Turkish government unveils new plan for Kurdish cultural rights

After months of dialogue between the Interior Ministry, parliament and Kurdish leaders, the Turkish government announced a plan to help end the 25-year conflict with a Kurdish separatist movement that has cost more than 40,000 lives. The plan debated by Turkish Parliament for two days was hailed as a landmark, calling for lifting the ban on Kurdish political parties and officially acknowledging Kurdish ethnic identity and cultural rights. Kurds make up almost 15% of Turkey's population.

The government's plan would allow the Kurdish language to be used in all broadcast media and political campaigns, and restore Kurdish names to cities and towns that have been given Turkish ones. It would also establish a committee to fight discrimination.

"Today is the beginning of a new time line and a fresh start," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a live televised speech. "We took a courageous step to resolve chronic issues that constitute an obstacle along Turkey's development, progression, and empowerment, and we are very sincere."

Last year, Parliament approved private Kurdish language courses and a public TV channel in Kurdish as part of what it called a democratization package. Such measures—many of which are required for entry to the European Union—were inconceivable in the early 1980s when aggressive state policies prohibited use of the Kurdish language and other cultural and political rights for the Kurds. That helped empower the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which presented itself as the defender of Kurdish rights.

The PKK praised the government's efforts but called for an immediate end to operations against the guerilla organization. Listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, the group says it no longer seeks independence, but demands constitutional recognition of Kurdish identity. The plan, which still needs to be approved by parliament, makes no mention of the amnesty that the PKK had demanded. (Kurdish Globe, Irbil, Nov. 21; BBC News, Nov. 13)

See our last posts on Turkey and the Kurds.

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