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Minority Rights Group International welcomes the election of pro-Kurdish MPs in Turkey, warns much remains to be achieved

24 June 2007

For the first time in 16 years, pro Kurdish candidates have won seats in the Turkish parliament. In the results of the Turkish general elections, held on Sunday 22 July, 24 pro Kurdish candidates have been elected after running as independent.

Turkey requires that a political party receives 10 per cent of votes in the general election in order to win a seat. This high threshold has stopped pro Kurdish parties such as the Democratic Society Party (DTP) from gaining representation.

Independent candidates are exempt from the threshold, and by standing as such, pro Kurdish candidates have won their seats.

MRG believes this shows how much work still needs to be done saying, 'Having independent candidates is a positive development for the representation of Kurds in the Turkish parliament. However, this win shows the reality of the election system in Turkey, a system which includes a 10 percent threshold, which forbids the use of languages other than Turkish in political parties' activities (including congress and election campaigns), which forbids alleging the existence of racial, religious and linguistic minorities in Turkey, and forbids campaigning for the protection and promotion of languages other than Turkish. These laws need to be changed to ensure the effective participation of national minorities.

In 1991, Leyla Zana a Kurdish parliamentarian spoke her language in parliament and was later arrested and jailed for 15 years with three other MPs. MRG says, 'It is vital that the new independent candidates should be able to use their democratic and legal rights freely, without being subject to any arbitrary prosecution and arrests.

'Running as independent candidates is one way to avoid the indirect discrimination that has been rife in the Turkish electoral system for so long. But candidates should not have to resort to these tactics – the threshold should be lowered and discrimination tackled at its root.'

Violent clashes between Turkish State forces and Kurdish armed opposition have continued for more than 20 years. Currently, Kurds are denied the right to study Kurdish in state schools and there are restrictions on broadcasting in the Kurdish language. There are many other restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, including the fact that it is illegal to use the letters X, Q and W on the basis that these letters do not exist in the Turkish alphabet. However they are commonly used in Kurdish names.