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October 17, 2006

Kurdish question in the European Parliament

By Khalid Khayati
The Kurdish Globe

The European Parliament voted in September on a report detailing Turkey's progress towards accession to the European Union.

A resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority that called on the Turkish authorities to bring about further improvements in several key areas, including that of the Kurdish question. The European Parliament also urged the Turkish government "to take concrete steps for the normalization of bilateral relations" with Cyprus, under the United Nations' settlement process. As with an earlier resolution in September 2005, the new European Union text calls on Turkey to recognize the Republic of Cyprus and withdraw its military forces from the island, as well as lift its embargo and end all port and airport restrictions.

Human rights abuses in Turkey were another area of concern highlighted by the European Parliament. Whilst recognizing some recent limited progress in this field, the parliament strongly criticized the Turkey's human rights record and current practices. The MEPs were particularly concerned with the lack of religious freedom, the inadequate protection of ethnic and cultural communities, the use of torture and the severe curtailment of freedom of expression. The criticism of denying ethnic minorities rights was an obvious allusion to the Greeks of Pontos and the Assyrians, who similarly to the Kurds, have been systematically denied their identity and the right to political and cultural recognition. The report calls on the Turkish government to "implement more effective measures" for dealing with abuses of human rights by Turkish authorities.

Previous reports have deplored the lack of gender equality in Turkey's civil and penal codes, and the pervasive problem of domestic violence, polygamy and forced marriage particularly among Turkey's Kurdish population. The report is particularly concerned with so called honor killings and urges all involved to make an effort to put an end to such atrocious practices. The document reemphasizes the right of Turkish women to education.
The death penalty was another issue of concern. The issue has been raised in the past in connection with the case of PKK leader Abdullah Öcelan. According to the report, the European Parliament maintained "pressure on the Turkish authorities until they abolished the death penalty in 2002."

Although the European Parliament has not made Turkey's EU membership contingent upon its acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide, Turkey has been urged to establish "good neighbourly relations" with Armenia, and facilitate the work of researchers, intellectuals and academics looking at the question of the genocide. However, Turkey has described France's recent decision to make illegal denial of the Armenian genocide a "serious blow" to its relations with France and has threatened sanctions.

Kurdish question on the agenda

The European Parliament also called on the Turkish government to recognize "the cultural rights of the Kurdish minority" in Turkey, whilst praising some positive developments, such as the decision to permit broadcasting in the Kurdish language. The European Parliament has also strongly condemned the resurgence of "terrorist violence" on the part of the PKK, which the resolution accuses of resulting in the "intimidation of civil society representatives" in Kurdish areas. The resolution was indeed passed a few days before the PKK declared a unilateral and unconditional ceasefire with the Turkish military forces.
The European parliamentary resolution calls on the Turkish side to pursue a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue following the last year's "encouraging statement" by Turkish Prime Minister Receb Tayyip Erdogan, who admitted the existence of the Kurdish problem and called for a solution. The report also urges the Turkish authorities to lift restrictions on political parties such HADEP and to allow the Kurdish language to be used in the education system and media. Furthermore, it has been stressed that it was essential "to strike a balance between the need to control the situation as regards security, avoiding civil military strains, and effectively promoting the political dialogue and the economic and social development of the "south-east" region through a comprehensive strategy supported by adequate means".

What prospects for the Kurds in Turkey?

Although the European Parliament urges the Turkish Government to opt for a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue through the promotion of political dialogue and the economic and social development of the "south-east" region, possibly using EU pre-accession assistance, the parliament's message appears muddled and insufficient. The European Parliament's resolution fails to deliver a well-formulated and coherent definition of the Kurdish problem, a necessary prerequisite before proposing any solution to it. Similarly, the Kurdish political movement in Turkey for its part has been hitherto unable to bring clarity to the issue. The unilateral ceasefire that was issued by the PKK on 1st October and that was welcomed by many people, will perhaps open the way for a general amnesty for PKK members and their inclusion in the Turkish political process, but this is far from satisfactory.

For the Turkish government, engaged in an "open-ended" process of becoming a full member of the European Union, it is time to carry out fundamental changes in its political and judicial apparatus in order to facilitate a real solution to the Kurdish problem. The Kurdish question in Turkey concerns the claim of an oppressed but distinct people to their right to preserve and institutionalize their national identity. As Abbas Vali has outlined, it is about promoting the representation of the "marginal" and excluded identities in the political and legal processes of the country. It is also about the changing the conditions of citizenship, which insist that the Turkish identity of the sovereign and all political power is accepted.

It is time for the Kurdish political movement in Turkey to aim for such a vision. We should remember that achieving the political recognition for the Kurds in Turkey can only through a purely peaceful struggle that will give birth to the emergence of a democratic political culture in Kurdish society.

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