In Turkey, the judicial harassing of DTP elected representatives and of Kurdish civil society continues unabated. Several sentences have been passed and others are due shortly affecting both political activists and leaders of voluntary associations, journalists and even unattached individuals.
The Diyarbekir Court has sentenced 53 Kurdish mayors to two and a half months jail for having written a joint letter to the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2005. This letter called on him to resist pressure being exercised by Turkey to have him close down the Kurdish satellite television channel RojTV, which is accused by Turkish authorities of having “organic links” with the PKK. However, in view of the good behaviour of the mayors during their trial, the sentence was commuted to affine of 900 euros each. The mayors were found guilty of “active support” of the PKK.
When this sentence was announced, the Danish Prime Minister reacted sharply in a written statement sent to AFP news agency: “It is incomprehensible that a letter of this kind should result in such a sentence. Turkey hopes to join the European community and, in consequence, we expect it to adopt the standards of the E.U. This is a case that Denmark and the European Union are watching closely, and we have stressed this to Turkey”.
Amongst the mayors involved is Osman Baydemir, mayor of Diyarbekir, was also sentenced on 17 April to 50 days imprisonment for “justification of crime and criminals” — a sentence that was also commuted to a fine of 1,500 Turkish lire (714 euros).
In 2004, at a time of violence protests by Kurdish youth in Diyarbekir following the funerals of two PKK fighters, Osman Baydemir, to calm the crowd and avoid the city’s being subjected to a blood bath, had stood up in front of the rioters and made a speech in Kurdish, in which he had praised “their courage” and expressed his sorrow at the death of the two fighters.
In the same month, Nurettin Demirtas, President of the DTP, who has been incarcerated since last March, was tried with 52 others. They were all charged with having dodged army service by using, or of themselves concocting, fake medical certificates declaring them unfit for army service. However, according to the charge sheet, a medical examination is said to have shown that Mr. Demirtas, who is 35 years of age, was in fact fit for army service.
The accused were finally released on 28 April to appear as “defendants on bail”, but Nurettin Demirtas and four other accused were immediately transferred to the barracks to carry out their compulsory military service. Nurettin Demirtas faces 10 years jail on this charge.
Turkey does not recognise conscientious objection. Moreover, many Kurds reject the idea of doing military service through fear of being forced to fight against their fellow countrymen in operations against the PKK. Many families have children in both the Army and the guerrilla, and conscripts sent to the “South-Eastern Front” are chosen especially from among the children of the Kurdish working class families.
Still on the subject of the DTP, the former Kurdish member of parliament, Leyla Zana, who has already spent 10 years in Turkish jails for “criminal” opinions, has been sentenced to two years imprisonment for “justifying” Abdullah Ocalan, and “propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation”. In a speech in March 2007, made during a festival in Diyarbekir, Leyla Zana, in quoting three present day Kurdish leaders, Abdullah Ocalan, Jalal Talabani and Massud Barzani, had stated that they “all have a place in the hearts and minds of the Kurds”. Leyla Zana’s lawyers made the point that they would appeal.
On 22 April, another Kurdish mayor, Hilmi Aydogdu, was sentenced to 15 months jail for “sedition” by a Diyarbekir court. During Turkey’s military invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan, he had stated that the Kurds in Turkey considered that a Turkish attack on Kirkuk was equivalent to an attack on Diyarbekir. His lawyers are also appealing.
Finally, three Kurdish teen-agers (about 16 to 17 years of age) are being sued for having sung a “rebel song under a rebel flag”, as members of a choir during a music festival in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, in October 2007. This was the Kurdish National Anthem, “Ey Raqib” and the flag was that of Kurdistan. Neither is illegal, since they have been officially adopted by the regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan. But the Public Prosecutor still accuses them of “separatist propaganda”.
In an interview published in the Kurdish Globe, Falah Mustafa Bakir, the Kurdish Minister for external relations of the KRG, insisted on the “constitutional commitment” represented by Article 140 (of the Constitution), even though, a week earlier, he had expressed himself in a more flexible manner on the possibility of a solution, other than by referendum, in which the Kurdish government could play a major part. Those remarks had been widely reported in the Kurdish and Arab press until Falah Mustafa Bakir backtracked, claiming that AFP had truncated and distorted his remarks: “The fact that the KRG calls for a solution to this problem in no way means any concession regarding the territory claimed, and particularly regarding Kirkuk”.
Speaking on the same subject, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massud Barzani firmly reiterated his determination to resolve this “historic problem that is the source of all the disputes between the Iraqi government and the Kurds”. This question can be resolved by Article 140, otherwise “it would be a serious threat to Iraq’s stability”, he added.
However, the political opposition in Kirkuk, essentially Arab and Turcoman movements, is determined to prevent the holding of a referendum, which would most probably result in a victory for the Kurds, who make up the majority of the population of the town and surrounding countryside. Ahmed Amid al-Obeidi, leader of the Kirkuk Iraqi Front, insists that the crisis will not be resolved in three months but take several years: “No solution is possible in the framework of Article 140”, adding that the Arabs will never abandon Kirkuk not accept to be subject to a Kurdish government.
Those Turcomen close to Ankara and supported by Turkey in their claims (before Saddam they were the social elite of the city, as against the more plebeian Kurds) echo this. Kanan Shakir Uzeyragal, one of their representatives, stresses that none of the “preliminary conditions for setting up and organising this vote have been met. Of the 40,000 cases of property disputes pending, only 10% have been resolved. As for the census, it has not even begun”.
Hassan Turan, a Turcoman member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, expresses his doubts: “In reality, the referendum is a pipedream. No one supports it except the Kurds, so why are they so obstinate? The only solution is a political agreement involving an equitable sharing of power between the communities within local institutions”.
Nevertheless, the “Kurdish obstinacy” in making no concessions on this issue also serves as a trump card in their negotiations with the central government regarding other advances that are crucial to the survival of the Kurdistan Region, such as the Oil laws and the status of the Peshmergas in Iraq. Thus, on 15 April, a member of the Kurdish Coalition in the Iraqi Parliament revealed to the Voice of Iraq that the planned meeting between the Kurdish and Iraqi Prime Ministers, Nechirvan Barzani and Nuri al-Maliki, would cover the status of the Peshmergas and their Financing by Iraq, the Oil Law and a new agenda for applying Article 140.
Indeed, after a year highlighted by repeated disagreements and stormy declarations between the Kurdish Government and the Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussein al-Shahristani, an agreement was signed between Irbil and Baghdad on 16 April, regarding the management of natural resources (essentially oil) in Kurdistan. In this agreement, officially announced by the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, while the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was travelling abroad, the Kurdish government is said to have accepted an additional six-month postponement of the referendum in return for recognition, by the Iraqi government, of the legality of the contracts signed by the KRG and foreign oil companies for the operation and management of oil wells. However, with regard to Kirkuk, the Iraqi spokesman only reported a mutual agreement to let the United Nations manage the question of the claimed territories — which has not been confirmed by Irbil.
This agreement, if applied, is seen by Iraqi observers as being a serious blow to the credibility and authority of Oil Minister Ali Shahristani, the main and most virulent opponent to the Kurdish government’s autonomy of decision and management of hydrocarbon resources. Roshdi Yunsi, Middle East analyst of the Eurasia Group, considers that this damages the credibility f the Iraqi minister while only postponing the Kirkuk problem. Such a concession by the Iraqi government could have been the idea of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is seeking further political support at a time when he is grappling with violent resistance from Shiite factions that refuse to be disarmed. Indeed, even if an agreement along these lines is reached with the Kurds, Nuri al-Maliki is no closer to rallying all the Shiite factions round him. “However, in the Iraqi political context of all the leaders competing against one another, they will always make an effort to find short term solutions to a multitude of sectarian, political and economic conflicts”.
So far, the Oil Bill that the Iraqi Parliament had passed did not satisfy the Kurds, who accused Iraq of having considerably altered the initial version, to which Irbil had agreed, through several amendments. Thus the KRG wanted financial and managerial independence for the oil companies working in Kurdistan rather than having them supervised by the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Since July of last year, no less than four successively amended versions were proposed by the Iraqi Commission.
Similarly with the status of the Peshmergas, which was the stumbling block in the vote for the 2008 Iraqi budget in January. It had finally been left to the Cabinet to decide, and the status quo finally accepted. The Peshmergas, who at present work as a semi-autonomous force, are not to be covered b the law on the disarming of all militias. “The Provincial guards are considered legitimate, because they are organised forces”, the Iraqi Prime Minister declared following a meeting with Nechirvani Barzani. Thus the Peshmergas remain officially part of the Iraqi Armed Forces, forming two divisions of 25,000 to 30,000 men.
For his part, Nechirvani Barzani held a press conference in Irbil to explain and confirm the terms of the agreement. “Regarding the law hydrocarbon law, all the negotiations taking place must be carried out in the context of the constitution, on the basis of the Bill negotiated in February 2007, which will shortly be presented to the Iraqi Parliament for endorsement. As for the Peshmergas, a commission will be formed by the Federal government. This will visit the Kurdistan Region very soon, for discussions on practical measures. With regard to Article 140, the process will continue in a framework set up by the United Nations, which must make proposals to the Kurdish and Iraqi governments in the near future.
Nechirvani Barzani has, moreover, denied that the Iraqi government wanted to hinder the application of this article. Regarding the future proposals by the UN, he pointed out that the Kurds “will have their say” and that it was probable that, as UN representatives to Iraq have already indicted, the first measures will be applied in those regions where the issue of the referendum is less a source of conflict.
Three parties represented in Parliament are threatened with being banned by order of the judiciary: the party in office, the AKP, the pro-Kurdish DTP party, and the old Kemalist party, the CHP (People’s Republican Party) founded by Ataturk himself.
The threat against the first is particularly newsworthy as it is not only the party in office, elected with 47% of the popular vote, but also the party that has enjoyed a certain sympathy in organs of the European Union, despite some bogging down of the reforms undertaken since it was originally elected.
The AKP and its leaders will be taken to court for a certain number of its proposals and one reform (in fact relatively minimal in practice but considered very symbolic in Turkey) — that of allowing the Islamic headscarf to be worn in Universities. The charges, accepted by the Constitutional Court, are of “anti-secular activities”. In addition to banning the party, the Public Prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalçinkaya, is demanding 5 years exclusion from all political activity for 71 of its leaders, including, of course, the President of the Republic, Abdullah Gul and the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In Turkey, the magisterial caste is often acts like a “Kemalist old guard”, hostile to all and any change that might call into question the founding principles of the Turkish State, as laid down in 1923. Since it no longer has any parliamentary representation, it is through the courts that this trend shows its opposition to “the Islamic threat” embodied in the AKP and the “attacks on Turkishness” for which the Kurds are generally the ideally designated guilty parties — and the DTP in particular.
However this case hits at the heart of relations with the European Union, which considers this procedure undemocratic and incompatible with European rules of political life. The Commissioner for enlargement, Olli Rehn, immediately criticised this decision, stressing that “in a normal democracy, political issues must be settled by the ballot box, not by the courts” and allowing it to be understood that the dissolution of the AKP could lead to the suspension of negotiations with Turkey. Jan Martinus Wiersman, Vice-President of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, went yet further by stating that the banning of the party in office would “automatically” lead to the end of negotiations. The German MEP Jorgo Chatzmarkakis, a member of the Liberal Democratic Alliance, who also supports the idea of suspending Turkey’s application for membership in the event of the AKP being banned, sees this as a sign of the intrigues of the “deep state” against democracy in Turkey and enjoins the “Turkish Kemalists” to adapt themselves to the 21st Century, comparing this behaviour with that of the South American dictatorships of in the 70s and 80s.
As for Joost Lagendijk, joint President of the Europe-Turkey Parliamentary Commission, he disapproves of the very fact that the Constitutional Court accepted the plea, while saying that he expected it “because, knowing the composition of the Constitutional Court, this was bound to happen. I think that this is a very bad thing for Turkey in two ways. Firstly this harms its image abroad. I am certain that those who are against Turkey’s membership of the European Union will rejoice because this gives them one more argument: why should we negotiate with a country where the ruling party risks being banned? The second is that, in consequence there will be no new reforms for the next six or nine months. The government will be too busy fighting the opposition (…) so that, once again, 2008 will be another wasted year, as was 2007”.
The same tune was sounded by the European Parliament’s reporter for Turkey, Ria Oomen-Ruijten, who accused the judges of acting “as if they owned the State”.
The Public Prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalçinkaya, is also the initiator of the proceedings to close down the DTP, which he accuses of being “an offence against the indivisible integrity of the State and Nation”. He also calls for 5 years imprisonment for 221 members of the DTP, including 8 members of parliament.
Ahmet Turk, the leader of the DTP Parliamentary Group, expressing his views on the possible banning of the AKP and his own party, also saw this as the effect of a conflict between the “deep state” and the rest of Turkish society: “There are three States in Turkey. The first wants change so as to advance along the road leading to the European Union; the second seeks to preserve the status quo in the country and the last wants to make the State conform the image that the deep state and its gangs have of the State”. However he also urges the AKP to recognise its own responsibility for the deterioration in the situation: “The AKP can certainly not claim to be the victim of conflicts within the State’s internal forces. They have not been able to turn to good account the powers with which the nation has entrusted them. Unfortunately, the governing party is responsible for the present situation in the country”.
Ahmet Turk also accuses the AKP of failing to defend democracy against the supporters of the status quo. He calls on the government finally to engage in democratic reforms and to “launch a war of independence in favour of democracy”, in particular by resolving the Kurdish question, which is a major condition for this.
However, more unexpectedly, a third party has been added to the list of political movements threatened with banning — this is the CHP (Republic People’s Party), although it is the principal adversary of the AKP and the DTP. This party is accused of secretly transferring funds to a nationalist television channel, Kanal Turk, to the tune of 3 million Turkish lire.
Mustafa Ozyurek, assistant leader of this party, stated, in a press conference, that this was just an advance, aimed at financing the advertising clips. However, the legal experts considered this a sign of a secret partnership between the CHP and Kanal Turk, which is a breach of several articles in the law governing political parties.
The accusations against the CHP were made to the Istanbul Public Prosecutor and to the Constitutional Court in May 2007. This case exposes the CHP to the likelihood of being dissolved, as has already happened in the past in similar cases of illegal financing involving political parties.
Once again, Turkey and Iran announce the strengthening of their cooperation on security questions. During the 12th meeting of the High Commission on Security which took place in Ankara from 14 to 18 April (the previous one having been held in Teheran in February 2006) the discussions mainly covered the activities of the PKK and its Iranian alter ego the PJAK.
The eight-member Iranian delegation, was led by the Interior Ministry’s representative, Ali Akbar Mohtaj, the Turkish delegation by the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior, Osman Gunesh. The Turkish delegation consisted of senior officials of the National Police, the intelligence services (MIT), the Gendarmerie and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
This Commission has been in existence since 1988, but was hardly active during the first decade of its existence. At the end of the 80s and the early 90s the Iranian services had establish close relations with groups of Turkish islamists by arming and training them. These groups operated both in Turkey, assassinating Iranian dissidents and in Iran against foreign diplomats. As for the PKK, even though Iranian support for this organisation was minimal, Iran accepted to serve as a refuge for Kurdish fighters operating in Turkey.
Thus Dogan Beyazit, a retired Turkish general relates on the Jamestown Foundation’s Web site: “I have very often observed PKK terrorists who fled by crossing the borders into Iran. If we protested, they shilly-shallied before sending a car to the border and inviting us to go and see for ourselves. However, if we did accept the car, it ran at about 20 km/hour then broke down. By the time it arrived, the terrorists had already left the area. Thus the Iranians denied that they had ever been there. It was, obviously, a lie”.
Nevertheless, since the PJAK began being active in 2004 (and, to a lesser extent since the AKP’s election victory in 2002) cooperation has been strengthened, since Iran has stronger motives for eradicating the PKK’s activities now that they are more directly aimed against it. The two countries exchange information and Iran has already extradited PKK activists to Turkey. Similarly, last March, the Turkish security forces in Van arrested Memishir Eminzade, a PJAK commander who had entered Turkey through Iraqi Kurdistan. As fro the shelling of PKK camps in Kurdistan, they have been carried out at a steady rate since 2007, even if the Iran attacks are far from being on the same scale as the recent Turkish operation.
As for the US attitude towards PJAK, it is generally considered to be fairly two faced. In any case Iran regularly accuses the US if underhand support for PJAK attacks, which Washington, of course, denies, even though a PJAK leader, Haji Ahmedi, received authorisation to visit the United States where he met several American officials (according to the Jamestown Foundation). A moderate dose of Iranian destabilisation would seem opportune to the USA. However, since last winter, which saw some intensified Turkish-American cooperation, at least on the level of intelligence, the US position regarding PJAK seems to have hardened, even though a strengthening of Iranian-Turkish cooperation is hardly in its interest.
As a consequence of peace and economic growth, the number of orphans has decreased in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since the middle of the current decade.
Zaito Tahir, the general director of the Irbil orphanage, explained to the Kurdish Globe that, before the year 2000, there had been 350 orphans in the homes run by Irbil Province, but that the number had dropped to 155. “Now only 90 children actually live in the orphanage. The other 65 live with relatives, at our expense. We supply food and money”.
Zaito Tahir, who is also a research worker in social science, attributes this drop to the peace and economic development that has prevailed in the region since 2003. “In fact, the bulk of these orphans came here following the divorce of their parents — they are not children who have lost their parents because of war”.
The Shoresh boy's orphanage includes boarders between the ages of 2 and 18yers. After 18, the majority of the boys leave the institution to find work or to live with close relatives. However, some remain, like two 18 year-old boys who prefer to continue living there while pursuing their education and helping the work of the orphanage rather than go and live with members of their family.
Some children, on the other hand, refuse to go to school, as Zaito Tahir explains: “The majority of children we shelter are not psychologically normal. They have suffered stress, trauma and feel deprived of all sense of responsibility. They regard the orphanage as the cause of the break-up of their families and sometimes break windows or create problems. They do not understand that the orphanage is the only home they now have”.
The US army has allocated 4 million dollars for building a big orphanage at Irbil, which is now almost completed. The World Orphan (WO) is also building a centre in Irbil intended to receive orphans suffering from various handicaps.
The first orphanage was built in Irbil in 1979, and only accepted children of under 5 years of age unless they had lost both their parents. Today, however, the Kurdistan orphanages also receive abused and ill-treated children.
The orphanage built by the US army will include buildings for boys and for girls, with several halls and amenities, a swimming pool, and sports field. The two existing buildings will thus be closed. “The existing orphanages are like barracks, the children sleep in a big hall”.
Haqi Ismail, the general director of World Orphan in Kurdistan, explained to Kurdish Globe that the project on which they were working consisted of dormitories, a school, a hospital, and would be staffed round the clock. The Kurdish Regional Government has allocated 12,000 square metres for this project. “The centre will become a permanent home for the children, even after they have grow up. It will aim to provide for children that are homeless, handicapped or are orphans”.
In addition to these orphanages, Zahir Tahir says he is making efforts to convince the government to pay a pension so that children can live with relatives, which he considers preferable as it enables them to maintain stronger social bonds.
“Following investigations we have noted that the majority of children preferred to live with members of their family”. The government spends $300 a month per orphan. This sum, paid directly to a family would suffice to encourage it to care for a child.
The Kurdish Minister of external relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, welcomed the announcement by the German Ambassador to Baghdad of the opening of a office in Irbil: “This is an important step in relations between the Kurdistan Region and Germany. Germany has the strongest economy in Europe. The opening of an office of the Embassy here will make trade and cultural contacts between our people and the German people easier.
Falah Mustafa Bakir was speaking during the visit of a German delegation to Irbil. “We are proud and happy that Germany has joined the growing list of foreign nations that have established official contacts with the Kurdistan Region and we welcome them, with open arms, to Irbil, where they will find many friends. The German government is supplying considerable aid and training here and we hope that the presence of a branch office of the Embassy will lead to the development of new projects as well as new trading opportunities for German companies”.
The German Ambassador to Baghdad declared that initiatives had already begun in this direction. Thus the AGEF, a programme of occupational training, and its private and public partnership with the Daimler Company, will be strengthened by the embassy in Irbil.
Because f the intensification of operations against the PKK inside Turkish borders, the month of April has been a pretty bloody one for the Turkish Arm. On 5 April, a militiaman was killed by the explosion of a homemade bomb in Sirnak Province. Three other “village guards” were wounded. On 10 April there were thirteen PKK fighters killed by the Turkish forces in Tunceli and Diyarbekir Provinces, according to official communiqués. O 17 April a soldier was killed near the Iraqi border. On 20 April, another soldier was killed and tow others injured by a bomb explosion at Kars. The Turkish Army attributes this action to the PKK. On 25 April a Major and a soldier were killed at Sirnak, while on the 27 two Turkish soldiers were killed and another wounded in the course of an operation near Bingol, which also resulted in three wounded amongst the pro-government militia. In all, April’s operations caused the death of seven “village guards”, six Turkish soldiers, including an officer and nearly ten wounded. However the Turkish Army states that, as well as the 13 fighters killed at Tunceli and Diyarbekir, “many” Kurdish rebels were killed in Iraq by air raids on PKK positions in Northern Iraq on 23, 25 and 26 April, in the regions of Zap, Avashin and Khakurk. These raids have been confirmed to AFP b a PKK spokesman, who, however, denied that there were any casualties in its ranks.
Furthermore, on 16 April, the Turkish police arrested two men in the centre of Diyarbekir. According to police sources they were found to be in possession of explosives and were planning an attack on the railway station, which is used by the Army to transport troops and equipment. On 23 April, a woman was arrested in Tarsus, in Southern Turkey, as she was carrying dynamite and preparing to commit a suicide-bomb attack on an unspecified target.
The European Criminal Court (ECC) has ruled against the inclusion of the PKK on the European Union’s “black list of terrorist organisations” in 2002, considering that the E.U. had not sufficiently “justified” it decision. As these lists are regularly “updated” by the E.U. Council of Ministers, by simple administrative decision, and without consultation with the European Parliament, the ECC has only a symbolic effect except for the various organs of public opinion. The press that is close to the PKK, such as Ozgur Politika, saw this as a “victory” while the Turkish Press and the Turkish Minister of Justice, Mehmet Ali Sahin, accused the verdict of weakening “the international struggle against terrorism” and spoke of “possible counter measures” by Turkey, without further details.
These “black lists”, in fact, are far from unanimously agreed within the European Union, since last January the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had issued a press communiqué describing “the procedures used by the UN Security Council and the European Union to include persons and groups suspected of being linked to terrorism” as “totally arbitrary and flouting the fundamental rights of individuals”. The European parliamentarians thus demanded their re-examination “in the interest of the credibility of the international struggle against terrorism”.
The reporter who originated the resolution of the parliamentary Assembly, the Swiss member of parliament Dick Marty, stresses that, at present, some 370 people have had their assets frozen and are unable to travel because they have been included on a Security Council “black list”, sometimes “simply on the basis suspicion … Even members of the Committee responsible for deciding whether to include a person on the black list do not always know the reasons at the source of the demand for listing people. As often as not, the person or entity concerned is not even advised of this demand, nor heard, or informed of the decision taken — until they try to cross a border of use a bank account. No measures provides for an independent re-examination of decisions taken”. The Parliamentary Assembly, consequently, asked by an overwhelming majority (nearly unanimously) the revision of these lists.
These lists, which have been in existence since 1999, have been extensively used since the 11 September 2001 attacks. Inclusion of a group as “terrorist” is made at the demand of a State “on the basis of information described as “confidential” and communicated only to the Sanctions committee of the UN Security Council or of the Council of ministers of the E.U.” According to Dick Marty, “the rule is that representatives of other states refrain from objecting, so that the sole real decision is that of the State making the demand. No serious and independent mechanism of checking is provided”.
Reacting to this decision, the United States, for its part, declared that it had no intention of altering the status of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In the course of a meeting in Ankara with the League for Human Rights in Turkey (IHD), the Union of Public employees (KESK) and other non-governmental organisations, The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, went back on his willingness to recognise the Kurdish language, one of the sine qua non conditions, in the eyes of the European Union, for Turkish membership. There was a sharp discussion on the subject of the Kurdish language and its teaching — a discussion that ended with the departure of Sezgin Tanrikulu, the President of the Diyarbekir Bar Association.
The NGOs were, in fact, presenting the Prime Minister with a “register of grievances” drawn up in Kurdish and demanding the right of the Kurds to education in their mother tongue. Moreover, these associations told Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the Kurdish question in Turkey was not solely an economic problem linked to the under-development of the “South-East” in well and truly a political and cultural problem.
Sezgin Tanrikulu this warmly debated with the Prime Minister on the “non-economic” aspects of the Kurdish question in Turkey. Caught short, Recep Tayyip Erdogan then demanded that his interlocutor give examples of these “problems”. Sezgin Tanrikulu mentioned the fact that Kurds did not have the right to speak their mother tongue in public establishments, be their educational or administrative. To this the Prime Minister replied that the right to education in their mother tongue only concerned minorities “who enjoyed schools for that purpose”.
This reply simply refers to the Lausanne Treaty, in which only religious minorities are mentioned, cited as “non-Moslem” (Section III, Article 38) — that is Christians and Jews (but not Alevis!) — and refusing any political and cultural existence to ethnic minorities.
Nevertheless, that Treaty did provide for the free use of any language on the territory of the Turkish Republic, be it for “minorities” or “Turkish nationals” as is very explicitly laid out in Article 39 of the same Section: “No edicts shall impose restrictions on the free use by any Turkish national of any language whatsoever, either in their private relations, in trade or in matters of religion, the press, or publications of any kind, or in public meetings.
Notwithstanding the existence of the official language, appropriate facilities shall be given to Turkish nationals having languages other than Turkish for the oral use of their language before the courts”
Sezgin Tanrikulu then raised the recent remarks by the Turkish Prime Minister about the Turks in Germany, in which he described their “assimilation” as a “crime against humanity”. Recep Tayyip Erdogan at first replied that the Kurds of Turkey were not the Turks of Germany, but as the President of the Diyarbekir Bar insisted, he lost his temper and shouted: “You lie! You are dishonest!”. At this Sezgin Tanrikulu left the meeting, replying that he did not need to prove his honesty to anyone and that Recep Tayyip Erdogan had no right to insult him. The discussion then ended after 20 minutes, without any press statement from the NGOs present.