Language Policy Reform in Turkey

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Aug 7 17:10:58 UTC 2002

>>From Reuters:

Turkish MPs Vote for Kurdish TV in EU Reform
Last Updated: August 02, 2002 07:51 PM ET

             By Claudia Parsons

             ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish MPs voted Saturday to allow
Kurdish radio and television broadcasts, reversing years of state
restrictions in a bid to win the country a chance of European Union

Parliament, soon to start campaigning for a November 3 election approved
Wednesday, passed the change in a late-night burst of sweeping EU-inspired
reforms that included the abolition of the death penalty. Parliament voted
by 267 votes to 114 to allow the country's estimated 12 million Kurds to
broadcast in their mother tongue -- although the measure will not be fully
ratified until a final vote on the entire reform package, which might not
take place until early next week. The package, which appears set to be
approved despite opposition from nationalist MPs, would help Muslim Turkey
meet the criteria to start membership talks with the European Union.

"We are doing a completely humanitarian thing here. Forget the European
Union, we are doing the right thing here...The country will not be
divided. This will be good for us," Islamist MP Mehmet Bekaroglu told the
assembly during a calm and restrained debate of an often heated issue in
Turkey. The Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and many nationalists in other
parties, worry that allowing Kurdish broadcasts might encourage armed
separatism in Turkey's mainly-Kurdish southeast.

The step, which allows Kurdish TV on the condition it follows
constitutional principles and does not incite violence, is partly a
recognition that satellite technology means Turkey's ban on
Kurdish-language broadcasts is impossible to enforce. Expatriot Turkish
Kurds in Europe have been broadcasting via satellite to Turkey for years,
much to the anger of the Turkish state, which accused the channels of
acting as a mouthpiece for separatist rebels of the Kurdistan Workers
Party (PKK).

"Will the PKK have won the right to legitimate broadcasts through our
votes? Think carefully," MHP deputy Sait Gonen warned deputies.


But in a sign of the way the wind was blowing, MPs had already voted to
abolish the death penalty, a watershed for a country that only three years
ago was considering hanging PKK guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan, blaming
him for more than 30,000 deaths in the conflict with security forces.
Parliament also passed measures ending punishments for criticism of the
armed forces and other pillars of the Turkish establishment, easing
restrictions on public assembly and demonstrations and making it easier
for foreign associations to work in Turkey.

In one step that will be welcomed by the EU, the reforms also introduced
tough penalties for people and organ smugglers. The wealthy bloc is
increasingly concerned by illegal immigration, much of which flows through
the long borders and coastline of southeastern neighbor Turkey. The
package is being rushed through parliament by pro-EU forces who want to
complete the reforms before campaigning starts for the general election on
November 3.

Ankara wants the European Union to set a date by the end of the year for
Turkey to start membership talks. The EU wants to see reforms passed and
implemented before it sets a date. Markets are hoping progress toward the
EU would help attract foreign investment to haul Turkey's economy out of
recession and bolster a $16 billion IMF economic rescue program. Stocks
and the lira rose Friday amid hopes the reforms will pass.

The speed with which the package has progressed so far has surprised many
who thought the often controversial reforms might be bogged down in the
assembly. There are still fears, however, that politicians, their eyes on
the polls, may want to avoid tackling issues that could alienate
nationalist voters.

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