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Some Turkish Schools Offer Kurdish Lessons

Speaking Kurdish was a crime in Turkey until about 20 years ago. More recently the government has eased some of its restrictions on the use of the language. Now, the government is letting some schools offer Kurdish language classes.

Halil Cecen teaches beginning Kurdish to medical students at Dicle University in southeastern Turkey. He says people are happy about the changes that are now being put into place. But he says people have been waiting a long time: 50 or 60 years.

One student says he welcomes the classes. He speaks only a little Kurdish, he says, and he sees the classes as a big step, but they are only the beginning. He thinks learning Kurdish should be required, especially in health education. He says it would be even more successful if Kurdish were taught starting at a young age.

The University is in the mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. It is not far from the border with Syria. Syrian Kurds seized control of their region from Syrian government forces earlier this year.

Now children are learning Kurdish as a first language. Kurds in neighboring Iraq have had that right for years. But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently rejected calls for Kurdish education in the mother tongue. He called it a terrorist demand of the Kurdish rebel group, known as the PKK.

The prime minister says there is no such thing as education in the mother tongue. He says the country's official language is Turkish.Kurdish politicians face increasing pressure if they violate language restrictions. But the Kurdish language and culture are increasingly making their presence felt.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal.