Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Turks have been living in Kosovo for centuries and became a significant presence following the establishment of Ottoman rule in 1450. Turkish community leaders estimated their community’s population at between 12,000 and 50,000 in 1999. Based on the 2011 census with OSCE data from North Kosovo, the European Centre for Minority Issues estimates that just under 19,000 Turks currently live in Kosovo. In Prizren, which remains the centre of Kosovo Turkish culture and heritage, Turks represent approximately 4 per cent of the population.
Ironically, new laws enacted under UNMIK’s supervision mean that Turkish minority communities had less opportunity to speak, hear, be educated in and use their mother tongue in official capacities than in the pre-Milosevic Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). Following the signing of the Law for Use of Official Languages on 2 November 2007, Turkish is no longer recognized as an official language in some municipalities where Turks have been living for centuries. Under the 1974 SFRY Constitution, the Turkish language enjoyed equal status with Serbo-Croat and Albanian, but the new Kosovo Constitution only guarantees Albanian and Serbian as official national languages. The decision of whether to recognize the Bosnian, Roma and Turkish languages at the municipal level is left to the discretion of municipalities. According to the OSCE in 2014, Turkish was an official language in two municipalities, including Prizren, and a further four municipalities recognise it as a language in official use.
Members of the Turkish community complain that broadcasting space for Turkish-language programmes is 20 per cent of previous levels; that, unlike in the SFRY, UNMIK ID cards are not produced in Turkish; and the government is no longer supporting the previously publicly funded Turkish-language newspaper. The lack of Turkish-language options for UNMIK ID cards means that Turks cannot correctly spell their surnames in identity documentation. This is in contravention of the right to official recognition of names written in minority languages, under Article 11 of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), applicable in Kosovo since 2001. While the right to have personal names registered in their original form is guaranteed under Kosovo’s new Constitution, the use of minority alphabets in relations with the central authorities is not. Together with Bosniaks, Turks also face a lack of school textbooks and official education documentation published in their own language. This is in spite of provisions in both the Law on the Use of Language and the Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government in Kosovo, which supposedly guaranteed their right to mother tongue education from primary school to university.
The result, in combination with bad economic conditions and a lack of jobs in which Turkish language can be used is that many Turks are migrating to Turkey for higher education, or permanently. Despite having lived in Kosovo for five centuries, they feel that, with the lack of widespread official recognition of Turkish language and identity, the only other option is assimilation.
Updated March 2018
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