For foreign guests with a life-long commitment to human rights for the Kurds, it is impressive and reassuring that a colloquium of this kind and quality, hosted by the Institut Kurde, has the active support of two universities in France. There is a continuing, urgent need to address issues of linguistic justice, the human rights of minorities, and the appalling situation for Kurds in all the
countries where they live.
It is not as though the challenges have not been analysed ear- lier. There is massive documentation of the way Kurds are deprived of their human rights, their rights as human beings and as minorities. The need for peaceful solutions has been identified time and time again. My wife, Tove Skutnabb- Kangas, and I were in Diyarbakir/Amed for a Kurdish, Turkish and International PEN Seminar on Cultural Diversity, in March 2005. We were at a Building Peace
Conference in Istanbul in 2011, when measures for creating peaceful solutions from several other parts of the world, including Northern Ireland and South Africa, were presented to an audience of both Kurds and Turks who are committed to a solution that respects the human rights of all citizens.
The inhuman crimes that are taking place are not a Kurdish problem but a Turkish problem, an Iranian problem, and a Syrian problem. Crises and catastrophes have been caused by the governments of these countries. As the organizers of the colloquium explained in their introduction, achieving lin- guistic justice requires us to clarify what the legal issues are as well as practical and political issues. They also stressed how important it is to assess what is lost, what the tragic con- sequences are of not granting linguistic justice to linguistic minorities, and the Kurds in particular.
The lecture by Fernand de Varennes was a lucid exposition of the complexity of principles in international human rights law in order to strengthen the cause of the Kurds’ efforts to achieve linguistic justice. He stressed that many myths or dogmas influence people’s lack of awareness of language issues. It is also important to remember that the entire inter- national human rights system is of relatively recent origin. There have been few court cases that attempt to harness international law for minorities’ language rights. The law in Europe is not identical to international human rights law. For instance, the European Charter for Linguistic or Regional Minorities deals with the rights of languages rather than individuals. There is no incontestable right to education through the medium of the mother tongue. The evidence from Switzerland, Finland, and Canada is that ignoring the just claims of linguistic minorities may be counter-produc- tive. The current situation in Cameroon exemplifies this, where a conflict between people living in what used to be a
French colony and a minority from a former British colony has degenerated into violence that could well escalate. Seeking a compromise is urgent. Despite these considerable constraints, legal and political, it is reassuring that Professor de Varennes, in his role as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Minorities is undoubtedly com- mitted to promoting the cause of linguistic minorities, and to using his office to promote linguistic justice for them.
In Iraqi Kurdistan a degree of independence or autonomy has been achieved. This could lead to a flowering of mother tongue-based multilingual or bilingual education. However there are worrying symptoms of a socially divisive pattern of education emerging. Whereas it is essential that Kurdish, as the unifying language of Iraqi Kurdistan, should be learned thoroughly in education by all children, the establishment of expensive, private, English-medium ‘international’ schools represents a threat to national unity. When elites educate their children in such schools, and if universities are increasingly English-only institutions (there are already 30 universities in Iraqi Kurdistan, many of this type), this is a recipe for an unequal class society. This is exactly what has happened in independent Bosnia, which Tove and I were invited to visit in 2006 for lectures on language policy and consultations on educational language policy. An analysis reveals that English-medium education in Bosnia has created a social class structure characterised by “schools whose elite constituencies identify themselves and their interests more with the international community, rather than their local ethnic community” (Pupavac 2012, 191). In my review of this book I demonstrate that this new variant of linguistic imperialism insidiously serves to detach an elite from the needs of ordinary people (Phillipson 2016). This may already be happening in Iraqi Kurdistan. If so, one form of oppression is replacing an earlier one.
It makes sense in the modern world for people to wish to be able to use English well. But learning it should be alongside a foundation of education in a language of one’s community and cultural heritage. International schools function in con- flict with this principle, almost invariably providing educa- tion in English at the expense of the mother tongue. English- medium universities aggravate this problem. In Scandinavia and Finland the education systems do, to a considerable extent, produce graduates with high-level competence in both a national language and in foreign languages, at present mainly English.
Professor Tove Skutnabb-Kangas stressed in her lecture how the vitality of languages, even demographically small or marginalised ones, can be promoted. She quoted a considerable number of academic scholars and studies dis- cussing the prerequisites for maintaining and revitalising languages. Many of the very small languages - most with fewer than 1,000 speakers - do in fact fulfill some of the pre- requisites for revitalization better than Kurdish, despite the approximately 46 million Kurds. The evidence for this claim can be seen in a large study that has developed sophisticated tools for measuring and documenting the state of languages (Laakso et al 2016). Throughout Kurdistan there is probably a very large-scale language shift from Kurdish to a dominant language. Linguistic and cultural genocide through formal education play a very large part in this. Her clarification of definitions of mother tongue, of linguistic genocide, and of how a state’s intention can be identified in social structures and their consequences, provides concepts that can reveal how linguistic injustice is enforced, and ways of counteract- ing it. Acting in a spirit of commitment to resisting linguistic injustice has a much stronger foundation when one is able to specify not only how linguistic human rights are being vio- lated but also how they can be justified and activated.
Passionate commitment is more effective when one has a the- oretically and practically solid research-based platform to stand on.
The lecture by Professor Bashkin Oran presented a vivid nar- rative of the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey throughout the past century, and of the appalling current situation, which amounts to a policy of ethnic, cultural and linguistic genocide. Among the many scholars referred to by Professor Oran was Ismail Beşikçi who wrote a detailed article in one of a set of four books on Language Rights that Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and I recently compiled (Beşikçi 2017). This documents much of what Professor Oman was describ- ing. The same book has an article by Derya Bayir that relates the situation of Kurds in Turkey to the international law con- cept the right to self-determination (Bayir 2017).
Jaffer Sheyholislami’s lecture pointed out the extensive degree of linguistic diversity in Iran. He drew on several con- cepts in language planning and language policy to show how few rights there are to use Kurdish in Iran. Reference in the 1979 Constitution to regional and tribal languages merely permits the use of Kurdish in a restricted way in education. This means that even if there is a bachelor degree in Kurdish in one city, these university qualifications in Kurdish cannot be followed up by employment in general education. The policy of tolerating the use of the language in Iran may appear to represent less of a threat to the continued vitality of the language than the more extreme linguidical policy of Turkey. On the other hand, the Kurdish language is exposed to systematic symbolic violence that in effect has exactly the same consequences in Iran as in Turkey and Syria. The lan- guage is equally threatened.
Professor Sheyholislami referred to Farsi being described in the Constitution as the lingua franca of Iran. In my view, to call Farsi a lingua franca is a misuse of the concept, which his- torically refers to a pidgin-type of reduced language, for commercial exchanges, a key characteristic of which is that a lingua franca is an improvised amalgam of input from several languages. Etymologically what is interesting is that the term was used in the eastern Mediterranean to refer to the Christian crusaders, who came from several parts of western Europe and were all seen as Franks. The term is presumably derived from Arabic and probably Persian. If it is Persian there is an intriguing recycling of a term that originally referred to the language of the enemy, but now to the unifying national, official language of Iran.
It is true that many people misuse the term lingua franca –in phrases such as English being ‘the lingua franca of science’ or ‘the lingua franca of international business’. What this obscures is that many other languages perform these func- tions, in science and international business, and more impor- tantly, the reality that English, far from being a reduced lan- guage, is the language of a globally dominant power, the USA. Farsi in Iran is the language of power and social hierar- chisation. It is used by some as a mother tongue and by others as a second language, which also makes calling it a lingua franca problematic, as it sanitises the use of a dominant language. And obscures the power dimension.
Professor Sheyholislami has, in an email exchange after the colloquium, drawn my attention to an official translation of the 1979 Constitution,
http://pwerth.faculty.unlv.edu/Const-Iran(abridge).pdf Article 15 [Official Language]:
The Official Language and Script of Iran, the lingua franca of its people, is Persian. Official documents, correspondence,
and texts, as well as text-books, must be in this language and script. However, the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their lit- erature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian.
In several of my articles I have recommended that one should avoid using the term lingua franca because it is more appropriate to specify the contextual functions of language. Thus English, like other languages, can be described as a lin- gua academica in scholarship, a lingua cultura in education, a lingua economica in business, a lingua bellica in war. English has also been a lingua frankensteinia when extermi- nating the languages of North America and Australasia (see Phillipson 2008, 2009).
Profesor Salih Akin’s lecture was another rich analysis of his- torical and present-day policies, analysed through the prism of place names in Turkey, and major changes over time due to abrupt political changes. Like all the earlier lectures, this raised interesting conceptual issues. It is useful to be able to specify toponyms that have evolved at the meeting-point of linguistic and cultural diversity and biodiversity, the mainte- nance of which is of major importance for the future of humanity. When Turkey eliminates terms that have evolved harmoniously over centuries, what is at stake is not merely terminology but cultural, ethnic and biological history and diversity (see www.terralingua.org and its Langscape maga- zine).
It can also be important to distinguish between toponyms (place), ethnonyms (ethnic groups and peoples), politonyms (e.g. Turkey) and linguonyms (languages). There will be vari- ations in how these variables are articulated in different lan- guages, which yet again underlines the need for language diversity to be maintained.