Human rights of Kurdish people in Turkey
In Turkey, the only language of instruction in the education system is Turkish. The Kurdish population of Turkey has long sought to have Kurdish included as a language of instruction in public schools as well as a subject. Several attempts at opening Kurdish instruction centers were stopped on technical grounds, such as wrong dimensions of doors. An experiment at running Kurdish-language schools was wound up in 2004 because of an apparent lack of interest.
Due to the large number of Turkish Kurds, successive governments have viewed the expression of a Kurdish identity as a potential threat to Turkish unity, a feeling that has been compounded since the armed rebellion initiated by the PKK in 1984. One of the main accusations of cultural assimilation relates to the state's historic suppression of the Kurdish language. Kurdish publications created throughout the 1960s and 1970s were shut down under various legal pretexts. Following the military coup of 1980, the Kurdish language was officially prohibited in government institutions.
US Congressman Bob Filner spoke of a "cultural genocide", stressing that "a way of life known as Kurdish is disappearing at an alarming rate". Mark Levene suggests that the genocidal practices were not limited to cultural genocide, and that the events of the late 19th century continued until 1990.
Certain academics have claimed that successive Turkish governments adopted a sustained genocide program against Kurds, aimed at their assimilation. The genocide hypothesis remains, however, a minority view among historians, and is not endorsed by any nation or major organisation. Desmond Fernandes, a Senior Lecturer at De Montfort University, breaks the policy of the Turkish authorities into the following categories:
- Forced assimilation program, which involved, among other things, a ban of the Kurdish language, and the forced relocation of Kurds to non-Kurdish areas of Turkey.
- The banning of any organizations opposed to category one.
- The violent repression of any Kurdish resistance.
Between 1983 and 1991, it was forbidden to publicize, publish and/or broadcast in any language other than Turkish, unless that language was the first official language of a country that Turkey has diplomatic relations with. Though this ban technically applied to any language, it had the largest effect on the Kurdish language, which is not the first official language of any country, despite being widely spoken in the Kurdistan region.
In June 2004, Turkey's public television TRT began broadcasting a half-hour Kurdish program, and on March 8, 2006, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) allowed two TV channels (Gün TV and Söz TV) and one radio channel (Medya FM) to have limited service in the Kurdish language. This legislation came into force as an effort to meet one of the European Union’s requirements for membership in its talks with Turkey. The new regulation will allot five hours of weekly radio broadcast and four of television.
Despite these reforms, use of Kurdish in the public sphere and government institutions is still severely restricted. On June 14, 2007, the Interior Ministry took a decision to remove Abdullah Demirbaş from his office as elected mayor of the Sur district of Diyarbakir. They also removed elected members of the municipal council. The high court endorsed the decision of the ministry and ruled that "giving information on various municipal services such as culture, art, environment, city cleaning and health in languages other than Turkish is against the Constitution.
This is despite the fact that according to the above-mentioned municipality, 72% of the people of the district use Kurdish in their daily lives. In another case, the mayor of Diyarbakır, Osman Baydemir, is being subjected to a similar set of interrogations and judicial processes. His case is related to the use of the Kurdish phrase Sersala We Pîroz Be (Happy New Year) in the new year celebration cards issued by the municipality. The prosecutor wrote: "It was determined that the suspect used a Kurdish sentence in the celebration card, ‘Sersala We Piroz Be’ (Happy New Year). I, on behalf of the public, demand that he be punished under Article 222/1 of the Turkish Penal Code".
The Turkish Constitution bans the formation of political parties on an ethnic basis. Several Kurdish political parties have been shut down by the Turkish Constitutional Court under excuse of supporting the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by NATO members like Turkey, USA, the European Union
Following the Young Turk Revolution at the beginning of this century and the flowering of Turkish nationalism, the destruction or assimilation of minority populations (particularly Armenians and Kurds) has been a recurring pattern.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey displaced a large number of its citizens in southeastern Anatolia from rural areas, allegedly to protect them from guerrilla violence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), that is considered a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union. Turkey has claimed that the actions of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) included burning of 'deserted' villages in order for the PKK not to use them as outposts or hiding places.
Clashes between Turkish and PKK militants have resulted in some 30,000 casualties according a report by the US Department of State.
In 1994 Leyla Zana—who, three years prior, had been the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament—was sentenced to 15 years for "separatist speech". At her inauguration as an MP, she reportedly identified herself as a Kurd. She took the oath of loyalty in Turkish, as required by law, then added in Kurdish, "I have completed this formality under duress. I shall struggle so that the Kurdish and Turkish peoples may live together in a democratic framework." Parliament erupted with shouts of "Separatist", "Terrorist", and "Arrest her".
In April 2008, she was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly "spreading terrorist propaganda" by saying in a speech, "Kurds have three leaders, namely Massoud Barzani, Celal Talabani and Abdullah Ocalan."
In 2000, the chairman of the Turkish Human Rights Association Akin Birdal was imprisoned under Article 312 for a speech in which he called for "peace and understanding" between Kurds and Turks. He was forced to resign from his post, as the Law on Associations forbids persons who breach this and several other laws from serving as association officials.
Diyarbakır detentions (2006)
Violent disturbances took place in several cities in the southeast in March and April 2006. Over 550 people were detained as a result of these events, including over 200 children. The Diyarbakır Bar Association submitted more than 70 complaints of ill-treatment to the authorities. Investigations were launched into 39 of these claims. During the events in Diyarbakır, forensic examinations of detained were carried out in places of detention. According to the Report of the Commission, "this contravenes the rules and the circulars issued by the Ministries of Justice and Health as well as the independence of the medical profession". The Commission also believes that "the new provisions introduced in June 2006 to amend the anti-terror law could undermine the fight against torture and ill-treatment". The Commission also stresses that "a return to normality in Southeast can only be achieved be opening dialogue with local counterparts". "A comprehensive strategy should be pursued to achieve the socio-economic development of the region and the establishment of conditions for the Kurdish population to enjoy full rights and freedoms. Issues that need to be addressed include the return of internally displaced persons, compensation for losses incurred by victims of terrorism, landmines as well as the issue of village guards".
In 2009, the state-run broadcaster, TRT, launched a channel (TRT 6) in the Kurdish language. Famous Kurdish musicians attended the inauguration, at which the prime minister made a speech in Kurdish.
The Turkey 2006 Progress Report underscores that, according to the Law on Political Parties, the use of languages other than Turkish is illegal in political life. This was seen when Leyla Zana spoke Kurdish in her inauguration as an MP she was arrested in 1994 and charged with treason and membership in the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Zana and the others were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Prior to this in 1992, the Kurd Institute in Istanbul was raided by police who arrest five people and confiscated books on Kurdish language, literature, and history
The European Commission concludes as of 2006 that "overall Turkey made little progress on ensuring cultural diversity and promoting respect for and protection of minorities in accordance with international standards". The Economist also asserts that "reforms have slowed, prosecutions of writers for insulting Turkishness have continued, renewed fighting has broken out with Kurds and a new mood of nationalism has taken hold", but it is also stressed that "in the past four years the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, improved rights for Kurds".
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In the last hundred years, four Eastern Anatolian groups—Armenians, Kurds, Assyrians, and Greeks—have fallen victim to state-sponsored attempts by the Ottoman authorities or their Turkish or Iraqi successors to eradicate them. Because of space limitations, I have concentrated here on the genocidal sequence affecting Armenians and Kurds only, though my approach would also be pertinent to the Pontic Greek and Assyrian cases."
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