Turkey’s Laz community is establishing an institute in Istanbul to protect its culture and Lazuri language.
The institute will be opened in the Kadıköy district of Istanbul on Nov. 23 under the leadership of politician and academic Prof. Mehmet Bekaroğlu.
In 2010, the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger declares Lazuri as a language.
He said that even though he is the founding president, in reality late singer Kazım Koyuncu, who died of lung cancer at the age of 34 in 2005, is a founder of the institute. The artist, who was the leader of Turkey’s first ever Lazuri rock band Zuğaşi Berepe, took “the first step” for them, Bekaroğlu said.
Bekaroğlu insisted they are not aiming at nationalism; they are just trying to protect their language and culture. He also added there is a lack of knowledge in society on Laz culture, and many people think the Laz people are just Black Sea Region residents, “speaking Turkish with a very bad accent.”
“This [perception] is totally meaningless, Laz people have centuries old culture and language,” he said.
The issue of teaching in the mother tongue is a hot subject in the country, but Bekaroğlu said the Education Ministry has said they did not have teachers who can teach Lazuri.
“This year we were preparing a syllabus, we succeeded in opening classes in Istanbul, as well as in the Black Sea region in Artvin’s Fındıklı and Arhavi districts, where 130 students are taking Lazuri classes,” he said. “We are planning to open a private Laz school as well.”
Most of the Laz community is populated in the Black Sea region, but there is a community in Istanbul. Bekaroğlu said the perception of the nation-state created assimilation, but in recent years, Turkey has made an improvement on the issue.
“Turkey will be a richer country with its ethnic languages and will be multilingual,” Bekaroğlu said.
“How will your Institute work? What will the agenda be?” asked the Daily News. Bekaroğlu responded, “We will collect all cultural activities under one umbrella. We will work on the Lazuri language and will be preparing school books. We are planning to contact universities to educate Laz teachers… Besides, we would like to organize a Lazuri Congress. The Latin alphabet is not enough, we need two alphabets. Also, we are planning to contact Ankara for a Lazuri TV station.”