Thursday, February 21, 2013

International Mother Language Day 2013

Today is International Mother Language Day, a worldwide observance to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity. It was  announced by UNESCO in 1999 and has been observed since February 2000. The date represents the day in 1952 when students in what is now Bangladesh where killed by police while demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bengali, as one of the two national languages of what was then Pakistan.

In honor of the day, as they do every year, the Gasprinskiy Library had a gathering of Crimean Tatar scholars, writers, artists, intellectuals, and the general public to celebrate the Crimean Tatar language and discuss its endangered status.

I would like to reprint here the beautiful poem by the famous Crimean Tatar scholar and poet Bekir Sitki Cobanzade (1893-1937), “Native Tongue,” in which he eloquently writes about his native language. The original poem, “Tuvgan Til” was translated into English by Mubeyyin B. Altan and published by the International Committee on Crimea (


I discovered you in Crimea, in Kazan,
Found you when my heart was ebullient, overflowing.

Walking sadly and hurt in far away lands,
Walking with diminished hopes and dreams,
Telling you my sorrow, I embraced you,
Then your dazzling word rejuvenated me.

Without your songs, and your poems,
If the word "motherland" did not fill a heart,
How can I  wander around in far away lands,
In far away streets, not knowing anything, not knowing anyone.

Whatever you call yourself, a Turk or a Tatar,
You are sweet as your taste is from God.
Turk or Tatar, they are your words,
They are like a pair of gleaming eyes.

At the gates of Vienna, in Kazakh land,
We sang together in India and in China..
Once the enemy understands you,  he'll fall in love,
A single melancholic word of yours will melt his heart.

I want to hear you everywhere,
Everywhere I want to knit epics from your pearls,
If I teach you to birds and to wolves,
You will be the darling of the orphans.

If you penetrate into mosques, mihrabs and palaces,
Once you reach the oceans and the edges of deserts,
With you I will write decrees to the enemy,
With your flashy words I will  excavate his soul.

When the angels interrogate me in my grave,
When the angel of death slices my tongue a thousand times,
"Speak to me in my native tongue!" I'll say,
Singing in my native tongue I'll pass away.

While anxieties nibble my soul away,
And the endless stars strike my people,
Oh, native tongue, no one else comes to my mind,
Not even the enemy knows, you are the grand secret of mine.

Bekir Sitki Cobanzade,
June 1, 1918

Translated from Crimean Tatar into English
by Mubeyyin Batu Altan
New York
February 9, 2013

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