About KB

Inveterate blogger, newshound, media junkie, mostly interested in politics, language rights, media freedom, human rights.

Hatip Dicle and Kurdish Soul Force

Hatip Dicle, independent Kurdish candidate for Turkish Parliament, has been stripped of his parliamentary victory by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) of Turkey. With it, Turkey has stripped away the last veneer of its façade of presumptive innocence. Any claim now that Turkey, whether from its judiciary or any other branch of government, is in any way shape or form working towards a rapprochement with the Kurds, can be, and must be, labelled a figment of nationalist imagination or collective delusion.

Mr Dicle won a seat on 12 June with 78,220 votes, or 11.2% of the total votes in the Diyarbakır province. He lost that seat on 21 June with 7 votes, or 100% of the total votes of the YSK judges. Their decision is symptomatic of deep-rooted antipathy towards Kurdish aspirations of parity in Turkish society.

Mr Dicle sits in prison charged with terrorism, as outlined by the country’s rigidly militaristic constitution and legal codes, which are only fraught with antediluvian notions of racism and intolerance. The judges claim that they are bound by the law of the land and have no choice. The AKP shrugs and says it is out of their hands. This nonchalant attitude is unacceptable and morally unconscionable.

The new Parliament, from which Dicle has been excluded, will be tasked with drafting a new, inclusive constitution, which everyone agrees is long overdue. However, a civilian constitution, regardless of its form or offerings, would only be a structural change. A new constitutional landscape is not going to change the deeply embedded attitudes or the psychocultural dynamics driving those attitudes. More simply, as Gandhi said, ‘The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of heart.’

Any structural change needs to be accompanied by something deeper, more profound. A start would be an acknowledgement by the Turkish government of the decades of oppression and repressive policies against the Kurds, followed by a formally negotiated, public apology. It is from this point where ‘change of heart’ may begin to flourish, with the constitution as a guide, to begin national healing.

The Kurdish Democratic Society Congress has announced that without Dicle, no one from the newly-elected Block will enter Parliament. At the same time thousands are in the streets venting anger over the YSK decision and years of political harassment. What happens in the coming days will be crucial if any progress is to be made.

Martin Luther King, Jr, the great American civil rights leader, gave a speech in the summer of 1963 in which he said, ‘We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.’

The decision not to enter Parliament can be seen as dignity and discipline. The street protests must remain peaceful, for no healing can come from violence. Soul force, only. Kurdish soul force. And this too will be seen as coming from ‘the high plane.’

King continues in his speech, ‘In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.’

Let the cup of bitterness and hatred be drained. Let Hatip Dicle stand now, proudly, as the new symbol of Kurdish soul force. Let the name ‘Hatip Dicle’ ring out as a call for all Kurds to come together peacefully to overcome the ingrained institution of bigotry. Drink now from the cup of Kurdish soul force.


Jerry and Hafez

Yes, this is totally random and has nothing to do with anything really. I was going through an old box of stuff and came across some photographs and felt the need to share this particular one (which has been hidden away for many years now). I shot it in Deir ez-Zour in the mid-90s while there visiting a friend. It’s the wall outside of a kindergarten with Jerry the mouse and Hafez al-Assad, the late Syrian president. Seeing this was a nice change from all the Hafez, Basil and Bashar imagery around everywhere at that time. And it’s a cute image for little school children in their blue smocks as they enter the school, right?

Well, I just went to Wikipedia to look up Tom and Jerry, the cartoon in which Jerry appeared. It says:

The short episodes are infamous for some of the most comically gory gags ever devised in theatrical animation, such as Jerry slicing Tom in half, shutting his head in a window or a door, Tom using everything from axes, firearms, explosives, traps and poison to try to murder Jerry, Jerry stuffing Tom’s tail in a waffle iron and a mangle, kicking him into a refrigerator, plugging his tail into an electric socket, pounding him with a mace, club or mallet, causing a tree or an electric pole to drive him into the ground, sticking matches into his feet and lighting them, tying him to a firework and setting it off, and so on.

Hmmm. It never dawned on me that there was so much in common between this cartoon character and the Assad clan.

36 seats in Parliament. Now what?

Labour, Freedom and Democracy Block

It has been a week since the 12 June elections in Turkey. The dust is settling and a clearer picture is emerging of what’s in store for the new parliament once the next legislative session begins around 01 October. High on the agenda is the drafting of a new, civilian constitution. The current constitution, put into effect in 1982 on the heels of the 1980 military coup, is based on a Kemalist notion of Turkish national identity, which is homogeneous and leaves no room for ethnic and religious difference. It is a ‘straightjacket’ on Turkish democracy, limiting the rights of individuals and privileging the state at the expense of the citizen.

The swearing in ceremony for MPs in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Turkish Parliament, or simply Meclis in Turkish) will be 24 June. The day before the swearing-in, a newly formed commission from the pro-Kurdish Labour, Democracy and Freedom Block (in Kurdish, Bloka Ked, Azadî û Demokrasî, or KAD), which won 36 seats, will issue a declaration. The statement will clarify the KAD-Block’s standing in the parliament, the way, methods and strategies to be followed for a solution to problems. The KAD-Block was created and supported by the BDP, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.

On Sunday evening last, as results were still coming in, Turkish PM Erdoğan said that the nation had not only given his party a mandate to govern, but to draft a new constitution: ‘The people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation.’ He said that the AKP would discuss the new constitution with opposition parties and parties outside of parliament, in ‘all-encompassing’ negotiations.

With their 36 seats, the KAD-Block will play an important role in any future constitutional debate, and the Kurdish question looks set to move to the top of the political agenda. Said Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish MP from Istanbul in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Erdoğan ‘now faces a major domestic challenge,’ referring to the writing up a new, inclusive constitution. She also said that the 36-MP strong block ‘will be the most effective check on the AKP’s destructive policy’ of repressing the Kurds.

However, some are expressing caution regarding the KAD-Block’s calls for specific demands. Taha Akyol, for example, a political analyst with CNNTürk and Milliyet newspaper, said that while the BDP has become ‘a force that cannot be ignored’ it ‘must know the limits of its demands.’ While Akyol is a Turkish nationalist, this will certainly be an issue in the constitutional negotiations, as the AKP is not going to want to be seen as caving in to Kurdish demands. After all, Erdoğan ran a very nationalist campaign to garner MHP (far-right, nationalist party) votes. But, after the election, Erdoğan apologised to his rivals for his actions and language during the campaigns. Erdoğan’s words were probably meant more to take votes from the MHP party to keep them from reaching the 10% election threshold. But still, it will be hard now to backpedal.

Ahmet Türk, newly elected KAD MP from Mêrdîn said that the ‘new constitution must be based on democratic autonomy, which must be a topic in the open for discussion and we will work towards this. If these demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

Leyla Zana speaks in Diyarbakır

Leyla Zana, elected from Diyarbakır, speaking in Kurdish to an audience of tens of thousands at a rally last Monday said, ‘The Kurds will be a partner of this state.’ While the logical assumption is that MPs elected from the pro-Kurdish KAD Block will be partners (the AKP needs partners), it is not clear to what extent Kurds will be included in the process of re-writing the country’s constitution.

Murat Yetkin, writing for Hürriyet Daily News, says the ‘CHP (centre-left, People’s Republican Party) is always a safer partner for the AKP for major political projects like amending or rewriting the constitution, in order to secure a consensus acceptable for a wider base in society. The BDP, which is focused more on Kurdish rights, might be an easier partner for Erdoğan at first sight, but such a partnership, which might exclude both the CHP and the MHP, might cause new fault lines in Turkey’s political arena. It may cast a shadow, says Yetkin, over the new constitution, creating doubts whether the government sort of bargained for the presidential system in return for group – not individual – rights for Kurds.’

Some of the conditions the Kurds will expect in any new constitution, says KAD MP-elect Hasip Kaplan from southeastern province of Şırnak, are the implementation of democratic autonomy, the use of mother tongues and the granting of constitutional citizenship.’ He also said that it should contain ‘expansion of freedom of thought in its largest sense.’

These are ‘demands’ that may be outside of the ‘limits’ referred to by Akyol. But what then is left? How can the Kurds accept anything less than full equality as Kurdish citizens of the Turkish Republic? In a meeting of Turkish intellectuals, journalists and lawyers earlier last week, Osman Can, one of the lawyers present, called on political parties to abandon what they earlier termed ‘red lines’ and said parties must decide to talk without preconditions. One of the ‘reddest’ of lines is that of mother-tongue education in Kurdish. It is a flashpoint in the debate on Kurdish rights and a key theme of the Kurd’s political agenda. Abandoning red lines may be easier said than done.

Nabi Avcı, a newly elected AKP deputy from Eskişehir and former senior media advisor to Erdoğan, said at a meeting with members of the foreign press that the ‘Kurdish issue’ is also on the government’s agenda ‘not as a problem but as a broader issue.’ He also said that ‘it is not right to highlight any priorities at the moment.’

Some of these comments may not bode well for Kurdish expectations. Ahmet Türk says that ‘the election results mean that the Kurdish people are united and our demands are going to be on the national agenda. If not, there will be more pain and more problems in the future’ and that if their ‘demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

The threat of ‘more pain and more problems in the future’ that Türk mentioned is real, according to the deputy head of the ruling AKP in Diyarbakır, Mohammed Akar. He says that if there is disappointment, the whole idea of integration will end. Separation and conflict will come to the fore. Akar added that ‘the danger that is lying ahead is a nightmare.’

The AKP may have received the largest percentage of popular votes at 49.95%, but the fact is that in 2002 they had 363 seats in the Meclis, in 2007 they had 341 seats, and now, in 2011, the AKP will seat only 326 parliamentarians. From 2007 to 2011, the overall percentage of votes increased by 3.3%, but their percentage of seats in the Meclis will decline by 4.5%.

Erdoğan’s AKP had been vying for a 2/3’s super majority (367 seats), which would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution single-handedly with no input from any other parties. A 3/5’s majority (330 seats) would have offered the AKP the option of drafting a new constitution on its own and then submitting it to a public referendum. They are only four seats from a 3/5’s majority and could try and look for defectors to make up the gap.

click to enlarge

However, the Kurds are the ones who are really gaining ground. In 2007 they captured 20 seats in parliament. This time round the pro-Kurdish KAD-Block managed to get 6.85% of the national vote, which resulted in 36 of its candidates getting elected. Not all of them are Kurdish, which was a strategy the BDP had to broaden its support base. And 11 of the 36 are women. A list of the 36 and election percentages can be found here.

In an attempt to draw support from religious voters, an alliance was formed with two other pro-Kurdish parties—the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR). Former KADEP leader Şerafettin Elçi was picked as a candidate in Diyarbakır.

Political Science at Istanbul University, Dr Nuray Mert, noted that this was ‘a very successful outcome for the Block but it goes unnoticed that the Block didn’t participate in the elections as a political party. Therefore, the elections already began unfair[ly].’

In Diyarbakır, seven KAD-Block candidates got 429,000 votes and won six seats, whereas the AKP received five seats with only 231,000 votes. Without the 10 percent threshold, says Henri Barkey, KAD-Block candidates would have probably gotten as many as 50 seats. In other words, BDP is stronger than the number of seats it will control in the new parliament.

The Kurdish political group may be stronger than the number of seats, but for now they have to work with their strength in parliament. A change in the 10% election threshold will also be a necessary component in any new constitution to ensure more inclusivity in the future.

For now there is a major battle ahead as political camps scramble to put together their bargaining points and prepare for October. It will be interesting to see too what happens between now and the opening of that new, legislative session.

Since the election, the Turkish government has shut down Kurdish media outlets and has continued its arrest waves of Kurdish politicians. More than 100 have been detained in the past week alone. In spite of this, a PKK ceasefire has been extended to see what will happen with reforms and constitutional change. If the repressive methods continue and Erdoğan fails to take an historic step in partnering with the Kurds in the drafting of the new constitution, all hell will break loose.

Speaking of the failure of the AKP to garner its wished-for super-majority and rewrite the constitution by itself, former US Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, said that ‘[g]iven concerns about Erdoğan’s megalomania and authoritarian tendencies that have gained traction in Turkey in recent months, the outcome is good for Turkish democracy.’ Let’s hope it is good too for Kurdish aspirations.

Syria at the Crossroads

The article below is republished here at the request of the author, Sîrwan Kajjo. The original article was first published at the Fikra Forum on 13 June 2011. The Arabic version of Kajjo’s article can be seen here.

Sîrwan Kajjo

Amidst the daily protests that have characterized the scene in Syria this year, an increasing number of questions are being raised regarding the final outcome in Syria and the impact of the ongoing demonstrations. Those who have closely followed the scene in Syria can clearly see that this movement across the country is the inevitable result of the extreme levels of suppression experienced by Syrians of every class. This is only the beginning of the end of four decades of totalitarian rule.

Syria today is not the Syria we knew before. Who would have predicted that the people would publicly call for the fall of the regime or even dare to demand freedom? Thus, the mechanisms used in activism and struggle are moving in a completely different direction. In fact, before it became a revolution against the country’s regime, it was a revolution within the minds of Syrian citizens.

Over the last forty years, the Syrian regime tried to implant mistrust between the Syrian people and attempted to systematically raise hatred between different sects. However, despite that, the governorates in Syria joined forces in order to support each other. We witnessed the cities of Qamishli, Amouda, and Hasakah in the north, known for their Kurdish majority, advocating on behalf of Deraa and Hama! At the same time, the protesters in Hama and Idlib were calling, “Azadi…Azadi,” which means freedom in Kurdish. If this is indicative of anything, it shows that the people in the street realize the importance of national cohesion in this crucial and sensitive stage in Syria.

The Kurds have long been accused of working for the outside and of calling for the separation from Syria. In fact, many Kurdish political leaders now sit behind bars in Syrian prisons under the false charges of sectioning parts of Syrian land and annexing them to a foreign country, undermining the national sentiment and morale. However, despite all of this, the Kurds have proven to be an integral part of the Syrian fabric. For the first time, the Syrian flag is raised in the Kurdish areas, which indicates their understanding of Syrian political equality. The Kurds are moving away from the nationalistic sentiments which have long been used against them by the system and the Syrian opposition alike.

The Syrian regime tried to take advantage of pre-existing sensitivities between various constituents, but it failed, as mentioned earlier. So, the regime declared war openly on the demonstrators. While the movement began with phrases and slogans calling for freedom and reform, it soon escalated to demands for bringing down the regime. These peaceful protests were met with brutal murder and arbitrary arrests. The Syrian regime has shown no respect for or commitment to international standards and conventions.

On the other hand, the international community did not show a pragmatic attitude towards the Syrian regime. There were comments made here and there, but not at a serious level as hoped for. The expected United Nations Security Council resolution towards Syria will not suffice if it only verbally condemns the daily massacres committed by the regime against innocent men, women, and children. Here we see that it is resting on the U.S. administration to intervene in some way. The United States of America is the only actor who can possibly instigate change on a practical level. Support of the current revolution across Syria is the safest way for the U.S. to help the Syrian people reach the shores of democracy. This support should provide assistance to the younger generation, which has been the main engine behind these demonstrations in Syria. This support can be technical, physical, or even moral.

The American stance is unclear in the sense that Washington seems to believe that the regime still has a chance to change its attitude. Although Obama’s language was tougher in comparison to previous cases, he showed hope that there could be some development in Syria. Maybe the U.S. has not yet absorbed the implications of the rapid changes in Tunisia and Egypt and still ongoing changes in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.

The Obama Administration must realize that any alternative, democratic system in Syria will be the key solution to many regional problems in the Middle East. A change in the Syrian regime may lead the way for Israel and the Palestinians to take steps towards reaching a mutual solution for peace. In addition, the Syrian people will enjoy complete freedom that has long been a goal of the United States.

Sîrwan Kajjo is a Syrian Kurdish activist and journalist. He is based in Washington, DC as a freelance journalist.

Questions no one dares to ask

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

In today’s edition of the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, Turkish newspaper columnist, lawyer, and human rights defender, Orhan Kemal Cengiz asks an important, powerful question. In his editorial piece The ICC and crimes against humanity in Turkey, he asks: While Serbs continue to deliver Serbian butchers to The Hague, who will try Turkish butchers who committed crimes against humanity in the ’90s against Kurds in Turkey?

It is a timely question. A significant question. A question that begs an audience. It might be, for many, an extraordinarily shocking question. And, unfortunately, it is not a question that enough people are asking. Why aren’t more people asking about crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Kurds?

There are also many questions that people never ask. They go unasked for fear of asking. Unasked for fear of knowing the answers. Unasked out of ignorance. Unasked, nonetheless. Many questions that, perhaps, we don’t know how to ask. Or to whom to direct them.

Cengiz writes in his column about the International Criminal Court (ICC) that ‘[d]uring the ’90s more than 3,500 Kurdish villages were destroyed and tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings were committed.’ Another question then might be, Why did this happen? As Cengiz points out, these crimes are a perfect fit for the definition of ‘crimes against humanity.’ Who committed these heinous ‘crimes against humanity’ against the Kurds? Ah, another question. No one is asking that one either.

The ICC in the Hague

According to Article 7 of the Rome Statute a ‘crime against humanity’ is an act committed as ‘part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.’ The ‘act’, to name a few, may be ‘murder’, ‘forcible transfer of population’, ‘torture’, ‘rape’, or ‘other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.’ All of these ‘acts’ have been directed against the Kurds for decades. Who is asking why?

The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. Turkey is not a party to the treaty, which went into force on 01 July 2002. The court was ‘established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.’ There are now 139 signatories and 115 member nations. Joining Turkey in the group of non-member countries are Somalia, China, North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and some others. Asking why these particular countries will not become party to such a treaty is one question that may not be necessary.

As the ICC cannot try the ‘Turkish butchers’ who perpetrated tens of thousands of Kurdish murders, we are back to Cengiz’s original question of ‘Who will?’ Certainly not the Turkish judiciary. Cengiz writes that only 20 of these murders are now being addressed in a trial in Turkey. Only 20. Only 20 of tens of thousands. And, he adds, that not a single person is ‘being put on trial because of their role in the destruction of villages in southeastern Turkey.’ What is preventing justice here? Where is the international outcry?

A few years ago in one of his columns (Bloody Turk! 18 Sept 2009), Cengiz said of himself : ‘I am not a religious person. I am not Kurdish. I am not gay. I am not Christian. I am not Armenian. I am not Roma. But I have spent all my life defending these people’s rights.’

Indeed, Mr Cengiz is an experienced lawyer and defender of human rights. He is president and founding member of the Human Rights Agenda Association, with more than ten years of experience working in human rights organisations, including a stint with the Kurdish Human Rights Project in London. At times Mr Cengiz has even had to seek protection because of the work he does. It takes courage to stand up for dignity and human rights.

But it doesn’t take decades of experience to ask questions. It does take courage to ask the right questions. It takes courage to want to know the true answers.

In this time of revolutionary change, the world is applauding people’s courage to stand up to the brutality of the region’s repressive regimes. They have the courage to face tanks and bullets, to demand reform and to question the legitimacy of the regime. The fear is gone and they want an end to oppression.

In Turkey too courage is building and the Kurds want an end to Ankara’s oppression. It’s time to start questioning Turkey’s repressive policies towards the Kurds. It’s time to start asking the questions that, until now, no one has dared to ask.

Kurdish economic, social and cultural rights in Turkey

On 20 May 2011, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) adopted concluding observations following its review of Turkey’s initial report on the implementation of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The process is designed to strengthen collaboration between State and civil society actors around human rights promotion and protection.

In advance of this review, Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) had raised a number of concerns about Turkey’s compliance vis-à-vis the Kurds with its obligations under the Covenant by submitting a list of issues to the committee. KHRP also attended the Committee’s review of Turkey’s report, which took place in Geneva on 3 and 4 May 2011. This was a part of the Committee’s 46th Session.

For example, Article One of the Covenant states that ‘[a]ll peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’ and that states ‘shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right…’

In the report submitted by Turkey, its initial report to the Committee during this session, it references Article One’s right to self-determination as follows:

The Turkish nation is composed of citizens equal before the law irrespective of their origins. In the context of the Turkish nation, common denominator is citizenship. Every citizen has the right and power to lead an honourable life and to enhance his/her material and spiritual well-being in national culture, civilization and law order, by benefiting fundamental rights and freedoms set forth in the Constitution, in line with the principle of equality and social justice. Every Turkish citizen has effective access to government to pursue their political, economic, cultural and social development.

KHRP’s ‘List of Issues’ report methodically examines the Turkish report, poses questions and concerns, and then offers extensive background information regarding each particular article of the ICESCR.

Regarding Article One, for example, KHRP asked for information on the steps the Turkish Government was taking to promote the right of Kurdish people to self-determination, details of any policies and measures being pursued by the Turkish Government to ensure that Kurdish people are proportionally represented in national and regional political parties, and details about the people arrested under laws prohibiting written Kurdish in election campaigns and the proportion of those who are Kurdish.

KHRP then offers this background material on issues raised in Article One:

1. The Turkish Constitution was designed, in 1982, in conformity with Turkey’s strict adherence to a single Turkish nationalism. By failing to recognise any other ethnic identity except Turkish, Turkey refuses to grant its ethnic minorities their right of self-determination.1 For the Kurds, who make up approximately 23 per cent of Turkey’s population, this refusal is felt through Turkey’s embargo of their cultural and political freedoms.

2. The boldest way by which the Turkish Government denies Kurdish people their right of self-determination is through the criminalisation of political organisations and civil society institutions which advocate Kurdish rights and freedoms. By aligning political sympathies for the Kurdish people with a separatist threat, the Turkish Government has been able to use anti-terror laws to outlaw pro-Kurdish parties, expunge their members from parliament and authorise their subsequent arrest. Since the early 1970s the Turkish Government has instigated a policy of systematically banning peaceful and legitimate Kurdish political parties. This long-standing policy has had a constraining effect upon the ability of Kurdish parties to participate in the Turkish political system.

3. A second exclusionary device takes the form of prohibitions on written Kurdish languages in election campaigns. Laws which formerly prohibited spoken Kurdish have, in the past, justified the imprisonment of members of Kurdish political parties. The number of Kurdish people arrested under the present prohibition on written Kurdish is unknown. A corollary effect of this language restriction is the preclusion of Kurdish citizens from participating in the election process, many of whom cannot read Turkish.

4. Without democratic decentralisation in the Kurdish regions, the ability of Kurdish people to contribute to the formulation of national policies is extremely limited. The establishment of a properly representative decentralised body or bodies in the Kurdish region is essential for the realisation of Article 1 of the ICESCR by Kurdish Turks.

In each successive article, KHRP cites extensive research and legal casework to demonstrate significant areas where the Turkish Government has failed sufficiently to meet its obligations under the ICESCR, in spite of statements that it makes in its initial report submitted in June 2008.

To fully appreciate the failings of the Turkish Government to ensure economic, social and cultural rights of the Kurds in Turkey, it is essential to read the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, then the report submitted by Turkey, followed by the KHRP ‘List of Issues’ report.

The ICESCR can be downloaded here (.pdf).

Turkey’s report to the Committee (June 2008) can be downloaded here (158-page Word document).

The Committee’s questions/issues (June 2010) for the Turkish delegation can be downloaded here (5-page Word document).

The KHRP ‘List of Issues’ report (May 2010) can be downloaded from the KHRP website here.

In the concluding observations, the Committee noted principal subjects of concern and provided recommendations for Turkey. KHRP welcomed, in particular, the comment that in light of the fact that Turkey ‘recognizes only Greeks, Jews and Armenians as minorities, the Committee expresses concern about the absence of a broad legislative framework for the recognition of all minorities…including the Kurds, the Roma and the Arameans.’ KHRP joined the Committee in urging Turkey to recognise all the minorities in its territory and to provide them the full opportunities to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights and to adopt the necessary plans of action for this purpose. The full report on the Committee’s concluding observations can be downloaded at the 46th Session Website.

Below are a few excerpts from the KHRP report and their corresponding articles:

Article Two: Non-Discrimination

10. There is no comprehensive law on non-discrimination in Turkey. The existing legal framework is fragmented and refrains from incorporating sound and effective measures aimed at eradicating discrimination against the Kurds. A first step towards this goal requires that statistical information about Turkey’s ethnic or linguistic groups is obtained. As yet the Turkish authorities have failed to conduct any such census or other comprehensive survey along these lines.

12. The only legislative provision outlined in Turkey’s report which has as its specific rationale the elimination of discrimination is Article 216 of the Penal Code, which is concerned with the incitement of racial hatred. However, this provision has not been applied to oral, written or other expressions which target the Kurdish population. Further, the European Commission has criticised its discriminatory application by certain public prosecutors in order to prosecute personalities expressing “pro-Kurdish views”, rather than to punish racist remarks.

Exclusion of Kurds from definition of “minority”

13. Turkish official policy on minorities is based on the Lausanne Treaty signed on 24 July 1923, which provides protection only for non-Muslim minorities. Since the majority of Kurds follow Sunni Islam, they are excluded from minority protection. In contra-distinction to religious minorities, such as Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish peoples, the Kurdish identity is not recognised by the Turkish legal framework. As a result, Turkey’s most significant minority population are denied the rights available to non-Muslim minorities.

15. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in its Recommendation 1201 (1993) proposes the following definition: “… the expression “national minority” refers to a group of persons in a State who: a) reside in the territory of that State and are citizens thereof, b) maintain long-standing, firm and lasting ties with that state, c) display distinctive ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics, d) are sufficiently representative, although smaller in number than the rest of the population of the State or of a region of that State, and e) are motivated by a concern to preserve together that which constitutes their common identity, including their culture, their traditions, their religion or their language.” Turkey should adopt this definition in order to give effect to Article 2 of the ICESCR. In May 2003, the European Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy condemned Turkey’s refusal to accommodate the linguistic and cultural rights of the Kurds and stressed the need for Constitutional reform. This sentiment has since been echoed by other European bodies.

Article Three: Gender Discrimination

27. The discrimination faced by Kurdish women with regard to access to education stems from Article 42 of Turkey’s Constitution, which provides that only Turkish may be taught as the mother tongue in Turkish educational institutions. A study in Turkey examining the influence of speaking Turkish on socio-economic indicators found that 90 per cent of women in the eastern and southern Turkish regions who do not speak Turkish did not finish primary school, are illiterate and are employed either as agricultural or unpaid family workers. This study further concluded that since Kurdish women and girls speak Kurdish at home, any restriction on educational opportunities will subsequently restrict any opportunities to learn Turkish and integrate into mainstream society. Although the KHRP recognises that this information precedes Turkey’s ratification of the Convention, there is a dearth of more up-to-date information about the impact of speaking Turkish on socio-economic indicators in relation to Kurdish people.

Article Eight: Right to Trade Unions

54. Restriction of trade union activities and labour rights by the Turkish authorities has a particularly negative impact on the country’s Kurdish population. Kurdish trade unionists have been subjected to allegations of involvement in terrorism, as is the case with many Kurdish politicians, socialists, lawyers and anyone else who argues for rights for the Kurds or working people. Furthermore, union activities must be carried out in Turkish, weakening the ability of Kurds to organise on their own terms. Eğitim-Sen was forced to remove a clause in its constitution supporting the right to education in one’s mother tongue. Kurds are also particularly vulnerable to the practice of ‘internal exile’ of activists, the compulsory transfer of an employee to a part of the country far from home, without the possibility of being accompanied by spouse or family. An unspoken but well understood element of this practice is that it involves uprooting a person generally of Kurdish origin, ethnicity and language group and transferring him to a Turkish-speaking area where they will be more or less isolated.

Article Fifteen: Cultural Rights

Freedom of expression is not applied in the same manner to the Kurdish language as it is to the Turkish language. Furthermore, the Turkish Government links Kurdish associations to terror groups.

116. Such discrimination is also found in the area of expression of Kurdish culture. Celebrations such as Newroz, the Kurdish new-year celebration, are limited and overseen by the authorities. The Government’s refusal to support such cultural issues results in violence and arbitrary detention.

117. Kurdish culture is also found in the Kurdish alphabet which is different to the Turkish alphabet. The Kurdish alphabet has the additional letters of “Q, W, X”, which are prohibited in Turkey. Although such letters can be used in Kurdish names people will be unable to register them for official use. The recent case of Kemal Taşkin and Others v Turkey highlights these issues the Kurdish people struggle with.

Self-congratulatory end note: In its report to the 46th Session Committee in Geneva, KHRP (in Article 13: Right to Education) cited Kurdistan Commentary’s report on Mother-tongue education in Kurdish (06 Dec 2009). Kurdistan Commentary is proud to be a contributing part of this process.


Turkish policy towards Kurds leads to boycott of Antalya Conference by Kurdish parties in Syria

Syrian opposition groups will be meeting for three days in Antalya, Turkey in a conference organised by the Egypt-based National Organisation of Human Rights (NOHR). The conference, set to begin on Tuesday, 31 May, is to ‘support the revolt in Syria and claims of the Syrian people,’ said Ammar Qurabi, NOHR president. The conference is called ‘Change in Syria’ and attendance is expected to be around 200, including writers, activists and business leaders. According to the conference website, the gathering ‘aims to unite the energies’ of all Syrians of different ethnicities, sects and political affiliations and ‘direct them in a more meaningful way so that the democratic change in Syria will become a reality.’

Attendees will include such figures as Dr Abdul-Razzak Eid, head of the Damascus Declaration and Mamoun Homsi, a former member of the Syrian Parliament. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Independent Industrialists & Businessmen’s Association have also been invited. Some individual activists from the Kurdish opposition will be in attendance, but representation from Kurdish political parties in Syria will be absent.

In an article published in Asharq al-Awsat, a group comprised of 12 Kurdish political parties in Syria (National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria) announced that they intend to boycott the opposition summit. The group stated that ‘any such meeting held in Turkey can only be a detriment to the Kurds in Syria, because Turkey is against the aspirations of the Kurds, not just with regards to northern Kurdistan, but in all four parts of Kurdistan, including the Kurdish region of Syria.’

Kurdish Leftist Party representative Saleh Kado echoed that concern saying that Turkey ‘has negative attitudes towards the Kurdish issue in general’ and that Ankara needs to ‘first resolve the issue of 20 million Kurds living within their territory before seeking to bring together the Kurdish Syrian parties [in Turkey] to come to an agreement on a unified project with regards how to deal with the current events [in Syria].’

Kado stressed that ‘we, the Kurds in Syria, do not trust Turkey or its policies, and that is why we have decided to boycott the summit.’ Kado also said part of the reason for the boycott was the attendance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But other reasons have also surfaced. Two weeks ago the National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria announced its own plan to resolve the current crisis in Syria. The Kurdish initiative, which outlined a comprehensive plan for democratic change and fundamental reform at all levels, was largely ignored by non-Kurdish groups.

Abdul Baqi Youssef, a leading member of the Kurdish Yekîtî Party in Syria, told AKNews that they do not know who supports this conference or what its goals are. Nor, he said, did the conference organisers make any contact with the Kurdish Movement during the preparations for the conference.

This feeling of lack of inclusion in the process and not receiving any support from other opposition groups in Syria on its own proposal could also be contributing factors in the decision not to attend the Antalya summit.

Additionally, not all Kurdish parties were invited to attend the conference either. Only five of the parties were asked to attend. They are: the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria [KDP-S], the Kurdish Leftist Party in Syria, the Kurdish Azadî Party, the Kurdish Future Movement, and the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party [PDPK-S].

Faisal Yousef, a senior member of the PDPK-S, said that his party would abide by the boycott decision so as not ‘to cause division within the Kurdish ranks, especially during this sensitive time in the history of our people.’

Mustafa Ibrahim, a KDP-S senior leader said that his party’s leader, Dr Abdul Hakeem Bashar was invited to attend the Antalya summit, but that ‘he will not go against the strong decision taken by the Kurdish political forces in Syria, in order to preserve Kurdish unity and discourse.’

But not all Kurdish leaders agree on the boycott. Kurdish Future Movement representative Mohammed Hammo took a contrary position calling the boycott a ‘huge mistake.’ Hammo said that ‘as Kurds, we should take advantage of every opportunity to discuss the future of our people and nation; I do not favour boycotting a summit of this [political] weight, particularly in light of the sensitive and critical situation in Syria today.’ Hammo also stressed that this was his personal opinion and said that he intends to attend this summit in his own personal capacity, not as a representative of the Kurdish Future Movement.

Kurds are not the only ones sceptical of the conference. Ribal al-Assad, the Director of the Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria and cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has criticised some of the ‘Syrian opposition’ involved in the proposed meeting for not being genuine representatives of the Syrian people and called for the ‘evil agenda’ of the conference to be ‘exposed to the international community.’ He says that ‘[a]ny meeting of the Syrian opposition must include a broad coalition of groups that genuinely believe in freedom, democracy, and religious pluralism.’

The meeting, according to the conference Website, will be centred on the following principles and foundations:

1-Support the peaceful revolution of the Syrian people to achieve its goals of getting rid of the authoritarian regime and transfer Syria to a new horizon where the true values of freedom, dignity and citizenship prevail.

2- Establish a temporary National Council to manage the crisis and mobilise all the possible support to protect the lives of the unarmed civilians who are exposed to the worst kinds of oppression by a regime that ignores the rights of citizenship and the responsibility if the State to protect its people.

3-Provide a temporary alternative that helps in moving the country to the brink of safety provided that the mission of the National Council is a temporary alternative and it doesn’t have any custodial authority on the revolution of the Syrian people and its right to determine its fate in a free election where the council has no privileges.

4-Assign experts in Syrian law to prepare a new draft constitution that guarantees the standards of full citizenship, equality in rights and duties of all the components of the Syrian community as a prelude to organize free and fair elections where the ballot box is the only legitimate way to rule the country.

5-Ask all international bodies and NGOs in the world to support the Syrian people in their revolution for freedom and provide all forms of political and volunteer support which contributes in the saving the lives of Syrians and alleviate their suffering in the crisis that they are going through.

6-Emphasising the peaceful nature of the revolution and its national motives that are not associated with any foreign agenda or any international balance or interests, the signatories to this declaration refuse all forms of foreign military interventions in this crisis.

The conference, to be held at the Özkaymak Falez Hotel in Antalya, will start with a reception on Tuesday and conclude on Thursday.