The man who bit Ataturk’s nose – a fairy tale

By Pervin Bilgin:  Kurds demand cultural and language rights

Introduction: This article was written by Mrs. Pervin Bilgin, a retired teacher from the Turkish education system who has many memories. She is a granddaughter of Seyh Said, which makes her message even more significant. With her permission, I have translated into English a beautiful article from her book, ‘Firket Babamın Kasidesi’. I hope you enjoy it – Ahmet Abidin Ozbek

The reality of the country is that ‘facts’ are often lies. So we need to tell stories, to listen to them with a more realistic attitude.


Let’s begin with the astonishing part of a story told about a respectable Turkish person who had a problem with our Kurdish people.

A person named Mahmut Esat Bozkurt visited Kurdistan. I think he went by way of Hakkari, or close to there. For the first time he met with Kurdish people. He left Kurdistan to go to Ankara and describe his amazing impressions.

“Over there … I saw human-looking creatures but they made animalistic grunting noises”, he said.

This is a story. Well, could it be true? Could this person have said such a thing?

Yes, I believe he might have said this.

Well, who is this respectable person?

Let’s look at Google:

‘Prof. Dr. Mahmut Esat Bozkurt born in Kusadasi at 1892, he is one of the main statesmen who built the legal principles of the Turkish Republic. Also, he is one of the well-known exponents of Kemalism which is the ideology of the Turkish Revolution’.

Let’s assume this man didn’t say such a thing about our Kurdish people (‘creatures’). What about those speeches that are recorded in the files?

‘Turkish is the only owner of this country. The people who are racially not pure Turkish have only one right: to be servants, to be slaves. Let them be either friends or enemies and even the mountains should know this fact’.

I guess that’s why they forced people to write on the mountains, ‘Happy to say I am Turkish’.

When I was coming into the world this man was saying those words, and look at how else he supported other institutions of the Turkish Republic State.

Mr. Mahmut Esat was one of the people who prepared the Special Organization (Teskilat-I Mahsusa) law which was accepted officially at April 20,1924; he was also appointed as a legal representative of the justice department in November 22, 1924 by Ali Rauf Fethi Bey (under the third Turkish government). He helped to open the Law school in Ankara at November 5, 1925.

Look at these people who are giving us lessons in civilization as if we should be proud with them. We should confront this republic, whether we have to reject it or support our own republic.

I really wanted focus on another theme in this article. But, first, I just wanted people to know about this honorable man. What is our position in a system that describes us as creatures and not human beings?

Every Kurdish person has faced the events in school that I will now tell you about.

They cut the Kurdish language from its source.

In fact, every one of Ataturk’s principles and progress were important measures to cut our roots and suppress our language.

They banned our school education system (medrese), in the name of the law called ‘closing sects and faith places’ (tekke ve zaviye kanunu). However, the people who came before us, such as our fathers and grandfathers, benefited from that system. First, they suppressed this source. Next, they forced or enslaved us to use the Latin alphabet in the Republic era.

I remember when I started at primary school. I was only 6 years old. When I started at school the first thing they told me was never to talk Zazaki or Kurmanc. So I started school with a lot of fears.

My mother languages were Zazaki and Kurmanc. They were forcing me to cut my link to my mother family and fatherland when I started at school. Was this only my destiny or pain?

No, almost every Kurdish kid has faced similar consequences.

I asked one of my friends: Do you have any memory about how you started at school?

He smiled and looked to me. “Of course, I have. If you are Kurdish and educated in Turkish schools, it is almost impossible to say, ‘I don’t have any memory about it’”.

I asked him to recount the whole story. He told me:

“ Mrs. Pervin, I started school very late. My older brother enrolled me at the school. I wore a long apron like a girl’s dress. They put a collar on my neck. And they left me in the garden of the school. Absolutely, I felt I like was on the moon or Mars. The weather was so cold. My hands were in my pockets and a bag was in my arms. Suddenly, I started to count the stars. When I got very far, an Ottoman slapped my forehead. The man was stretching my ears and he lifted me off the floor. He kept talking. ‘You are a fucking bastard. How you can put your hands in pockets during the playing of the anthem of independence (Istiklal marsi)?’ I was shocked and I couldn’t do anything. I never forgot that slap, that teacher or the anthem of independence”.

How is that? Is that interesting ?

But I would like add another, even more interesting, memory of another friend.

Recently, I was at Botrop city in Germany. Someone had introduced me to Sahin Aydin who is a photographer and a city council member belonging to the Left Party (Die Linke) in the city. I remember that I had met Mr. Sahin previously during May Day activities but I didn’t have any chance then to discuss details.

I asked him: “Where are you from?”


“Are you from inside?”

“No, from Akcadag”.

“Are you Kurdish?”

“Yes, but I’ve forgotten the Kurdish language”.

“Why did you forget? Are you here a long time?”

He continued:

“I have been in Germany almost 30 years. I was six years old when I arrived. I didn’t know any Turkish in those days. When I had first gone to school in Turkey, they said it was forbidden to talk Kurdish there. I asked, ‘Who banned it? Why can’t I talk Kurdish?’ They said, ‘Ataturk has banned it’. I answered, ‘I don’t know Ataturk. Why has he banned our language? Where is this man?’ One of my friends pointed out to me his statue and said that he had banned the right to speak Kurdish. And I swear I went up to his sculpture and bit off his nose”.

“How? Did you actually bite the nose of Ataturk’s statue?”

Sahin started to smile and continued:

“Yes, they had made Ataturk’s statue from plaster. And I destroyed it by biting it with my teeth. His paint came off. The Principal caught me and beat me badly. He said to me, ‘Bastard, you anarchist, you have become communist. What am I going to tell the inspectors? How I can fix Ataturk’s nose? You have got me into trouble’. He beat me again and expelled me from the school. After we arrived in Germany, I didn’t go back for 30 years”.

We all laughed together.

Should we smile or cry at our sad stories?

I believe the language problem is central to our memory of past events because all Kurdish people have been forced to learn the Turkish language when they start at primary school.

We have to ask for our rights, just like the Turks. Kurdish and Turkish should be equal in the constitution and eventually we should be equal citizens under a constitution with a new concept of the country.

Otherwise, there will be no solution to these problems.

This language wound will always bleed and we will not be able to sing our freedom song in our language except through clenched teeth.

In the end, the freedom of the Kurdish people flows from the freedom of language.

‘Firket Babamın Kasidesi’ , by Pervin Bilgin, was published in Germany in July 2012 by Hinar Verlag.

Translated from Turkish by Ahmet Abidin Ozbek