“My Mother Tongue” (3): Laz
According to Laz expert Sapan, the language is at a critical point where it may be lost. The government is also to blaim for assimilation policies.
İstanbul - Bıa news centre
21 February 2008, Thursday
Kerem Morgül writes that he is “Laz from the maternal side”, but knows only a few words of Laz. He thus talked to Özcan Sapan, well-known in Turkey for his contributions to the Laz language and culture.
Sapan was born in Istanbul in 1960, yet spent his summers harvesting tea on the Black Sea Coast. At home he spoke Laz, and only learnt Turkish in primary school.
Many children are not taught Laz
Sapan’s life has been affected by discrimination because of his accent and the use of the language. Many other Laz have not taught their children the language so that they may not have the same problems.
Sapan says that in the mountains and tea plantations people speak Laz, but switch to Turkish in the city. Because there is no formal teaching of Laz or a written literature, as well as a lack of terminology for technological innovations, it is in danger of becoming lost.
"Use of Laz was punished"
For Sapan, the state is not innocent of the decline of the language and the reluctance of middle aged Laz to hand on the language to their children:
“The language has been under so much pressure that even its real owners have been convinced that it is of no use. Those aged 70 or 80 know that those speaking Laz at school used to be punished, even by teachers who were Laz themselves. What could they do? That was the order from the Ministry of Education.”
When the state TV channel TRT started to broadcast a short weekly slot in minority languages, Laz was not accepted.
Sapan, too, points to the irony that Erdogan can criticise Germany for forcing Turks there to assimilate, what Erdogan called a “crime against humanity”, while Turkey offers no kind of education in the many languages of its own country.
The Laz are related to the Georgians and Abchasians living on the shores of the Black Sea. The area of high Laz population density is in several districts of Rize and Artvin in the north-east of Turkey. According to a survey in the Milliyet newspaper in 2007, there are around 220,000 self-defined Laz in Turkey. (KM/TK)