MUSTAFA AKYOL > Hunger strikes and Kurdish rights

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One of the burning issues in Turkey these days is the hunger strikes that hundreds of Kurdish inmates have initiated in order to advance their political demands. Most of them are convicts or suspects in the case of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the so-called urban branch of the PKK, a terrorist group by Turkish and most international definitions. And, as much as I despise the PKK, I do support at least some of their demands.

The hunger strikers’ first demand is the “right to defense in Kurdish.” This means that they want to be able to give their testimony in Turkish courts in their native language, something that they have been asking for in the KCK trials to no avail.

I have supported this demand from the beginning, as I do today. It is the job of the state, I believe, to respect the languages of its citizens and listen to them in the form that they speak. Turkish courts, therefore, should employ translators for the suspects or witnesses who want to speak in Kurdish, as would be the case for any foreigner tried in Turkish courts.

The good news is that the government has responded to this demand positively. As Bülent Arınç, deputy prime minister and government spokesman, announced the other day, the Justice Ministry has prepared an amendment in the Turkish penal code which will allow any suspect to defend himself “in the language he states he will defend himself better in.” This amendment is expected to come to Parliament and be passed soon. This is truly good news.

The second demand of the hunger strikers is “education in Kurdish.” They, in other words, want schools in which the whole curriculum will be in the Kurdish language. My take on this is a bit more complex than the first issue. I do not believe that the state has to give education in every single mother tongue in a country. I rather believe that the state merely has to allow private education in those mother tongues just like in the United States, where public schools operate only in English but education in other languages or based on particular religions can be given in private schools.

The third demand of the hunger strikers is, in my view, the least reasonable one: improved prison conditions and the eventual house arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in a Turkish prison on the island of İmralı in the Marmara Sea since his arrest in 1999. This is unreasonable, for Öcalan’s current situation is not a violation of any right. The man is in prison for leading a terrorist organization that has claimed thousands of innocent lives. Turkey can well consider an improvement in Öcalan’s conditions if the government believes that this will help end the PKK’s armed campaign. But things cannot change simply because Öcalan has fans that are ready to starve themselves to death for him.

In fact, more horrible incidents took place in 1999 when Öcalan was first captured. Several PKK members in Turkish jails burned themselves alive to protest the imprisoning of their “people’s leader.”

The decision was made not by them but by the PKK central command, which regarded its own members as disposable apparatus.

Sadly, the same is true today. Most hunger strikers are obeying the orders of the PKK, which does not care about all the suffering it is causing. This is yet another sobering sign that the collective “Kurdish liberation” that the PKK seeks will be at the expense of the lives of many Kurdish individuals.


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mara mcglothin

11/9/2012 5:06:28 PM

HASAN ADAM You have both hit the nail of the head with your last comments. I have no problem iwth what we call a "head start" program in America that begins at age 4 and 5 to help children from Kuriish households, speaking Kurdish while integrating into the Turkish school system and Turkish language. So far of all the American kids born to Turkish parents living in the USA, I don't know a single one who can't speak Turkish and they speak English 100% of the time in school. Simple

adam adel

11/8/2012 4:22:18 PM

Ismail ok then so first kurds did live in Diyarbakir before the 16 century, then no they migrated in the 16 century, where is Diyarbakir located? the Balkans? You’re right about kurds being forced to also migrate to other areas but who didn’t migrate in those days? turks? Instead of all this 16 century hogwash say it more clearly: Turkey for turks, we don’t consider kurds citizens. Or do you acknowledge that you have 23 million kurdish citizens? if so do they have the same rights as turks?

adam adel

11/8/2012 3:46:00 PM

Hasan I agree 100% that kurds need to learn turkish fluently, and as far as I know no kurdish group or org. have indicated that kurds shouldn’t learn turkish. Your compromise idea is good, if only politicians in Turkey were more solution minded like you. My point was I don’t understand how could giving more rights to your citizens harm your country as many turkish nationalists claim? an end to the bloodshed will hurt Turkey?

Hasan Kutlay

11/8/2012 1:48:34 PM

The major problem with all-in Kurdish schools is: how are the Kurdish children going to learn Turkish? They must also learn Turkish, in their best interest to find a job in a country where the majority speaks Turkish. So a compromise could be: these schools could have a curriculum in Turkish + Kurdish language. The children could learn both languages, and they definitely should learn Turkish.

ismail demir

11/8/2012 10:21:27 AM

@adel, 16. century kurdish immigration is historical fact accepted by historians except some internet ridicoulus apoist propagandists.Kurds only lived Diyarbakir and its southeast prior to Turkish settlement.There is no non-kurd historian claims the reverse even your BDP parliamenter accepted at the prokurdish Radikal newspaper .Those kurds willingly accepted Ottoman rule and rest of kurdish population demanded asylium from Ottomans due to religious persecution of safevis.

Hasan Kutlay

11/8/2012 2:34:31 AM

I totally agree with this article. And i also agree with Mara. Those private schools in the West are for a huge part in English/German/French etc, it's just that in those schools there's extra attention (lessons) for the cultural/religious/linguistic heritage of the minority group. For example: a part of the lessons are in Turkish/Hebrew, or there are extra lessons in religion/culture of the minority group, or lessons in Turkish/Hebrew language.

hewa salim

11/7/2012 11:05:33 PM

As you all know PKK has a plenty of supporters in Turkey and I think the government should make a peace environment for both Kurds and Turks and it is time to excuse the Kurds and the Kurds excuse the Turks. If Turkey is a country for all, the government should serve Kurdish culture and language same with Turkish because they are more than 20 million and they are not minority. If not Turkey will face civil war. I can not understand why some people against the Kurds rights?!

adam adel

11/7/2012 7:16:25 PM

ismail what’s this nonsense you keep repeating about kurds coming to Turkey as refugees? did such a entity as Turkey exist 90 years ago? It's established that kurds were living in Anatolia long before turks, it’s only some nationalist circles in turkey who fabricate these funny claims. The same kind of people who were 110% sure that there were no kurds in turkey 30 years ago. You're right about Bulgaria they had turkish schools but closed them you must be happy about that? Germany wil open soon


11/7/2012 6:50:39 PM

Firstly, this is NOT a burning issue in Turkey. PKK ordered these idiots to sacrifice themselves for their "dear leader" and that has no sympathy from anyone. Secondly, none of the demands are "basic" rights as many try to portray. Education in Kurdish? How is that a right? In US one can only take other languages as electives, there is no education in any other language, period. Of course all of these could be dealt with much less hysteria if it were not for PKK and their evil deeds.

ismail demir

11/7/2012 9:59:06 AM

Majority of kurds in Turkey came to Anatolia by accepting Turkish hegemony for fear of persecution in iran and Iraq.You do not have luxury first begging a country to be citizen later complain about persecution.Giving mother tongue education to huge population minority will make impossible for Turkish speaking citizens live that areas to get public services in their own country.There are no Turkish main tongue education in Bulgaria and Germanyas claimed here.
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