Languages in Black Sea disappear

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  • 11:04 21 February 2024
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İZMİR - Due to monist policies, the languages spoken in the Black Sea are in danger of extinction. Sümeyye Yıldızlı from Pontus Greeks and Mahir Ozkan from Hemşin emphasized that their mother language must be the official and education language.
The lands of Anatolia and Mesopotamia have hosted many civilizations throughout history. However, the different languages and cultures that spread over these lands faced danger of extinction with the emergence of nation states. According to the "Atlas of World’s Languages in Danger" published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2009 on the occasion of February 21, World Mother Language Day, 15 languages in Turkey are in danger of extinction. Some of these languages are also found in the Black Sea region. According to the data, Romeika, Hemşin and Laz languages are among the "endangered" languages. Romeika, which is particularly facing oblivion, is spoken only in 70 villages of Trabzon and Rize today.
Sümeyye Yıldızlı, a Pontian, and Mahir Özkan, one of the writers of Gor Hemşin Culture and Language Magazine, talked about the pressure on their mother language and what needs to be done against it.
Sümeyye Yıldızlı (Elis Patulanti), from Trabzon's Çaykaralı district and whose mother language is Romeika, stated that Romeika is a language spoken in the Black Sea Region. Stating that the language, which was widely used during the Ottoman period, was ravaged due to the concept of a single identity during the construction of the nation state, Yıldızlı said: "The ravage begins when the Christian population is first Islamized and then Turkified through various policies. The language is marginalized in the context of Greek identity with assimilation policies and every non-Turkish element is considered an enemy. The formula of acceptable citizenship was presented to people as Turkishness. Of course, a language like Romeika would create a contradiction under this performance. While Romeika could read literary articles in the magazines published in Trabzon 100 years ago, it was buried in a hundred years of silence. It was pushed to the tops of the mountains, its living space was restricted." 
Stating that people who were first pushed to the mountains were forced to migrate to different cities over time, Yıldızlı said that those who stayed in the villages had to receive education in Turkish. Drawing attention that those who speak or work in the language are marginalized by conspiracy theories, Yıldızlı said: “The living conditions of the language were taken away and left to 'die'. Just as the claims that the language is disappearing in its natural course are unfounded, the approach of 'what is done is done, what should we do now' is also extremely wrong. The state is responsible for the extinction of this language, whether through its action or negligence. Nowadays, reverse migration plans are coming to the fore."
Yıldızlı continued as follows: "This language is our mother language. It has been a part of our existence for thousands of years. The death of the language means our death. Why shouldn't we exist? The first condition for the survival of the language is, of course, that it be spoken in daily life. Oppression and assimilation must be abandoned and this language must be opened to the public sphere. It should be made one of the service languages in the public sphere and living spaces should be produced with this language. Education in the mother language is already the right of every person. The psychological and sociological problems this causes on individuals and societies have been revealed many times in many studies."
Mahir Ozkan, one of the writers of Gor Hemşin Culture and Language Magazine, said that the decline in the language, which started with the Islamization of Hemşin people in the 17th century, increased with the Republic's "one language, one identity" policy. Stating that Hemşin has been completely forgotten with the urbanization in the last 30 years, Ozkan said: "The extinction of a language means the disappearance of an identity. It is difficult for a society that has lost its language to carry its identity beyond a few generations. This means the disappearance of feeling and thought. For me, too. There are complex emotions created by the process of extinction of our language. On the one hand, I feel anger. Because I know that it does not have to be like this, it is possible otherwise. I feel great anger that our existence depends on the will of others. However, the efforts to keep the language alive and pass it on to future generations make me feel proud and honoured."
Adding that many precautions can be taken against the extinction of native languages, Ozkan said: "Methods such as preparing a dictionary, publishing books, preparing educational materials and opening courses can be applied. The steps that need to be taken politically can be listed as making all languages in our country the language of education along with Turkish, giving different identities a constitutional status, accepting languages other than Turkish as official languages in the regions where they are spoken and ensuring that public services are carried out in multilingual ways. Our duties should be to raise our children in their mother language while continuing cultural and literary studies to insist on using our native language within the family and to bring the demands I mentioned above to the political agenda. The world is a multilingual world. The fact that our mother languages are official languages or the language of education does not alienate us from each other. On the contrary, it brings it closer. It is possible and necessary for the age for education to be in the mother language and multilingually. On the occasion of February 21, I invite everyone to protect their language and identity and to struggle to establish a democracy based on the equality of rights of languages."
MA / Tolga Güney