Fall 2010, Issue#24
-BROCHURE (inside)
Are Kurdish and Turkmen minorities
more literate in Turkey than in other countries?
- 4

by Prof. Arnold REISMAN

In an earlier article I showed that the change of alphabet and Ataturk’s literacy drive took a nation from 9% literacy to exceed the world’s average literacy in a matter of years. In this article I will show that as of now some selected ethnic groups are by far less literate in each of the countries where the Arabic or Perso-Arabic script is the official alphabet then are their brethren in Turkey.

Kurds and Turkmen (Turkomen) represent significant minorities in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq and they are the majority in Turkmenistan. According to the CIA World Factbook Kurds are 20% of Turkey’s population, 7%, in Iran; 15%-20%, in Iraq, and 9.7% (along with a small number of Armenians and others in Syria. Turkmen are 2% in Iran and roughly 5% in Iraq. The languages spoken within Iran are Persian and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Balochi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%, other 2%. In Turkmenistan they are Turkmen 72%, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%, other 7%; Arabic, Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Assyrian, Armenian, In Iraq; Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood in Syria.

Approximately two million Turkmen live in northern Iran just south of Turkmenistan. They are mostly Hanafi Sunni Muslims though some are Shias whereas the Persians are mostly Shias. Among the Turkmen the literacy rate is 50%. On the other hand in Turkmenistan a former Soviet Republic with a five million population (July 2007 est.) of which 85% are Turkmen (Uzbek 5%, Russian 4%, other 6%) the 2002 literacy estimated rate was an outstanding 98.8%. Afghanistani_Turkmen_have a literacy rate of 15% to 25%. According to the CIA Factbook, Turkmen are 3% of the Afghanistan population. The country’s overall literacy rate is a of total: 28.1% (male: 43.1% , female: 12.6%. So the above figures are in the ball park.

Among the Kurds living in Iraq age 15 and over only 40.4 % can read and write. The Irbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), according to its Minister of Education Abdulaziz Ta'ib, was engaged in literacy training for approximately 41,000 individuals. Using United Nations data a Kurdistan website cites the following by country literacy levels. Iran, male 85.6%, Female 73%; Iraq,  male 59.9%, female 24.4%, Syria, male 89.7%, female 64%, Turkey, male 94.3%, female 78.7%, Kurds living in Lebanon have a literacy rate of 40%, Turkish Kurds, are 20 percent of the country’s population According to Ethnologue in Lebanon the Kurds have a 40% literacy rate in the first 1st language and in Turkey they have a 28% literacy rate in the 2nd language (Kurdish).

According to Mehrdad R. Izady “Despite a state average for literacy among its citizens over the age of 6 being 61.96% in 1986, the Iranian Kurdish provinces on the other hand registered 47.18%, 39.6%, 56%, 52% and 57.28% for West Azerbaijan, Kordestan, Kirmanshahan, Ilam, and the neighboring partly-Kurdish, Hamadan, respectively. Kurds are the least literate of the major nationalities in the country, and only the desolate Baluchistan ranks lower in literacy than the Kurdish regions among the 24 of provinces Iran in the 1986 census. The ancient Kurdish city of Qasri Shirin registered the lowest rate of literacy for any urban site in Iran, with only 9.87% of its citizens over the age of 6 qualifying as literate."

In summation both of these ethnic groups are by far less literate in each of the countries where the Arabic or Perso-Arabic script is the official alphabet then are their brethren in Turkey or for the Turkmen in Turkmenistan where the alphabet was Cyrillic for at least three generations and education was freely available under the Soviets.


2. Unless specified the % breakdowns are unavailable
3. Education and literacy of the Arab population in Israel is as high as and probably higher than in any Arab country. The literacy rate among Israeli Arabs is 95%, virtually the same as for Israeli Jews.
The number of illiterates in the 22 countries of the Arab region reached some 67 million in 2002, which accounts for 40 per cent of the total population aged 15 years and over. A study conducted by UNESCO-Beirut in 2001, showed that Arab regional efforts contributed greatly in reducing the levels of illiteracy from 48.7 per cent in 1990 to 38.5 per cent in 2001.
6. Conrad Hurd, Managing Editor, Ethnologue, ( Personal communication May 2, 1008.
8. Male: 55.9% Female: 24.4% (2003 est.)
10. Conrad Hurd, Managing Editor, Ethnologue, ( Personal communication May 2, 1008
12. Conrad Hurd, Managing Editor, Ethnologue, ( Personal communication May 2, 1008.
13. Mehrdad R. Izady The Kurds: A Concise Handbook, Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis, 1992. pp 179.
14. Although Turkey does not have a significant Balochi (Baluchi) population their literacy rate in Turkmenistan (Cyrillic alphabet) is high while it is extremely low in countries using some variant of the Arabic script e.g., in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Clearly the alphabet difference is not the sole reason. Before the 19th century, Balochi was an unwritten language. The official written language was Persian although Balochi was still spoken at the Baloch courts. Following Pakistan’s independence Baloch scholars adopted the Perso-Arabic script. In, Balochi is written in a modified Arabic script based. UN Common Country Assessment for Iran,

About: Arnold Reisman, Ph.D., PE

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Reisman is a Fellow of the American Association of Science (AAAS) and is the author of seven books on modern Turkey. They are:
* An Ambassador and A Mensch The story of a Turkish Diplomat in Vichy France
* SHOAH: Turkey, the US and the UK; Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk's Vision
* Post-Ottoman Turkey; Classical European Music and Opera;
* Arts in Turkey: How Ancient Became Contemporary;
* Refugees and Reforms: Turkey's Republican Journey;
* The Transformation of Istanbul: Art Galleries Reviving Decaying Spaces.

His most recent book, My Enemy's Enemy deals with the all-Jewish units in the British army. Reisman is listed in Who's Who in America, Who in the World, American Men and Women of Science and other biographical compendia.

Photos by: Sirin CENGIZALP,

More on the Lightmillennium.Org by Prof. Arnold Reisman:
- Some Current Ramifications of Turkey’s Alphabet Change in 1928
- Some Current Ramifications of Turkey’s invoking English as the second language
- TRANSFER OF WESTERN KNOWLEDGE TO TURKEY: Institutionalized Policy of Translaiton and Library Building
byFuat Andic ANDIÇ & Arnold REISMAN
- Are Kurdish and Turkmen minorities more literate in Turkey than in other countries?

- . -

This speech was presented by Prof. Arnold Reisman during the Second Annual Ataturk Symposium entitled, "ATATURK: LEADER OF A NATION" (4/4) at the United Nations, New York City on December 7, 2010. We would like to thank to Prof. Arnold Reisman for sharing his speech with The Light Millennium. We also thank to the Istanbul University Alumni Association of U.S.A., and Young Turks Cultural Aid Society, and also sponsors of the Second Annual Ataturk Symposium. B.U.

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