Romani, the group of languages of Roma communities, is finding new life in Turkey with a new education program.
Organized in cooperation between an umbrella body of local Roma associations in southern Turkey's Mersin and Sivil Düşün, an EU-funded organization, the program aims to keep the Romani language relevant among the large community.
Twenty Roma participants were the first graduates of a 20-day program on grammar, word structure and speaking, and were given certificates qualifying them to teach the language to fellow community members across the country. The program also includes the creation of a Romani-Turkish dictionary.
Ali Daylam, the head of the Federation of Mediterranean Romani Associations, said Romani, spoken by their community for centuries, was largely forgotten especially among Romas living in big cities. "Almost 95 percent of people do not speak the language and this project aims to revive the language in Turkey where 5.5 million Romas live," he said.
Orhan Galjus, vice president of the International Romani Union, was among the instructors at the Romani classes. Galjus said Mersin, a southern hub of a Roma community in Turkey, was at the center of the living culture and language of the community and he was excited about the interest in learning the language. "I have seen that people started to remember their language again after attending the classes," Galjus said. Galjus, a Kosovo-born Roma, said that the project was also important for European Roma's seeking to connect with fellow community members in Turkey.
Halil İbrahim Nurbel, one of the graduates, said extinction of the language means a loss of culture. "These classes will have a domino effect for the Roma community. We will teach it to others, keep the language alive and preserve our culture," he said.
Romani, spoken around the world with different varieties influenced by the countries Roma communities live in, is recognized as a minority language in various countries including Colombia, Germany, Hungary, Kosovo, Sweden and Ukraine. Romas have integrated better into Turkish society compared to other Roma communities in Europe, however they do occasionally fall victim to discrimination, and some prefer Turkish as their main language according to experts.