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Kurdistan - Turkey


In July 2003, Parliament adopted a "Reintegration Law" offering reduced prison sentences to combatants belonging to the PKK/KADEK/KHK and other terrorist organizations as identified by the Government who agreed to lay down their weapons and provide information to authorities. The law offered full amnesty to those guilty of providing non-lethal support to terrorist organizations. At year's end, most of those who had applied for benefits under the law were already serving prison sentences. The Government reported that, as of 19 December 2003, 2,486 prisoners had applied for benefits under the law and 586 active militants had turned themselves in.

Citing security concerns, southeastern provincial authorities continued to deny some villagers access to their fields and high pastures for grazing, but allowed other villagers access to their lands. Voluntary and assisted resettlements were ongoing. In some cases, persons could return to their old homes. In other cases, centralized villages had been constructed. Only a fraction of the total number of evacuees had returned. The Government claimed that 94,000 persons returned to the region from June 2000 to October 2003. More than 400 villages and hamlets had reportedly been reopened with government assistance. These figures could not be independently verified.

According to human rights activists, villagers, and some southeast members of Parliament, the Government did not allow some displaced villagers to return unless they signed a document stating that they had left their homes due to PKK terrorism, rather than due to Government actions, and that they would not seek Government assistance in returning. Village guards had occupied homes abandoned by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and have attacked or intimidated IDPs attempting to return to their homes with official permission.

Foreign governments and national and international human rights organizations continued to criticize the Government's return efforts as secretive and inadequate. Francis M. Deng, the UN Special Representative for IDPs, visited the region in June 2002 and acknowledged a more open approach to returns on the part of the Government. Deng called on the Government to formulate a clear and transparent returns policy, establish focal points in the Government on IDPs, improve coordination within the Government and between the Government and the international community, and convene an international forum to develop return programs and strategies. In December 2003, government officials discussed the IDP issue with representatives of U.N. agencies and the EU.

In October 2003, an Adana court acquitted 14 members of the Migration and Humanitarian Aid Foundation (GIYAV), a Mersin-based group whose declared purpose was to provide assistance to displaced persons, on charges of aiding and abetting an illegal organization. The court transferred the cases of seven co-defendants to a Mersin court. Prosecutors continued to seek to disband GIYAV on separate charges that the organization established relationships with foreign associations without seeking the required approval of the interior and foreign ministries.

Turkey enacted cultural rights for the 12 million Kurds as part of efforts to join the European Union. The Government maintained some restrictions on religious minorities and on some forms of religious expression. At times, the Government restricted freedom of movement. The Government restricted the activities of some political parties and leaders, closed the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP), and sought to close the closely related Democratic People's Party (DEHAP). The Government continued to harass, indict, and imprison human rights monitors, journalists, and lawyers for the views they expressed in public.

There were numerous reports during 2003 of citizens of Kurdish origin being prevented from registering their newborn children with Kurdish names. In some cases, charges were filed against the parents. In August, authorities in Mersin reportedly refused to allow Ali Aksan to register his children with the names "Mihrivan", "Zozan", and "Berivan." In September, authorities in Istanbul reportedly prevented Sevket Gasgar from naming his son "Deral."

In July 2003, Parliament amended an article of the Census Law that had been used to prevent the use of Kurdish names. The amendment removed language that had prohibited the use of names contrary to the "national culture" or "customs and traditions," instead prohibiting names contrary to "moral norms" or names that "offend the public." The revised wording was intended to ease the restrictions. However, human rights advocates claimed local authorities failed to adjust their practices. In September 2003, the Interior Ministry issued a circular notifying local officials of the new regulations. However, the circular prohibited the use of letters used in Kurdish not found in Turkish. In December 2003, the Diyarbakir Province Jandarma commander asked the Diyarbakir chief prosecutor's office to provide a list of persons who had applied to change their names under the amended law. The prosecutor's office reportedly complied. The Diyarbakir Bar Association protested the request. There were numerous restrictions on free expression in Kurdish and pro-Kurdish political parties.

In May 2003, a Diyarbakir SSC acquitted a juvenile on charges of "inciting hatred and enmity." The juvenile was accused of altering the traditional pledge of allegiance in school and reciting, "Happy is he who calls himself a Kurd."

Implementing regulations for 2002 reform laws allowing broadcasts and private courses in Kurdish and other non-Turkish languages "used by Turkish citizens in their daily lives" created some bureaucratic obstacles. In July 2003, Parliament adopted reforms designed to remove these obstacles. However, no non-Turkish broadcasts or courses were established under these reforms by year's end. Local authorities in Sanliurfa, Batman, and Van provinces withheld permission to open Kurdish language courses on a number of technical issues, including a requirement that the applicants change the names of the institutions.

In July 2003, Parliament revoked Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law, which prohibited the dissemination of separatist propaganda. However, the updated laws still restricted non-violent expression, and court cases were still being brought against writers and publishers. Prosecutors in some cases based speech-related charges on laws not included in the scope of the reforms.

The Government showed some signs of greater tolerance for the use of the Kurdish language. Unlike in past years, police in most instances did not interfere during 2003 when HRA put up banners with the motto "Peace at Home, Peace in the World" in both Turkish and Kurdish, although, in December 2003, authorities in Van province did seize the banners. Also for the first time, police did not detain HRA members making statements in Kurdish on World Peace Day in September 2003. In October 2003, Kurdish singer Ciwan Haco spoke and sang in Kurdish during an appearance on a popular Istanbul-based television program.

Several actions, including police harassment, were taken against the pro-Kurdish DEHAP party. In September 2003, police detained DEHAP Chairman Tuncer Bakirhan, singer Haluk Levent, and six others in connection with a concert in Germany during a Kurdish cultural festival. Concert participants reportedly displayed KADEK-related pictures and banners. Authorities charged the detainees with separatist propaganda. The charges against the youths were later dropped, after a court ruled that they could not have understood the nature of what they were singing, it not being sung in a vernacular Kurdish intelligible to them. The charges against the leader of the group were upheld, and she remained in Germany rather than face the charges.

According to the military, 12 civilians, 19 members of the security forces, and 71 terrorists died during 2003 as a result of armed clashes. In September 2003, the PKK/KADEK announced an end to its unilateral ceasefire.

Due to the conflict with the PKK/KADEK/KHK, the Government continues to organize, arm, and pay a civil defense force of about 60,000, mostly in the southeast region. This force, known as the Village Guards, was reputed to be the least disciplined of the security forces and continued to be accused repeatedly of drug trafficking, rape, corruption, theft, and human rights abuses. Inadequate oversight and compensation contributed to this problem, and in some cases Jandarma allegedly protected Village Guards from prosecution. In addition to the Village Guards, Jandarma and police "special teams" were viewed as those most responsible for abuses. DEHAP officials claimed that security forces in July 2003 publicly displayed the bodies of two slain PKK/KADEK militants in the town of Baskale in Van Province. However, the incidence of credible allegations of serious abuses by security forces in operations against the PKK/KADEK/KHK was low.

The government of the mildly Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by PM Erdogan, began to tackle some of the sensitive issues that had been postponed, including freedom of expression and rights for ethnic and religious minorities through its "Democratic Opening" (formerly known as the "Kurdish Opening" and now also known since 2009 as the "National Unity Project").

The ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) National Unity Project encountered many difficulties, not the least of which was its own lack of planning and coordination inside the Party for implementation. As reforms continued to be accredited to the Project or implemented anew, society became polarized on the nature of the Project and whether it would have any impact on improving the situation of Kurds, or any other minority group. While the AKP was committed to continuing the Project at all costs, it needed to show that it is doing more than improvisation, preferably by announcing, passing, and implementing something related to the Project -- openly.

The Government of Turkey's journey to reach out to Kurds -- and in so doing to provide better rights for all minorities -- went down a bumpy road. Early encouragement to start using Kurdish language openly in public and in political arenas was popularly accepted by the Kurds, although they criticized its implementation because it was not within a permanent, legal framework. The AKP's agreement to receive a group of Kurdish returnees from Northern Iraq similarly received a hot and cold reception, with exuberant pro-PKK crowds greeting the returnees, and incredulous reactions from Turks in the West, whose anger was further stoked by the media portrayal of the event.

After three months of debate and criticism of the Project by all sides in the press, with no clear direction by the AKP to explain or promote it, its introductory debate parliament degenerated into vitriol and fisticuffs. A month later, the PKK -- with whom the Government of Turkey said it would not negotiate -- and elements in the Democratic Society Party (DTP) -- the AKP's most needed ally on the Project -- put on the brakes and insisted that the AKP use jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as its interlocutor with the Kurds. Subsequently, the Constitutional Court closed the DTP, and the protests and riots that followed have hardened nationalists to reject the outreach as treasonous and separatist, and hardened the PKK to reject the outreach as politically motivated and insincere.

The DTP's former members uniformly turned away from the Project, citing their need for the Government of Turkey to accept Ocalan as an interlocutor for the Kurds, which the Government of Turkey cannot do. The DTP's apparent successor party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) seemed carry the same message. If the AKP's falling approval ratings were any indication, it also risked losing electoral support to CHP and MHP in battleground provinces in parliamentary elections in 2011, because of the public's unease about the course of the Project. The Government of Turkey nevertheless insisted that it will continue the Project at all costs, because it is "the right thing to do." But the real motivations behind the Project, and the path to keeping it alive, do not appear to be taking center stage.

In 2010 the government began trying thousands of persons alleged to be members or supporters of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the umbrella political organization of the PKK terrorist group. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and human rights organizations claimed that, over a three-year period, authorities detained approximately 30,000 persons, of whom they arrested 8,000, and detained thousands of others (including elected mayors, political party officials, journalists, and human rights activists) pending trial. In January courts acquitted 106 defendants in Diyarbakir, including 98 elected mayors, of all charges after they had spent four years in pretrial detention. Arrests and indictments in other anti-KCK trials continued. The EU Commissions progress report for the year noted that the number of elected officials on trial in the KCK case was adversely affecting the exercise of regional and local democracy.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in search of nationalist votes in the June 2011 election, accused the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) of being responsible for creating discord in the country. He said there is no Kurdish issue in Turkey anymore, the exploitation of Kurdish siblings in Turkey is the issue. That speech is seen as the Prime Minister stepping back from his previous stance of acknowledging the country's Kurdish population have legitimate grievances saying in 2007 that Turkey had a Kurdish problem.

The Turkish government was hit hard in June 2013 by widespread protests, mainly in Turkeys western cities, over what protestors said was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarian manner of governing. Observers say in the fallout, Erdogan is reluctant to introduce pro-Kurdish reforms.

With the Kurdish peace process (aka solution process) underway, durig 2013 the number of roadway checkpoints maintained by the government in the Southeast decreased considerably, perhaps as much as 70 percent, according to the HRAs Diyarbakir office. Against the backdrop of government-PKK peace talks, official censure or harassment of Kurds who publicly spoke Kurdish or asserted their ethnic identity decreased markedly. In both law and practice, the government took steps toward acceptance of the Kurdish language in education, the judiciary, state-owned media, and public services.

Turkey will never be a free country unless the Kurdish issue is solved. The government has tried everything: assimilation, repression, arrests and killings, but it was not able to put an end to the problem. That is why the Kurdish question is the most fundamental problem of Turkey. The issue will remain to be the most scorching, unless a solution is made, unless the Kurds are given protection under the countrys laws, and unless the Kurds are given a say in the government.

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Page last modified: 05-04-2014 19:17:12 ZULU