About this CUNY Adjunct Incubator Project

As part of a research project supported by the CUNY Adjunct Incubator, Demet Arpacik, an Adjunct Professor in the Middle and High School Education Department at Lehman College, CUNY, is developing a photography documentary project "Visual Documentation of the Clearance of Kurdish Language from the Linguistic Landscape of Kurdistan/Turkey".

The goal of this project is to gather visual data via photography to document the changing linguistic landscape of the several Kurdish cities in the Kurdistan region of Turkey - Diyarbakır, Batman, Şırnak, Mardin - during this particularly turbulent time. After the end of five-year long ceasefire between the Turkish state and the PPK (Kurdistan Workers Party) in 2015, the Turkish state shut down nearly all Kurdish language and cultural institutions, including the Kurdish primary schools collectively named as Dibistanên Azad (Free Schools), Kurdi-Der (Kurdish Language Association), Zarok T.V. (Kurdish cartoon channel for children, which was later reopened), Kurdish Institute of Istanbul among a few. This war on Kurdish language has been symbolized in the rapid transformation of the linguistic landscape of many Kurdish cities, most apparent in Diyarbakir, after the government detained many elected pro-Kurdish political party members and appointed pro-government trustees. One of the first works of the trustee in Diyarbakir’s district mayor’s office was to order pulling down of the Turkish-Kurdish bilingual signboard of the municipality and replace it with Turkish only. Many Kurdish street signs and billboards were removed.

The signboard of Diyarbakir Sur Municipality before being taken down by the state forces (the signboard is in Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, and Assyrian with the photo of the famous citadel of the city). Photo courtesy of Demet Arpacik.

The project intends to document these and a myriad of other changes in the linguistic landscape of Kurdish cities that offer tangible data to understand the symbolic war that the Turkish state has waged against the Kurdish minority, specifically its language. It also aims to document the camouflaged counter-responses and practices by Kurdish language activists in their efforts to resist the silencing of the Kurdish language and its erasure from the landscape.

This project is part of the CUNY Adjunct Incubator and is co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities and the Gittell Urban Studies Collective at the Graduate Center, CUNY.