Zehra, a woman from a vil­lage neigh­bor­ing where I was born, is only 60 years old. But suf­fer­ing from a her­ni­at­ed disc, she can­not even climb stairs.

For close to twen­ty years, I have been accom­pa­ny­ing sick peo­ple from the East­ern part of Turkey. The fact these peo­ple do not speak Turk­ish is the source of this need for accompaniment.

Kurdî | Türkçe | English | Français | Castellano

It usu­al­ly always starts the same way: the sick per­son or one of the rel­a­tives calls from the coun­try and asks if I know a doctor.

I then start look­ing for a doc­tor through my acquain­tances. Then, I pick up the per­son at the air­port and take him or her to the hospital.

After attack­ing the hard­est part, which is to say that we have paced up and down long cor­ri­dors, wait­ed in long queues, and set­tled reg­is­tra­tion mat­ters, I hand over the sick per­son to the “Turk­ish doc­tors” and go back to work.

This time, after five days of research and thanks to med­ical doc­tors I know act­ing as go-betweens despite their breaks or their exhaus­tion, we final­ly find a doc­tor to exam­ine Zehra.

The doc­tor tells us aunt Zehra needs treat­ment. Fine ! But she also says she can­not take the patient in at the hos­pi­tal “because that one has no tongue” !!!

Leav­ing Zehra in the exam­i­na­tion room where she’s writhing in pain, we move onto the next room where the assis­tants gath­er. I tell her: “Doc­tor, Zehra has a tongue, but you don’t know it.” At first she answers me: “Since she lives in Turkey, she is oblig­ed to speak Turk­ish”.

I under­score the fact no law states that, in order to receive treat­ment, a patient must speak Turk­ish. “Of course she must speak Turk­ish. What if she runs a fever or has a prob­lem dur­ing the night, how will she com­mu­ni­cate with us?” she asks.

I say “yes, but her son is with her.”

She asnwers: “In a room with a female patient, we do not accept a male accompanist.”

I say: “Her son could wait in the hall­way until morning.”

She replies, “yes, but the female patients here won’t accept that.”

Vexed, I repeat the for­mu­la sug­gest­ed by the med­ical doc­tor who sent us here: “The aunt has a phone. If there’s a prob­lem, she can call her son and he can trans­late his moth­er’s prob­lem imme­di­ate­ly over the phone.” I receive the answer: “We don’t do this here. That one does­n’t have a daugh­ter, a Turk­ish-speak­ing sister?”

Aunt Zehra’s son speaks up: “I have a sis­ter, she is hand­i­capped. She can speak but she has trou­ble walk­ing,” he says.

Mak­ing a tremen­dous effort of self-con­trol, I tell her she is a med­ical doc­tor and is duty-bound to exer­cise cer­tain legal and eth­i­cal respon­si­bil­i­ties, that Zehra could just as well be a mute woman with no fam­i­ly, and that would not be a rea­son for refus­ing to take her into the hos­pi­tal. If I were to tell her I’m a jour­nal­ist and that I will pub­lish this, or if I made threats of denun­ci­a­tion, I would cer­tain­ly fright­en her, but I would also ruin all pos­si­bil­i­ty for Zehra’s treat­ment… At best, Zehra would be hos­pi­tal­ized then sent home after a botched “treat­ment”…

I repeat to her con­stant­ly repeat­ed insis­tence that “that one has no tongue”, that Zehra has a tongue, that her “tongue” is called Kur­dish, that she is under no oblig­a­tion to know Turk­ish, and that the State should pro­vide each hos­pi­tal with trans­la­tors in Kur­dish, Ara­bic, Far­si and Eng­lish. But of course Madame the Doc­toress sides with the State! Stick­ing a men­ac­ing smile on a face that holds a harsh expres­sion since the begin­ning of our con­ver­sa­tion, she says “The State has no such obligation.”

Luck­i­ly, thanks to anoth­er phone call by anoth­er med­ical go-between, the doc­tor hos­pi­tal­ized Zehra, con­di­tion­al to her bring­ing from Yük­seko­va her daugh­ter, par­a­lyzed fol­low­ing a dif­fi­cult childbirth.

No doubt some read­ers will says “there will always be this kind of iso­lat­ed case.” But with my twen­ty years as accom­pa­nist I can state this is not an iso­lat­ed case but a com­mon one. The aunt from the East has no tongue was the title of anoth­er arti­cle I had pub­lished already in 2011 con­cern­ing anoth­er aunt. I could have used the same title for this one.

But the aunt has a tongue and a lan­guage. The Kurds have a language.

And faced with those who play at hunt­ing down skulls from the thir­ties, faced with those who, by anni­hi­lat­ing anoth­er lan­guage, threat­en the lives of those who speak that lan­guage now, faced with the num­ber grow­ing dai­ly of cretins repeat­ing absur­di­ties such as “Kur­dish does not exist” in pur­suit of the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of their racist aggres­sions, there is no point in attempt­ing to prove that a tongue called Kur­dish exists.

So let’s say Kur­dish does­n’t exist. And if Kur­dish is tru­ly Turk­ish 1, how is it that the Turks don’t under­stand us? They have no tongue?

Let’s assume that 80% of Kur­dish is based on Turk­ish with the rest being import­ed from Ara­bic and Far­si. Let’s even assume that there does not exist even one word orig­i­nal­ly in Kur­dish. For one last time: what is it to you? What scares you so much in a lan­guage? Be brave and spit out that stale morsel weigh­ing on your tongue.

İrfan Aktan began in journalism in 2000 on Bianet. He has worked as a journalist, a correspondent or an editor for l’Express, BirGün, Nokta, Yeni Aktüel, Newsweek Türkiye, Birikim, Radikal, birdirbir.org, zete.com. He was the Ankara representative for IMC-TV. He is the author of two books: “Nazê/Bir Göçüş Öyküsü” (Nazê/A tale of exodus ), “Zehir ve Panzehir: Kürt Sorunu” (Poison and antidote: The Kurdish Question). He presently writes for l’Express, Al Monitor, and Duvar.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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