Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Ofelia García

Committee Members

Wendy Luttrell

Angela Reyes

José del Valle

Mesut Yeğen

Subject Categories

Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | International and Comparative Education


Kurdish language, Turkey, language activism, education, language ideologies, colonial language governmentality


This ethnographic study examines the Kurdish language and education activism, which I argue, is an anti-colonial movement generating decolonial forms of practices as responses. Prohibited to be spoken even in private spaces until 1991 in Turkey, the Kurdish language has been an intense object of struggle between the Turkish state and the Kurdish population. What historical, political, and sociocultural forces have contributed to colonial language governmentality in Turkey against the Kurdish language and its speakers? How do Kurdish activists challenge the linguistic hegemony in their semi-formal spaces and in what ways are their practices, discourses and policies decolonial? My study offers two major arguments as responses to these questions. First, I suggest a reconsideration of the linguistic condition in Turkey as being more than nationalist and one that is informed by the entangled ideologies and processes such as racism, and imperialism as well as by the legacy of colonial language ideologies and practices generated mainly by Euro-colonial powers. I trace the genealogy of colonial linguistics and its projection in nationalist language ideologies, practices, and policies to better understand colonial language relations in Turkey today and the ways that language can be turned into a strong tool of colonial domination.

Secondly, I argue that the Kurdish language and education activism is an anti-colonial movement generating decolonial practices. I provide examples of decolonial practices in linguistic spaces that seek to transform not only the linguistic condition, but also sociopolitical condition of the Kurdish people. Located in the broader politics of colonial/nationalist language policies, practices and ideologies and language movements of linguistically minoritized populations to these politics, this dissertation extends beyond the Kurdish case and engages with the issues of minoritized language communities, decolonial language practices and pedagogies in a world characterized by increasingly homogenizing and totalizing national imaginations.

I place special attention on the peace negotiations process which took place from 2009 to 2015 between the Turkish state and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) –– an armed insurgent group –– and aimed to end the three decade-long internal war. More specifically, I examine the ways in which the peace negotiation process served to maintain colonial language relations via new liberal multilingual and educational policies.

The data for this research is gathered for a period of a total of 12 months in the cities of Istanbul and Diyarbakır, Turkey. It incorporates participant observation in several Kurdish language and education institutions, interviews with Kurdish language activists from various institutions, analysis of digital and print materials (textbooks, policy statements, conference notes, reports and booklets), a genealogical analysis of historical sources on the Turkish language reforms and the discourses of media outlets. I also engaged in informal conversations with the locals and activists, attended events such as Kurdish theatre and film festivals, language day celebration, language platform workshop and certificate ceremony among others.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Monday, September 30, 2024

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