Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nothing less than Kurdish as an official language is a solution


A democratization package is expected to be announced on Monday by the prime minister. If there are no major last-minute changes, then the package will obviously not meet the expectations of the country's Kurds.

What we understand from what has been leaked about the package is that it will include a few reforms that address the Kurdish question. Kurdish names will be given back to places for which they had been replaced with Turkish names; Kurdish citizens will receive some services in Kurdish (the scope of which is not clear yet: whether this services include “petitions” and official replies or just verbal services, whether this will include “judicial services,” and so on); and Kurdish lessons will be included in the curriculum, most probably as electives.

I welcome any steps in the direction of democratization and promoting human rights. But these steps, if there are no major last-minute changes, are too little, too late to create a major paradigm shift in dealing with the Kurdish question.

We need to recognize Kurds as equal citizens and, in my view, the most basic step in this direction lies in the recognition of the Kurdish language in all aspects of life in Turkey. My formula for this comprises two elements: Kurdish children should be able to receive their education in their mother tongue wherever they live in Turkey, and Kurdish should be a second official language in southeastern Turkey. When I say official language, I mean all public services should be bilingual in the Southeast. Judges, teachers, the police force and the municipalities should serve in both languages. We need a paradigm shift of at least this magnitude to start to solve the Kurdish problem forever.

I think Turkey is at a historical crossroads where the need to solve problems with fundamental human rights and strategic necessities miraculously coincide. Whether Turkey likes it or not, in Iraq and Syria, Kurds are gaining autonomy and independence. From now on, then, Turkey should ask itself this question: Will the country go with the current or become a victim of the inevitable developments in this region? Will Turkey be a country whose Kurdish citizens look at neighboring Kurdish entities with jealous eyes, or will all Kurds in the region look at Turkey with admiration? Will we have Kurds whose satellite dishes are directed at northern Iraq or will we become a country where all Kurds in the region try to enroll in our universities to obtain law, medical and economics degrees in the Kurdish language?

Unfortunately, the government cannot move beyond the point at which it bargains its Kurdish citizens' fundamental rights with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). And this is one of the root causes of the impasse we have been facing in this country for such a long time. The government should discuss with the PKK how its militants will lay down their weapons, how they will become a part of political life after the peace process has been completed and so on. However, the rights of the Kurds should not be part of any bargaining process. The rights of the Kurds are a matter of human rights and democracy, which cannot be negotiated for any purpose. I cannot see a paradigm shift of this magnitude happening on the part of the government.

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