The Social, Political and Cultural History of an International Prestige Language
Edited By Vladislav Rjéoutski, Gesine Argent and Derek Offord
14. French in Ottoman Turkey: ‘The Language of the Afflicted Peoples’?
Had it been written by one of the columnists of El Djugeton [The Joker], the Istanbul-based satirical Judeo-Spanish weekly, or by one of the masters of twentieth-century Turkish satire such as Aziz Nesin or Haldun Taner, the following scene might have been amusing. Rather reluctantly the Ministry of Education of the new Republic of Turkey, founded in 1923 with Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) as its first president, was implementing one of the stipulations of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) and granting the three recognized non-Muslim minorities, namely the Armenians, the Greeks and the Jews, the right to be educated in their national language. The state was to provide ‘adequate facilities for ensuring that in the primary schools the instruction shall be given to the children of such Turkish nationals through the medium of their own language’.1 While the establishment of the national languages of the Armenians and Greeks who remained on the territory of the Republic had been relatively straightforward, the case of the Jewish community turned out to be more complex. After much deliberation, the responsible commission in the Ministry of Education reached the conclusion that the national language of the Jews of Turkey was Hebrew. Either Jewish schools were to use Hebrew as the language of education or they would have to implement education in Turkish. Jewish community leaders were flabbergasted, Hebrew being only the liturgical language of the community. Faced with the daunting prospect of education in what was for them a dead language,...
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