge mistake. Their lawmakers should facilitate us the access to education in Kurdish urgently. We don’t want to forget about our identity and watch how our mother tongue disappears. If the language is gone, what is left then for being an ethnicity? If a nation has no language, then they have no future. Our mother tongue Kurdish is our future!