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Germany Scholarship holder

From trackman to linguist

München, 03/28/2014

Yasar Aratemür’s story is a tale of determination, focus and successful integration – qualities that have won him a Germany Scholarship at LMU. These awards go to students who have a distinguished academic record and a commitment to society, or have overcome obstacles in order to study.

Yasar Aratemür
Yasar Aratemür

Yasar Aratemür (35) belongs to the Zaza, an ethnic group that lives in Eastern Anatolia (Turkey) and speaks a Northwest Iranian language. As a child he was cared for by his mother, since his father was already working in Germany when Yasar was born. At home he spoke Zazaki, and learned to speak Turkish only when he was sent to school in the province of Bingöl. His mother subsequently moved to Germany and, in 1994, before he had finished his schooling, Yasar left Turkey to join his parents there. At that time there were very few Zaza in Germany; today it is estimated that some 150,000 of them live here.

Soon after his arrival, Yasar enrolled in a training course offered by the Kolpingwerk, a Catholic social organization, in the diocese of Augsburg. “In addition to teaching me technical skills, the course also enabled me to learn German,” he says. He began his vocational training in 1996, when he was 18, qualifying as a track-layer in 1999. His training record was so impressive that he was immediately employed by German Railways. But he had higher ambitions, and he worked his way up. He trained as a fitter in Augsburg with a local manufacturer of industrial robots, then got a job as a machine operator with a supplier of automotive parts in 2002. He subsequently qualified as a train driver in Berlin, and by 2007 he had become an instructor. A year later, on completing a correspondence course, he was a certified Master of Rail Operations.

Having taken and passed the Abitur exam in Hamburg, Yasar Aratemür enrolled in the Iranian Studies program at the local university. “In order to pay my way through university, I had to keep my job as an engine driver,” he explains. Indeed, he continues to combine the two responsibilities – no easy task for a married man with three children. As he learned more about the linguistic history of Iran, he realized how little was known about his native language, Zazaki. So he set up a “Zazaki League”, wrote a textbook for children in Zazaki, and worked as a journalist for the erstwhile Zazaki publications “Çime” and “Zazaki”. In 2011 he registered for the Bachelor’s program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at LMU, focusing on Iranian and Turkic Studies. He has now embarked on a Master’s program in Cultural and Cognitive Linguistics.

In light of his familial responsibilities and the extra burdens imposed by his studies, Aratemür’s drive is astonishing. But the reason for his dedication is simply stated: “My native language is in danger of extinction – that is why I wanted to do something to help preserve it and decided to study here,” he says. He wants to investigate its roots and development, and document the living language before it is too late.

Together with 69 other students from various Faculties, Yasar received a Germany Scholarship for his academic achievements and his cultural and social contributions to his community at a ceremony held at the end of January. The awards were presented by Professor Martin Wirsing, Vice-Dean for Teaching and Studies at LMU. The monthly stipend of 300 euros is funded in equal parts by the Federal Government and by private sponsors, including firms, foundations, associations and alumni.

Yasar is also proficient in English, Farsi and Pashto, but his dream is to ensure the survival of his native language, and the scholarship will help him towards this goal. For that, he is very grateful – as no doubt are the 3-4 million Zaza who live in Turkey.

  • The portrait on Yasar Aratemür will appear in the upcoming issue of insightLMU, LMU’s international newsletter.