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Untimely debate: official dialect

The Globe

The Kurdish Globe, NO: 161 Thursday, June 05, 2008 Page 2

There is a harmful debate currently taking place among intellectuals in southern Kurdistan on the issue of the Sorani and Kurmanji dialects. Some circles in the south, including several high-ranking officials within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), insist that the Sorani dialect should be the only one used in education throughout Kurdistan. Such an understanding is particularly popular among Sorani intellectuals.

It is imperative to underline that such a debate is artificial and contains destructive elements for the future of the Kurdish national movement and likely formation of Kurdish national unity.

Those who insist that Sorani should be the only official language and the language of education in southern Kurdistan supposedly aims to standardize and centralize Kurdish language for the purpose of nation building. This is to a certain degree a French model for which some Kurdish intellectuals apply in fallacy to Kurdistan.
Insistence on the dominance of one dialect over the other is not only anti-democratic and authoritarian, but also detrimental to the general interests of the Kurdish nation as a whole.

It is anti-democratic because it does implicitly mean suppression of other dialects. It is authoritarian because it requires authoritarian rule in order to apply or impose it. Already people in Kurmanji-speaking areas, such as Bahdinan, reflect reactions against government backed Sorani dominance.

It is detrimental to Kurdish national interests mainly because it creates artificial divisions in the nation. The common denominator of Kurds in four parts of Kurdistan is the Kurmanji dialect. Suppression of this dialect in southern Kurdistan would pave the way for further separation and isolation of Kurds in the north and south. Instead of creating divisiveness and separation, Kurdish political actors, intellectuals, and cultural institutions should endeavor to create further national unity among Kurds.

Instead of imposing one dialect over another, a democratic-federal approach is necessary in order to provide space for all the dialects of the Kurdish language.

The KRG could have made both Sorani and Kurmanji official dialects and allowed space for usage of both. Switzerland has no problem having three different official languages.

Sorani-oriented Kurdish intellectuals should realize that the formation of a nation and consolidation of national unity is not primarily determined by specific cultural or linguistic characteristics, but by the subjective political role that agency plays.
In other words, it is not the Kurdish language that makes a Kurdish nation but a political determination of people who define themselves as Kurds that struggle for freedom, independence, and territory. What makes the Kurds a nation is not their common language or common history, but their century-long collective political struggle for sovereignty and self-determination.

It is a pity to observe that southern Kurdish intelligentsia is occupied with trivial and artificial issues rather than more serious and challenging subjects that will determine the future of the nation.

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