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Turkey’s EU ambitions are failing to produce rights reforms for minorities

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Kurdish and Armenian minorities in Turkey have criticized the government for failing to implement policy on human and minority rights, aimed at helping to secure Turkey’s early entry into the European Union. Reports of continuing activity against the Kurdish community including military raids on villages and the forced displacement of villagers in 2003 have led community representatives to question the government’s commitments to progressive policy reforms.

A representative of the Contemporary Lawyers Association of Diyarbakýr Branch, Turkey, stated that while the basic legally binding treaty regarding minority protection in Turkey is the Lausanne Peace Treaty, Kurds are not recognized as a minority under this Treaty. Turkey’s desire to be part of European Union has encouraged the government to undertake reforms. Since 2001, the Turkish government passed several legal reforms within the framework of harmonization with the Copenhagen Political Criteria, including a constitutional reform (October 2001) and the adoption of a New Civil Code in November 2001. Despite ratifying the ICCPR and the ICESCR, Turkey has made a reservation to Article 27 of the ICCPR relating to minority rights, reserving its right to consider minority rights in terms of Lausanne Treaty.

Despite legalization of broadcasting in Kurdish in 2002, significant restrictions remain in place including the second Regulation on the Language of Radio and Television Broadcasts, which bans broadcasts for children and broadcasts aimed at teaching languages other than Turkish amongst numerous other restrictions. Since September 2003, Kurds have been officially allowed to take Kurdish names, previously prohibited under Turkish law. However, these names may not use the letters x,w or q, which are common in Kurdish but do not exist in Turkey’s version of the Latin alphabet. Hundreds of Kurds have applied to the courts seeking to change their names to Kurdish ones written with the letters X, W and Q including the names Xebat, Axgin, Pervagin, Xezal, Bawer, Qalferat, Welat and Berwada. These letters, however, are often used in Turkey in the names of companies, TV and radio channels, and trademarks, yet are also banned as a means of restricting Kurdish cultural expression.

Recommendations by the Contemporary Lawyers Association to the Turkish government also highlighted the need for a comprehensive and effective return program to enable those affected by armed conflict since 1984 to return to their homes. In addition, education in mother tongue in primary and secondary school must be guaranteed and teaching of Kurdish language should be allowed in each level of education. They also called for changes to the restrictive electoral system making it easier for minorities to be represented in parliament by removing the 10% threshold required to take a seat in parliament.

Notes for editors

Download the full intervention delivered to the UN Working Group on Minorities.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.

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