October 6, 2005


As Turkey Reaches Out, Kurdish Politicians Look Back: Nascent Party of Ethnic Minority Appears Reluctant to Break With Symbols of Violent Resistance (Karl Vick, October 6, 2005, Washington Post )

Despite a dramatic overture from Turkey's prime minister and deep fatigue among minority Kurds weary of a civil war that has killed tens of thousands, Kurdish politics remains dominated by men more acquainted with conflict than with conciliation.

In a speech here in August, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "People are asking me what we are planning to do about the 'Kurdish problem.' " His answer -- "more democracy" -- was widely regarded as a significant overture for peace, giving new context to an issue that official Turkey has long cast as a question of law and order.

Kurdish politicians say they saw it as exactly that. The war here, which has killed more than 30,000 and still claims several lives a week, is rooted in Turkey's long, sometimes brutal suppression of Kurdish ethnic identity. [...]

The state, founded on a concept of "Turkishness," for decades had imposed that view even on non-Turks with their own strong ethnic identities. Kurds were officially dubbed "mountain Turks" and forbidden to publicly express their language, music and customs.

But at the urging of the European Union, Turkey began to indulge the idea of minority rights. In 2002 its parliament legalized Kurdish-language schools and allowed limited broadcasts in Kurdish.

"As far as I know, the E.U. has been very successful in sensitizing the Turkish state to the rights of the Kurds," said Kemal Kirisci, a Bosphorus University professor who wrote a book on the "Kurdish problem."

When Erdogan's government came to power, those largely symbolic changes were followed by personnel shifts that impressed independent observers. Diyarbakir was sent a provincial governor and police chief who spoke of protecting demonstrators at pro-Kurdish rallies. State security forces used to wade into such protests with batons flying.

"The state has had to adapt itself and its institutions to the new paradigm," said Efkan Ala, the governor. "This is one of the basic differences between a developed country and an underdeveloped country."

Human rights activists say Turkey still has a long way to go. Reports of torture continue, especially after PKK guerrillas began to return to Turkey last year and sporadic fighting resumed. The guerrillas say they returned out of disappointment both at receiving no acceptable offer of amnesty and at the state's sluggish implementation of even limited rights.

We all know this eventually ends in self-determination, so why not cut out a lot of pain and just let them decide now?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 6, 2005 8:38 AM
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