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The First Uyghur Language Textbook in Diaspora

Uyghur Language Textbook

Dr. Erkin Emet

Uyghur is an endangered language in the world, since it was spoken by millions of people in the world, but because of the forced assimilation policy implemented gradually by Chinese regime, due to the policy reached to its peak recently, the language is at the edge of disappearing.

The mass arrest against Uyghurs started in September 2016, approximately 12 million Uyghurs were targeted by Chinese government. Today, you can see Uyghur restaurants, Uyghur bread-Nan Bakery, and also Uyghur bookstores in Istanbul.

Today January 15th I found a shiny Uyghur textbook in a bookstore at the Uyghur neighborhood, which located in Nuripasa, Zeytinburnu. The bookstore called Teklimkan, the textbook was written by Abduweli Ayup. There were a few Uyghurs were asking about the book in the bookstore.

I saw the printed copy of his The Handbook of Uyghur Family Education: Mother Tongue Textbook.

The textbook, which is consisted of 164 pages, was published by Tedbir Publishing House located in Istanbul, Turkey.

The textbook is primarily targeted kids range from six to ten years old who have poorly studied or no proficiency knowledge of the Uyghur language. By taking this chance we contacted Mr. Ayup, and he answered our questions regarding the publication.

“Our main goal is to meet an urgent need presented by the current reality of the Uyghur diaspora,” says Mr. Ayup on the phone.

“It’s been noticed that none of our diaspora groups possess a mother tongue textbook for our kids who’re growing in Europe, America or Australia,” he further added. According to Mr. Ayup, who has suffered lot from the local authorities due to his numerous attempts devoted to the mother tongue education in his homeland, he imprisoned for 15 months for having a Uyghur language kindergarten in Kashgar. This project can be counted as a “foreign” continuation of his previous endeavor which was forced being unsuccessful.

Mr. Ayup further explained that the textbook includes Uyghur folk songs for children, fables, and allegories, as well as various stories and some excerpts from his online articles which were used for the language exercise purposes.

“It can be used either for semester long teaching or an academic year studies, whichever is convenient for the students,” he said.

While working on the textbook, he essentially looked at cognitive stages for child development, which usually involves the progressive building of learning skills, such as attention, memory and thinking. “That’s why I tended to pick simple but attractive folk songs for the beginning of textbook,” he said.

Mr. Ayu chose to design a specific exercise for each lessons, that accumulations can be used either as monthly or annual language contest entitled something like “I love my mother tongue.” For this reason, the textbook is ideal option not only for the regular language teachings, but also an effective medium for the family based language education. Considering this general feature of the textbook, Mr. Ayub decided to use the title “A Handbook of Family Education.”

“We focused on the harmonic combinations of Uyghur language, history and Islamic knowledge within the entire textbook,” he said. Due to this unique structure of the textbook, any parents who can read the Arabic based Uyghur scripts can easily use this handbook as a textual guide for their kids’ beginning level of educational training. A smartphone app of the textbook is going to be completed in the near future in order to provide a wider and easier access to the content given in the textbook.

Batur Karahan, an alumni of the Minzu University, one of the prestigious colleges in Beijing, the capital of China, said that the textbook has successfully filled in the blanks left open by particular situation of the Uyghur diaspora.

“While the Uyghur language textbooks published inside China mostly focused on the smearing of communist ideologies, we, diaspora parents, have insisted to teach our kids whatever we believe is correct, without considering the general interest of our kids,” Karahan said.

Mr. Karahanli strongly believes that Mr. Ayub’s textbook is the most successful turn out in this regard. “Next generation of the Uyghur kids can only be true Uyghurs by keeping and transmitting the Uyghur language and tradition to their offspring,” he added. He also believes that the rest of the textbook, which is anticipated to be several volumes, would be a great contribution to preserve the Uyghur language and culture abroad.

Dr. Erkin Ekrem, a history teacher at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, proudly extolled the Mr. Ayup’s textbook. In his eyes, such textbooks hold crucial role for attempts dedicating to maintain the national identity of the diaspora Uyghurs.

Dr. Ekrem said“For us, particularly for the diaspora Uyghur children, it is extremely important to create a unified world view based on our millenniums long tradition and the moral value. Mr. Ayup did a great job in this field,” he said.

The title has been released days ago and has begun to distribute among the bookstores in Turkey. Mr. Ayup and his supporters are just preparing to sell their products online. It’s expected to be accomplished soon.

It’s been well known that increasing Uyghur diaspora both in Europe and North America is tend to keep their language alive. However, there was no textbook kids could read. People hope to have a mother tongue textbook for their children who were gradually becoming the parts of foreign lands. This legitimate, but poorly satisfied longing recently fulfilled by Mr. Abduweli Ayup, a linguist who’s specialized in mother tongue education for Uyghur children.

Dr. Erkin Emet is a professor at Ankara University, he is specialized in Uyghur language education. The article published by Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service.

It was translated into English by RFA reporter Qurban Niyaz.