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Turkey

Minorities

At least 15 percent of Turkey's population consists of ethnic and religious minorities. The Kurds are the minority group with the greatest impact on national politics. Since the 1930s, Kurds have resisted government efforts to assimilate them forcibly, including an official ban on speaking or writing Kurdish. Since 1984 Kurdish resistance to Turkification has encompassed both a peaceful political struggle to obtain basic civil rights for Kurds within Turkey and a violent armed struggle to obtain a separate Kurdish state. The leaders of the nonviolent struggle have worked within the political system for the recognition of Kurdish cultural rights, including the right to speak Kurdish in public and to read, write, and publish in Kurdish. Prior to 1991, these Kurds operated within the national political parties, in particular the SHP, the party most sympathetic to their goal of full equality for all citizens of Turkey. President Ízal's 1991 call for a more liberal policy toward Kurds and for the repeal of the ban on speaking Kurdish raised the hopes of Kurdish politicians. Following the parliamentary elections of October 1991, several Kurdish deputies, including Hatip Dicle, Feridun Yazar, and Leyla Zayna, formed the HEP, a party with the explicit goal of campaigning within the National Assembly for laws guaranteeing equal rights for the Kurds.

Turkey's other leaders were not as willing as Ízal to recognize Kurdish distinctiveness, and only two months after his death in April 1993, the Constitutional Court issued its decision declaring the HEP illegal. In anticipation of this outcome, the Kurdish deputies had resigned from the HEP only days before and formed a new organization, the Democracy Party (Demokrasi Partisi--DEP). The DEP's objective was similar to that of its predecessor: to promote civil rights for all citizens of Turkey. When the DEP was banned in June 1994, Kurdish deputies formed the new People's Democracy Party (Halkin Demokrasi Partisi--HADEP).

The PKK initiated armed struggle against the state in 1984 with attacks on gendarmerie posts in the southeast. The PKK's leader, Abdullah Ícalan, had formed the group in the late 1970s while a student in Ankara. Prior to the 1980 coup, Ícalan fled to Lebanon, via Syria, where he continued to maintain his headquarters in 1994. Until October 1992, Ícalan's brother, Osman, had supervised PKK training camps in the mountains separating northern Iraq from Turkey's HakkÔri and Mardin provinces. It was from these camps that PKK guerrillas launched their raids into Turkey. The main characteristic of PKK attacks was the use of indiscriminate violence, and PKK guerrillas did not hesitate to kill Kurds whom they considered collaborators. Targeted in particular were the government's paid militia, known as village guards, and schoolteachers accused of promoting forced assimilation. The extreme violence of the PKK's methods enabled the government to portray the PKK as a terrorist organization and to justify its own policies, which included the destruction of about 850 border villages and the forced removal of their populations to western Turkey.

In March 1993, the PKK dropped its declared objective of creating an independent state of Kurdistan in the southeastern provinces that had Kurdish majorities. Its new goal was to resolve the Kurdish problem within a democratic and federal system. The loss of PKK guerrilla camps in northern Iraq in October 1992, following defeat in a major confrontation with Iraqi Kurdish forces supported by Turkish military intervention, probably influenced this tactical change. At the same time, Ícalan announced a unilateral, albeit temporary, cease-fire in the PKK's war with Turkish security forces. The latter decision may also have reflected the influence of Kurdish civilian leaders, who had been urging an end to the violence in order to test Ízal's commitment to equal rights. Whether there were realistic prospects in the spring of 1993 for a political solution to the conflict in southeast Turkey may never be known. Ízal suffered a fatal heart attack in April, and his successor, Demirel, did not appear inclined to challenge the military, whose position continued to be that elimination of the PKK was the appropriate way to pacify the region. Fighting between security forces and PKK guerrillas, estimated to number as many as 15,000, resumed by June 1993.

In early 1995, Turkey's other minorities--Arabs, Armenians, other Caucasian peoples, Circassians, Georgians, Greeks, and Jews--tended toward political quiescence. Arabs, who are concentrated in the southeast to the west of the Kurds and north of the border with Syria, had demonstrated over language and religious issues in the 1980s. Because most of Turkey's Arabs belong to Islam's Alawi branch, whose adherents also include the leading politicians of Syria, Ankara's often tense relations with Syria tend to be further complicated.

The Armenian issue also adds tension to foreign affairs. The 60,000 Armenians estimated to be living in Turkey in the mid-1990s had refrained from attracting any political attention to their community. However, along with Armenians residing in Lebanon, France, Iran, and the United States, the Republic of Armenia, which borders Turkey's easternmost province of Kars, has embarrassed Turkey with highly publicized annual commemorations of the Armenian genocide of 1915-16--which the Turkish government denies ever occurred (see World War I, ch. 1). The Turkish government also condemns as harmful to overall relations the periodic efforts by the United States Congress and the parliaments of European states to pass resolutions condemning the mass killings. Various clandestine Armenian groups--of which the most prominent is the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA)--have claimed responsibility for assassinations of Turkish diplomatic personnel stationed in the Middle East and Europe. Such assassinations have continued to occur in the 1990s. Unidentified Turkish government officials frequently have leaked reports to the news media accusing Armenia, Lebanon, and Syria of allowing Armenian terrorists to receive training and support within their borders.

Mass Media

The Turkish news media consist of a state-operated radio and television broadcasting system and privately owned press and broadcasting operations. Newspapers are not subject to prior censorship, but a 1983 press law restricts them from reporting information deemed to fall within the sphere of national security and prohibits the publication of papers that promote "separatism." Violations of these restrictions result in the closing down of newspapers and the prosecution of journalists. Except for official press releases, most reports on military operations in southeastern Turkey and almost all accounts of public speeches calling for Kurdish cultural rights prompt state prosecutors to come before security courts calling for judicial investigations of possible press law violations. Amnesty International has documented the detention of scores of journalists who wrote independent articles about conditions in the southeast during 1991-92; in some instances, journalists were injured during interrogations or held for prolonged periods without access to attorneys. Twenty-eight journalists were tried and sentenced to prison in the first six months of 1993 alone. Many of them worked for the Istanbul daily Ozgur Gundem , which has regularly featured stories on conditions in the Kurdish areas and has carried interviews with both PKK guerrillas and Turkish soldiers. In an apparent attempt to halt publication of such articles, the government arrested the newspaper's editor in chief, Davut Karadag, in July 1993 and charged him with spreading separatist propaganda. Subsequently, editors at Medya Gunesi, Aydinlik , and other newspapers were detained on similar charges.

The publication of materials thought to offend public morals is also grounds for suspending a periodical or confiscating a book. The Censor's Board on Obscene Publications has responsibility for reviewing potentially offensive material and deciding on appropriate action. The weekly Aktuel frequently questions the value of, and need for, such a board in a democracy, using biting satire to deliver its message. In 1993 the editor of the weekly and one of its freelance columnists were arrested and charged with insulting the board.

Data as of January 1995


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