Background paper the 6th International Conference
BACKGROUND PAPER TO THE 6th INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON EU, TURKEY AND THE KURDS
The EU in 2009, through both the Commission’s Progress Report on Turkey’, released on 15th October 2009, and the communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council ‘Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2009-2010’, emphasised the need for further progress to be made before Turkey can meet the criteria for European Union accession. The report welcomed the efforts that had been made by Turkey but stated that the pace of reform must be stepped up if Turkey is to face the main challenges to comply with EU requirements, in particular relating to democracy and the rule of law, human rights, the protection of minorities and its observance of international human rights law. However, while it covered areas of freedom of expression, assembly and association, women’s rights, children’s rights and cultural rights, it notably did not address the consequences of on-going cross-border operations by Turkey into Iraq as part of its anti-terror policy, or comment on these operations in relation to international and humanitarian law as well as European law.
Delay or breakdown of negotiations between Turkey and the EU would have serious implications for human rights in Turkey. The ‘soft power’ of the EU with regards to monitoring and political pressure would be transformational for Turkey. However, there is much work to be done by the government and state institutions, with their abysmal record of human rights abuses, and there is an urgent need for a genuine commitment to and implementation of the EU reforms. A constructive dialogue between the EU, its member states, and Turkey is crucial if Turkey is to emerge into a fully democratic future.
Turkey’s accession bid is influenced by the complex backdrop of issues relating to European politics, international security and economic affairs against which it is progressing. Many countries, including by Britain and the US, see Turkey as potentially creating a ‘bridge’ between Europe and the wider Muslim world. In today’s climate of alienation, such a move has the potential to endow the EU with a strategic reach into the heart of the Middle East, and to establish an example of a progressive, secular state with a majority Muslim population within the European fold. Building closer relations with ‘moderate’ Islam is regarded as important in breaking down barriers and ultimately combating terrorist attacks carried out by extremists in the name of Islam. It is further hoped among the pro-Turkish elements in the leadership of the EU that the process of entry negotiation will provide clear incentives for further reform in Turkey, and that its course towards accession will have a reforming influence on government behaviour.
In the period preceding the 2004 European Commission decision there is no doubt that Turkey had outwardly moved towards closer compliance with international standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law through the enactment of a noteworthy series of reforms over a very short period of time: the legal regulations prohibiting torture were tightened the prohibitions on broadcasting and teaching in the Kurdish language were somewhat relaxed; permissible pre-trial detention periods were shortened; and the death penalty was also abolished.
However it can be argued that the commencement of negotiations due to the fact that the EU heads of state deemed that Turkey had ‘sufficiently’ fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria was a misrepresentation of the human rights situation in Turkey notably in relation to cultural, linguistic, and political rights, and the Kurdish issue. Human rights violations remain commonplace in Turkey, and are frequently perpetrated by officials either with the tacit tolerance of the state or legally with the support of Turkish law.
This recommendation was endorsed by the European Council in December 2004, by the statement that accession negotiations could begin, which they did on 3rd October 2005. The Commission proposed a rigorous framework for the negotiations which was adopted by the Council in 2005. The Negotiation Framework for Turkey set out the procedure and governing principles for the accession process. The negotiating framework specifies 35 chapters, with each chapter needing to be unanimously opened and closed by the Council.
The European Parliament’s September 2006 report on Turkey's progress on preparing for membership stated that Turkey had made insufficient progress in the areas of freedom of expression, minority rights, corruption and violence against women. The Commission followed up with a critical report on the accession progress and later recommended partial suspension of membership negotiations with Turkey, although this focussed on a lack of progress on Cyprus issue rather than concerns over human rights . EU foreign ministers decide to follow Commission's recommendations and suspend talks with Turkey on eight of the 35 negotiating areas. While some chapters were reopened in 2007, this had a damaging effect on Turkey’s attitude towards EU accession and public support in Turkey declined.
In 2007 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AK (Justice & Development) Party was re-elected with 47% of vote in early parliamentary elections and Abdullah Gül was elected president of Turkey in the third round of voting in the Turkish assembly. There was some controversy surrounding his appointment, due to his previous association with the Islamist movement and because his wife wears a headscarf, which disturbed the Kemalist elite in Turkey. Following Gül’s candidacy bid, the AKP government was accused by the military of inciting religious sentiment in society, in what has been described as an ‘e-memorandum’ . The re-election of the AK Party was viewed as the public’s refusal to be intimidated by such tactics by the military or by its continuous interference in the political process through public statements that address issues that do not fall within the scope of military affairs, as understood in most western democracies.
Political unrest continued with the Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya lodging a formal application to the Turkish Constitutional Court to close the pro-Kurdish Demokratik Toplum Partisi (Democratic Society Party, DTP) on the grounds that it had become ‘a centre of activities aimed at damaging the independence of the state and the indivisible integrity of its territory and nation’. Attempts were made to expel 8 DTP MPs from Parliament on charges of separatism after the DTP called for autonomy in the Kurdish region of Turkey in mid-November. The Public Prosecutor asserted that all of the 221 DTP members should be banned from political activity for a minimum of five years . Amid concerns for the democratisation process in Turkey, the 4th EUTCC Conference in December 2007 reiterated that the accession process is a vital element to this, with opinions differing as to who should be party to future moves towards a resolution of the Kurdish issue.
The accession process crawled on despite caution on both sides and continuing unrest in Turkey and in 2008, the European by Council adopted a revised Accession Partnership for Turkey and negotiations opened on two more chapters: intellectual property and company law.
The beginning of 2008 saw the launch of judicial proceedings against an alleged ‘deep state’ organisation known as Ergenekon. The investigation quickly grew to incorporate a large number of high-profile suspects including former army generals. The allegations against the group include a murder of a judge that was designed to look like it was the work of an Islamist group in order to stoke up tensions, and also plans to assassinate Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk and PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In October 86 people were put on trial for alleged involvement with the group.
This trial is seen by many as a new phase of transparency in the Turkish State although some secularists have alleged that the trial is a ‘witch-hunt’ launched to take revenge on those who had supported the failed closure case against the AKP. The case is relevant to EU accession because it raises further questions about civilian control of the security services and military, and the extent to which Turkey enjoys the rule of law. It also brings up the subject of the human rights implications of trials of those allegedly involved in the Ergenekon affair.
The 2008 European Commission progress report was critical of Turkey’s human rights record, although it failed to adequately tackle a number of key areas of concern from the point of view of human rights. Some improvements were made including work that had taken place on a draft judicial reform strategy, the establishment of parliamentary subcommittees to investigate torture and ill-treatment in custody and the 2007 murder of journalist Hrant Dink, and amendments to the Law on Foundations and legislation governing broadcasting. However in almost every area of concern from the point of view of human rights, there was limited or no improvement in 2008. Even where protections had been put in place, there were and still are widespread problems with implementation of these measures.
One of the Commission report’s main criticisms was the failure of the Turkish government to develop a consistent, comprehensive programme of political and constitutional reforms, despite the appointment of a group of academics with a mandate to revise the constitution. It also highlighted the ongoing restrictions of the rights of minorities living in Turkey, including Kurdish linguistic and cultural rights. No measures had been taken to facilitate access to public services for non-speakers of Turkish and points to strict regulations governing broadcasting in languages other than Turkish, including a ban on educational programmes teaching the Kurdish language.
While it did mention without criticism ‘military operations aimed at terrorist targets in Northern Iraq’ without mentioning the civilian casualties resulting from these operations, there was no indication of the extent of the instability in the Kurdish region and that events in 2007 and 2008 represented a re-escalation of the conflict in the south-east to a level unknown since the arrest of Abdullah Öcalan in 1999.
Accession talks continued and so far negotiations have been opened on eleven chapters out of thirty-five . Despite some achievements in the respect of the democratic principles and the rule of law, Turkey is called upon to make further efforts to tackle new challenges, for example a further discussion of foreign policy issues in areas of common interest where many points of contention remain.
A remarkable step forward in Turkey’s relations with its neighbours came in October 2009, when Turkey and Armenia signed a peace accord in Zurich aimed at opening borders between the neighbouring countries . The rapprochement is seen as a precondition for Turkish accession. Notwithstanding the improvements in Turkey-Iraqi relations, especially regarding contacts with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq and the warming up of Turkish-Armenian relations, the Cyprus issue remains unsettled and relations with neighbouring Greece tense. This could prove to be a serious obstacle to accession if the two sides have not found a solution by the time the European Council meets once more to review the situation in 2010. There are encouraging signs, with the respective presidents of the Greek and Turkish parts of the island, Dimitris Christofas and Mehmet Ali Talat meeting regularly to seek a solution. However with an election due in Cyprus in April 2010, Mehmet Ali Talat may be running out of time to negotiate.
Moreover, Turkey’s records in the field of human rights are still poor and freedom of expression is not considered to be in line with the European Convention of Human Right (ECHR), of which some additional protocols have not yet been ratified by the Turkish government.
These pitfalls continue to give those EU member states’ who are against Turkish integration into the EU, led by Germany and France, the opportunity that they are looking for to back away from the obligations that they are under to support the accession process and fulfil their side of the bargain. This backpeddalling is exemplified by the German Chancellor Merkel echoing French president Sarkozy’s speech during his campaign for EU elections in the beginning of 2009, in speaking of a ’privileged partnership‘ to replace the full-fledged membership in the case on Turkey . Not only has this proposal been strongly rejected by the Turkish government, it has also combined to bring about a further decline of domestic support for EU membership among the Turkish public, which is growing more and more tired of a never-ending negotiation process.
The EU acknowledges the relevance of Turkish involvement in the resolution of many global and regional issues but the full acceptance of its integration into the EU first lies on the pace of the reform process that during 2009 has been slower than in the first years after negotiations started.
While speaking of elections, the latest EU Commission progress report has not taken into account the accusations of gerrymandering moved for by the opposition nor of a supposed tampering with voter lists and a campaign of vote-buying through the allocation of goods and services especially to the economically disenfranchised the AKP resorted to .
The climate of mistrust among the political parties has hindered the reform process, which was elaborated by the AKP after 2007. The Party’s first error was to not involve other political parties in the process for drafting the new constitution. Secondly, the amendments that were introduced into the constitution were aimed at allowing headscarves in universities and the subsequent trial of the AK Party for violating secularism caused major divides in public opinion. In addition to this, the increasing violence in the Kurdish region of the country and the scandal caused by the ongoing Ergenekon investigations all served to draw attention away from the need to reform.
The new draft was expected to strengthen the parliamentary system to the detriment of the President’s powers, reform the judicial process and clearly define individual freedoms, especially in favour of the minorities living in the country; and while it had been criticized by those who consider it unnecessary, it had been welcomed by the EU Commissioner Olli Rehn, who has stated that the reform would accelerate Turkey’s accession process and would break the cycle of political crises in the country .
In August 2009, Prime Minister Erdoğan launched what was initially called the ’Kurdish Initiative‘, subsequently changed to ‘Democratic Initiative’ and is today termed ‘the Unity and Brotherhood Initiative’, with its stated aim to find a comprehensive approach to ending Turkey’s Kurdish problem. However, since its launch the Initiative has not gained the support of all the political parties and it has been rejected by the CHP and MHP leaders, who regard it as an attempt to divide the country.
The Initiative involves several measures. In the short term, a number of cultural reforms will aim to spread the use of Kurdish language in everyday life, from the opening of departments for different dialects and languages in universities to broadcasting in languages other than Turkish to the use of Kurdish in prisons among the inmates. Subsequently the government would focus on human rights through the establishment of national bodies that will work to prevent against violations and discriminations and examine complaints, such as a new Human Rights Court and an Anti-Discrimination and Equality Board.
In the long term, the full endorsement of the Initiative would require some revision of the Constitution in a way that would allow the definition of citizenship to be more inclusive. Therefore, the sticking point of this proposal is its challenge to the very definition of the Turkish state as conceived by the founding father of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and it likely to encounter the mistrust of nationalist parties. Of all the opposition parties, only the DTP took part in talks requested by the government. More than that, any changes that could be agreed upon are at risk of being overturned by the Constitutional Court, whose independence is arguable and tends to act against proposals sponsored by the AKP.
While the Initiative can be seen as evidence that the government is openly recognising that there are issues with minorities within Turkey, it does not go far enough, and can never truly reflect what is required as civil society and other elements of society were not consulted in the development of this initiative.
Late in 2009 the Constitutional Court also ruled in favour of the closure of the DTP and the ban from political life of 37 of its members for a period of five years, including co-chairs Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk and four elected regional mayors. The decision has been taken on the grounds that the party has been a focus of activities against the independence and the unity of the country. Although the case was first launched in 2007 by the Supreme Court of Cassation Chief Prosecutor, the court rejected his request and the party was able to run for the local elections on 29 March 2008.
In March 2009 the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe issued an opinion stating that constitutional and legal provisions relevant to the prohibition of political parties in Turkey failed to uphold the minimum standards required under Article 11 of the ECHR on freedom of assembly and association. In its opinion the Commission noted that legal provisions regarding the prohibition of political parties in Turkey allow closure cases to be brought against almost any party whose programme advocates for changes to the constitutional model regardless of whether it is through the threat of violence or peaceful democratic means. As a result of this, political parties in Turkey have frequently been closed by rulings of the Constitutional Court, many of which being political parties promoting Kurdish identity.
These inadequacies have the potential to be addressed through the approval of the Justice Ministry’s Judicial Reform Strategy.’ The ten-part action plan is expected to raise Turkey’s judicial standards in compliance with EU membership criteria, increasing the independence and the impartiality of the legal bodies. According to the 2009 EU Commission Progress Report, the strategy is ‘comprehensive and covers issues related to the independence, impartiality, efficiency and effectiveness of the judiciary, enhancement of its professionalism, the management system and measures to enhance confidence in the judiciary, to facilitate access to justice and to improve the penitentiary system’ . Although the main item on the political agenda of the Turkish government seems to be the process of democratization, effective changes in the country cannot be introduced until the judicial reform has been approved.
With four coups, violent and non-violent, in the political process in 84 years of life of the Republic, the military establishment in Turkey has been regarded as a dangerously powerful institution for the development of a rule of law. In addition, in the last few years, investigations related to the Ergenekon case have revealed the existence of an extensive criminal network of military personnel involved in anti-government activities aiming at destabilising the democratic institutions.
The civilian oversight of security forces has been one of the main concerns in the process of negotiations with Turkey. The 2009 EU Commission Progress Report had welcomed a reform package to the Turkish Penal Code which vested civilian courts with the power to prosecute military personnel accused of crimes against national security, constitutional violations and attempts to topple the government during peacetime. The same legislation, aimed at meeting EU membership criteria, lifted the remaining powers of military courts to try civilians in peacetime, thus aligning Turkey with EU practices. The reform package, which had been named ‘a civilian revolution’, has been challenged by the CHP at the Constitutional Court that eventually has ruled against it.
Despite this setback, experts observe that the ruling would not affect ongoing trials; as a matter of fact the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court recently ruled to accept an indictment of military officers detained as part of an investigation into a weapons cache buried in Istanbul's Poyrazköy district in April of last year during the probe of Ergenekon .
The EUTCC welcomes the positive steps taken in the fight against impunity for human rights violations in the ongoing trial over the Ergenekon case, in which 19 retired military officers and 5 serving officers have been accused so far, as well as other improvements like in the trial for the death in custody of activist Engin Çeber in 2008, where sixty officials were indicted. However, suspicions about the effectiveness of proceedings initiated against law enforcement agents remain. Moreover the armed forces continue interferences in domestic as well as foreign policy issues going beyond their remit, with the consequence of exercising pressure on the state institutions. Legislative oversight must be strengthened also on the military budget and expenditure. It will take more time and deeper reform before it can be said that long-lasting change has come.
The EU and Human Rights
To date ECtHR case law has been poorly implemented in Turkey. Particular areas in which implementation is lacking include laws on conscientious objection, control of the security services, remedy of abuses and freedom of expression. Despite some improvement in the observance of international human rights law, violations continue to occur and Turkey is progressing very slowly in the execution of ECtHR judgements.
Torture and Ill-Treatment
The use of excessive force by the security forces in connection with demonstrations has even been encouraged by public statements by senior government figures. There have been reports of serious acts of violence by prison guards on prisoners and of a wider practice of gendarmes subjecting prisoners to casual violence while off prison property, usually during transfers to court or to other places of detention. The practice of ‘welcome beatings’ was commonly referred to and seems to often be politically motivated as gendarmes exhibited particular hostility towards political prisoners. Prison overcrowding also has become a serious concern and has resulted in many of the human rights violations against prisoners. Problems include inadequate toilet facilities, lack of beds with prisoners being forced to sleep on floors, inadequate clothing and blankets.
Human rights defenders routinely face severe challenges in carrying out their work such as harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention. The recent detention and seizure of materials from the home and office of Muharrem Erbey, chair of the Diyarbakır branch of İHD. His arrest, raises concerns about the freedom of human rights defenders in Turkey to work without intimidation and harassment and potentially violates numerous principles of international human rights law including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Freedom of expression
Since the passing of Law No. 5651 entitled ‘Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publication’ in November 2007, the blocking of websites has escalated in Turkey. Some reports estimating that access to as many as 6,000 websites are blocked, including sites such as Youtube and Wordpress. Some websites are blocked because they are considered obscene, others for involving child abuse and sexual exploitation, gambling, betting, prostitution and others for being considered as related to crimes committed against Atatürk. Sites are blocked either by court orders or by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB). However as the Since May 2009, the TIB has decided not to publish any statistics or details related to the websites blocked on the basis of Law No. 5651, making it hard to asses the level of suppression of freedom to access information that is taking place.
Human rights defenders, writers, journalists and others continue to be harassed and prosecuted through the courts, and often face multiple prosecutions for expressing dissenting views. While the Turkish authorities reported a significant decrease in prosecutions under Article 301 and attributed this drop to the 2008 amendment to the article, this does not take into account the level of self-censorship that that writers and publishers are forced to operate in order to avoid prosecution. As in the case of Hrant Dink, who was assassinated in 2007 outside the office of his Newspaper Agos, some of those accused face a threat not only from prosecution but also to their personal security. The manner in which the authorities have dealt with the subsequent investigation into Dink’s death and the prosecutions that followed have been grossly inadequate. The proceedings raised numerous concerns with regard to the scope of the investigation and the possible participation of the police, gendarmerie and intelligence services. Evidence suggests that the Turkish authorities were aware of the assassination plot. Yet by deliberately withholding crucial information not only did they fail to take any action to protect Dink’s life, but they have also since failed to satisfactorily investigate the possibility of wider culpability than the just the man who pulled the trigger.
Freedom of association and assembly
It is particularly in the realm of freedom of assembly that the Anti-Terror Law with its broad definition of terrorism has had most impact, resulting in major restrictions of fundamental freedoms. Often the law has been used to punish the expression of dissenting opinions, especially with regard to the Kurdish issue, or to impede peaceful gatherings and demonstrations.
The definition of terrorism envisaged in the law goes so far as to mean that wearing a headscarf or the red head strap of the Alevi youth can be viewed as carrying an emblem or sign belonging to a terrorist organisation. In the absence of direct mention of incitement to violence, decisions about whether to count forms of dress as evidence of ‘propaganda for a terrorist organisation or its aims’ are again open to an excessively wide margin of interpretation, amounting to a disproportionate interference with freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience. Similarly, the law provides that ‘conscientious objection’, a right in other Council of Europe countries, is a ‘terrorist offence’ a further interference with the right to freedom of conscience.
Article 7 of the new law targets the right of individuals to hold political meetings and demonstrations, both necessary components of freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Political meetings are threatened by the fact that any ‘terrorist offence’ committed on the premises of political parties, trade unions or student dormitories will receive double the usual penalty, with the use of this broad term creating huge potential for arbitrary punishment.
In the Kurdish regions, during celebrations on the occasion of Öcalan’s birthday or on the anniversary of his arrest, security forces engaged in clashes with the protesters. In February 2009, the tenth anniversary of the arrest of PKK leader was marked with the arrest of over 400 people and the injury of 80 others. Only one month later, two people died due the injuries suffered in clashes with the security forces near the south-eastern village of Omerli.
The series of arrests of DTP members and police operations against its premises throughout the year 2009 has eventually ended with the total closure of the party and the banning of some of its official from politics in December as discussed earlier. The decision on 11 December 2009 by Turkey's Constitutional Court to ban the pro-Kurdish DTP (Democratic Society Party) demonstrates that Turkey urgently needs to reform its constitution and ensure its laws are compatible with human rights so that all groups with in the state are afforded free and fair political participation.
Civil society organisations also face harassment, with random administrative checks and disproportionate pecuniary fines. Trade union rights have also been restricted. In 2009 union officials were detained during anti-terror operations and buildings of trade unions have been raided . The general secretary of KESK, Emirali Şimşek denounced the fact that these operations have been unjustly aimed at linking the trade unions to terrorist organizations.
Similarly on May 29, 2008, the Third Civil Court of First Instance in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul ruled in favour of a complaint brought by the Istanbul Governor's Office ordering the closing of Lambda Istanbul, a group advocating for LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transvestite and Transsexual) individuals human rights. Even if the ruling was opposed by the Court of Cassation in April, the legality of the association’s activities has been made dependent on not ‘encouraging lesbian, gay, bisexual, transvestite and transsexual behaviour with the aim of spreading such sexual orientations’ , therefore showing a deep inadequacy of the anti-discrimination standards applied by Turkish Courts.
Moreover, provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code on ‘public exhibitionism’ and ‘offences against public morality’ are used to discriminate against LGBT people; in addition to this Turkish courts have applied the principle of ‘unjust provocation’ in favor of perpetrators of crimes against transsexuals and transvestites. Not only the latest ruling of the Court of Cassation and general provisions show that official repression keeps posing a serious threat to democratic rights and freedom of association but also the fact that in only six months between the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 ten people have been murdered in the LGBTT community shows that homophobia and sexual violence are spread within the society. This requires major efforts from the government, which so far have been totally insufficient.
Factors that contribute to discrimination against and violence towards minority groups include the continued disinformation promoted by public figures and the mass media; the rise of Turkish nationalism; and the continued marginalization of smaller groups within society.
As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Turkey has agreed to implement measures "to counter prejudices and misrepresentation, particularly in the field of education". Initiatives to assist this include the Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools. However, authorities have shown no visible interest in providing fair education on religions and beliefs in schools. The government has done little to reform the contents of the mandatory religion class, which focuses on Sunni Islam, despite a ruling by the ECtHR in the case of Hasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey that the class is in violation of the right to education under Article 2 of the 1st Protocol to the Convention. Children whose mother tongue is not Turkish continue to not be able to learn their mother tongue in the Turkish State school system.
Turkey’s most disadvantaged communities, such as the Kurds and Roma, remain extremely marginalized in terms of educational opportunities. According to a 2009 Minority Rights Group report more than 30 per cent of the children of internally displaced Kurdish families living in Diyarbakır and Istanbul do not attend school, mainly due to poverty and the need to work. The report states, ‘These conditions exacerbate the discrimination, harassment and humiliation that children from minority communities already face in Turkey, to such an extent they often hide their ethnic and religious identities. Many minorities fear that ultimately their unique cultures will disappear.’
There has been some progress in respect to minority language in education. In September 2009 the Higher Education Board’s (YÖK) endorsed the application from a Turkish University (Artuklu University in Mardin) to establish a “Living Languages Institute” which would provide post graduate education in Kurdish and other languages spoken in the country. Despite this, educational programmes teaching the Kurdish language is not allowed.
Turkey continues to see serious violations of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. Turkey continues to refuse to legally recognize non-Muslim religious communities granting them the legal protections religious communities normally enjoy.
Alevi Muslims, who form between 20 and 30 per cent of Turkey’s population , but their houses of worship, are not recognized by the state. The Alevi community organized a mass demonstration, attended by tens of thousands of Alevis on 8 November 2009 expressing their frustration that they are still not treated as citizens with equal rights, and calling for the abolition of both the Diyanet and compulsory religious education lessons in public schools.
In January 2009 TRT started operating channel TRT-6, broadcasting in Kurdish 24 hours a day. Additionally, the public radio network began broadcasting in Armenian in March 2009. At the inauguration ceremony of TRT-6, the Prime Minister spoke a few words in Kurdish saying "TRT ses bi xer be" ("May TRT-6 be prosperous") .
Several court cases and investigations are, however, in progress against GÜN TV, the only private TV channel currently broadcasting in Kurdish, in connection with the wording of Kurdish songs, the coverage of the municipal election campaign and other programmes. The restrictions outlined in the Law on the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) continue to apply, however, to private local and regional TV and radio programmes making broadcasts of political debates or general entertainment programmes in Kurdish virtually impossible on private television channels.
During the local election campaign, politicians and political parties used Kurdish in political activities. Although the use of any language other than Turkish in political life is illegal under the Law on Elections and Political Parties, in most such cases no legal action was launched.
Most court cases brought against Kurdish politicians for using the Kurdish language, for example for sending invitations or holiday greetings or for municipal activities, ended in acquittals, although the prosecutors have lodged appeals in most of the cases. Governorships in several cities in the Southeast have started offering public services in Kurdish.
However, criminal convictions against DTP members for using the Kurdish language in political life are still pending. In July 2009, the Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation, who is in charge of political parties, applied for the removal of the parliamentary immunity of several DTP members. The charges include using the Kurdish language in Parliament.
In 2007 the Mayor of the municipality of Sur in the city of Diyarbakir, Abdullah Demirbaş, was removed from his function, together with the entire municipal council, for providing municipal services in Kurdish. He was re-elected
No measures have been taken to facilitate access to public services for non-speakers of Turkish. While interpretation is possible under the current legislation, it is not consistently applied in practice. Further the use of the Kurdish language in prisons remains problematic, with the situation varying depending on the prison administrations. Turkey must do more to facilitate access to justice for members of minority groups, especially women, by making public services available in minority languages.
Violations of Kurdish women’s rights often stem from two issues, the lack of accessibility and provision of education and services in Kurdish; and lower educational levels attained by Kurdish women, stemming in large part from the barriers to obtaining an education in Kurdish. The lack of education and high illiteracy rates in the Kurdish regions means women do not often understand their legal rights or how to access them. Illiteracy rates among women, already high at 20% in Turkey as a whole, are even greater in the south-east Anatolian region where it is at 40% . Education beyond primary school level is rare, and many women who only speak Kurdish, are denied access to education due to the prohibition of Kurdish being spoken and taught in schools and classrooms.
In employment, although it has been recognised the contribution that women could make to the reduction of poverty in Turkey, the women’s labour force participation fell from 29% in 2008 to 26% in 2009, further opening the gap between women and men.
The number of Turkish women who sit in Parliament is still low at around 9% although it is higher at the municipal level. As a result of the March 2009 local elections, only 15 of the approximately 900 district mayors and two of the 81 provincial and metropolitan mayors in Turkey were women. Eleven out the 15 women district mayors and one of the two province mayors were from the DTP. These women were elected in provinces such as Hakkari, Urfa, and Şırnak. Turkey needs to make more efforts in engaging women in politics at the highest level and ensuring equal participation of men and women in decision-making.
Further barriers to women accessing justice, other than problems of social pressure, illiteracy and language provision, exist in the un-cooperative nature of state officials, who can either ignore complaints or fail to take them seriously. They often do not investigate complaints or inform victims of their rights under the Family Protection Law. In many cases, women are encouraged to resolve the issue within the family, and are forced to return to the perpetrators of the crime. In some cases it has been reported that the police refused to even record the complaint.
While the government has taken some steps towards putting an end to violence against women, including the training of judges and prosecutors and experts serving in family courts on the role of courts in combating domestic violence, equality training to law enforcement officials, the EUTCC is concerned that that the Law on the Protection of the Family is not currently fully implemented and women need further support to access all the protective measures this law affords. Additionally, Turkey needs to recognize the Kurds as a minority people, so that relevant data relating to the effects of domestic violence on all women in Turkey may be made available. More effort must be made to increase awareness among men and women of the rights of women and what support is available, and in particular to reach women in the Kurdish regions and in rural areas that have been displace from their homes and who are unable to read.
Turkish state policy has been based on the denial of the existence of the Kurds; therefore the state has narrowly viewed the Kurdish problem as a security problem disregarding its broader social and legal foundations. Throughout the last 25 years, Turkey’s military has continued to advocate for a solely military solution to the Kurdish issue, ignoring the other dimensions to the conflict, such as the state’s historical repression of Kurdish cultural expression and forced relocation. Claiming that Turkey is faced with the threat of division, the state has targeted the region with emergency laws and established a penetrating military presence throughout the Kurdish region, comprising the Army, Air Force, gendarmerie, national police and paramilitary village guards. At the height of the conflict in 1995, approximately 300,000 Turkish forces were serving in the southeast. Today it is estimated that current troop levels number between 125,000 and 130,000. Despite the long-standing presence of the military in the Kurdish Region of Turkey, neither Turkey nor the international community have ever explicitly named the situation an armed-conflict.
Cross Border Operations
The intensification of violence in the Kurdish region of Turkey in the 1990’s prompted the Turkish government to respond with increasingly intense and large-scale incursions into Kurdistan, Iraq. Backed by the presence of a ‘hot-pursuit’ agreement with Iraq, Turkey carried out operations across the border throughout the 1990’s. Major raids into Kurdistan, Iraq by Turkey occurred as early as 1992, and have continued off and on to today, ostensibly with the aim of ousting PKK bases in the area. From 1997, Turkey announced the establishment of a 15-kilometre ‘security zone’ within Kurdistan, Iraq that would be patrolled and extensively monitored by 5,000 troops. The security zone was officially aimed at protecting Turkey’s people against the PKK.
During these cross border military operations, indiscriminate bombing and shelling by the Turkish air force have lead to civilian deaths and injuries. These raids, as well as increasingly common interventions by Iran using intelligence from Turkey, have caused many Kurds living in the area to be displaced in an effort to escape the region’s growing insecurity and instability.
In April 2006 continued clashes in southeast Turkey resulted in major Turkish military build-up in areas bordering Iran and Iraq. At the time, both the United States and Iraq warned Turkey against conducting cross-border operations aimed at PKK. Turkey called on both to curb PKK activities in Kurdistan Iraq, denying its troops had crossed the Iraqi border. In July 2006, a state terror summit was convened and the Turkish government again called on the United States and Iraq to crack down on PKK bases and activities in Kurdistan Iraq, signalling that it would otherwise mount cross-border operations to halt PKK incursions.
A resurgence of violence in the beginning of 2007 motivated the Turkish army to launch a series of military strikes in Kurdistan, Iraq, directed at PKK insurgents believed to be in the mountains. With continued clashes in southeast Turkey, Prime Minister Erdoğan called for concrete measures against PKK in Kurdistan Iraq, and again asserted Turkey’s right to combat terrorism. In February 2007, during a visit to Washington, the Chief-of-Staff of the Turkish military, General Yaşar Büyükanıt, underlined the resolve of the military to protect Turkey’s territorial integrity, directed at separatist Kurds on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border as well as Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq. The military, spearheaded by Büyükanıt, had long been advocating an invasion into northern Iraq in order to root out what the military refers to as ‘Kurdish terrorist camps’.
In May of 2007, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan signalled that parliament was ready to support any decision by the military to launch cross-border attacks on the PKK in Kurdistan, Iraq. In June the three provinces of Hakkari, Siirt and Şırnak located along the Iraqi border were declared a ‘security zones’, a measure tantamount to declaring a state of emergency. These three provinces comprised the region where Turkish military build-up had been taking place, and from where an invasion into Kurdistan Iraq was most likely be launched. Land forces Chief General İlker Başbuğ gave the stated aim that Turkey had the legal right to protect itself and to act against PKK in Kurdistan Iraq.
A new Turkish parliament was sworn in on 4 August 2007 and three days later, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki visited Ankara to sign a memorandum of understanding in regards to ending PKK access to their Kurdistan Iraq mountain bases. However, by October 2007 Ankara had further stepped up threats to launch a major anti-PKK offensive into Iraq unless action was taken against the group by Iraqi regional and national authorities and the United States. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went to the Grand National Assembly and requested authorization to undertake military incursions into Kurdistan Iraq. The lawmakers voted 507 to 19 to give Erdoğan permission to order strategic strikes and large-scale invasions of Iraq for a one-year period. Since October 2007, the Turkish Parliament has voted to re-authorize cross border military incursions twice.
Following an incident on 21 October 200,7 in the south-east province of Hakkari, that resulted in twelve soldiers being killed, and eight abducted, tensions rose throughout the country. Public anger gave the state carte blanche to begin cross border military operations. The army massed troops in the border region and stepped up operations, shelling Kurdish villages in Iraq and mounting air strikes on border mountain passes. The incident in the Hakkari province allowed Turkey to present the resumption of operations as a defensive response to PKK activity, which threatened to undermine the sovereignty of the Turkish state. However, given that Turkish operations in Iraq had been ongoing this explanation was lacking.
In November 2007, shelling by the Turkish armed forces of areas located between Duhok and the border with Turkey resulted in the displacement of tens of families, who were sheltered by local communities in Zakho. On 16 December 2007, Turkey launched air strikes against PKK rebels in northern Iraq. It was reported that over 50 Turkish fighter jets hit PKK positions in Zap, Hakurk and Avaşin. In another December attack, meant to target the PKK, it was reported the operations had hit eight villages, killing at least two civilians.
In a fourth wave of cross border aerial attacks, Turkish warplanes bombed PKK bases in Kurdistan Iraq on 15 January 2008. Turkey’s government argued that the recent escalation of violence in the southeast and increased clashes between Turkish armed forces and the PKK stemmed from PKK members operating in northern Iraq and infiltration of PKK members from across the Iraqi border. The army and government reiterated threats of major military operations into Kurdistan Iraq. Ignoring calls for restraint from NATO and the EU, the Turkish Air Force again conducted air striked on 25-26 April and on 1-2 May 2008.
Far from being isolated cases, the military incursions into Kurdistan, Iraq should be understood in the broader context of Turkey’s long-standing strategic goal in countering a strong regional Kurdish autonomy. The ongoing and frequent shelling and bombing by Turkish, as well as Iranian, forces cause extreme distress and suffering to the civilian populations who live in the affected areas. Turkey’s cross border operations violate the basic human rights of civilians living in the region and constitutes a contravention of the Geneva Conventions to which the state is a signatory. These actions are also a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty, often carried out with minimal regard for the rights of the civilian population. The military interventions did not achieve their stated aim of removing the PKK and so if this was the true purpose of the attacks, they have been ineffective. Additionally, on a macro level, these military interventions have a detrimental effect on the wider development and stability of Kurdistan, Iraq by entrenching existing problems such as the chronic infrastructural underdevelopment and lack of self sufficiency and the contribute to the authorities strong emphasis on security at the expense of human rights issues.