Human rights of Kurdish people in Turkey

Human rights of Kurdish people in Turkey

disputed=March 2008
intromissing=August 2008
quotefarm=August 2008

Human rights of Kurdish people in Turkey is the analysis of the human rights of Kurds in Turkey.


Forced migration of Kurds in Turkey has a long history. Following the Young Turk Revolution at the beginning of this century and the flowering of Turkish nationalism, the destruction or assimilation of minority populations (particularly Armenians and Kurds) has been a recurring pattern. [ Mark Levene] of the University of Southampton writes:cite journal
author = Levene, Mark
year = 1998
title = Creating a Modern 'Zone of Genocide': The Impact of Nation- and State-Formation on Eastern Anatolia, 1878-1923
journal = Holocaust and Genocide Studies
volume = 12
issue = 3
pages = 393–433
doi = 10.1093/hgs/12.3.393

The persistence of genocide or near-genocidal incidents from the 1890s through the 1990s, committed by Ottoman and successor Turkish and Iraqi states against Armenian, Kurdish, Assyrian, and Pontic Greek communities in Eastern Anatolia, is striking. ... the creation of this "zone of genocide" in Eastern Anatolia cannot be understood in isolation, but only in light of the role played by the Great Powers in the emergence of a Western-led international system.
In the last hundred years, four Eastern Anatolian groups—Armenians, Kurds, Assyrians, and Greeks—have fallen victim to state-sponsored attempts by the Ottoman authorities or their Turkish or Iraqi successors to eradicate them. Because of space limitations, I have concentrated here on the genocidal sequence affecting Armenians and Kurds only, though my approach would also be pertinent to the Pontic Greek and Assyrian cases.

Levene, while naming the treatment of the Kurds as continuation of the genocidal sequence of events, he clarifies his broad usage of the term "genocide", arguing that: "The genocide perpetrated against the Turkish Kurds of the Dersim area was essentially partial and local... Compared to what happened to the Armenians in 1915...these other events were smaller scale, ultimately somewhat less systematic, and less total not only for the victim groups involved but also for their implications for the dominant state."cite book
author = Levene, Mark
title = Genocide in the Age of the Nation State: Vol. 1
url =
publisher = I.B. Tauris
location = New York
isbn = 1850437521
year = 2005
pages = 203

Individual rights

In remote parts of the country, such as Southeastern Anatolia, patriarchal traditions of "namus" (family honor) prevail amongs the local Kurdish population, and women still face domestic violence, forced marriages, and so-called honor killings.Fact|date=October 2007 Nearly all of these so-called honor killings take place among the Kurdish population and persons found guilty of committing an honor killing are sentenced to life in prison per the Turkish Penal Code.cite news
title='Virgin suicides' save Turks' 'honor'
author=Bilefsky, Dan
work=International Herald Tribune
] State authorities engaged in stamping out such practices are often accused of racism and of trying to suppress Kurdish culture. To combat this, the government and various other foundations are engaged in education campaigns in Southeastern Anatolia to improve the rate of literacy and education levels of women.cite news|url = |title=Turkish girls in literacy battle|author=|authorlink=|work=BBC News|accessdate=2006-12-11|date=2004-10-18]

Group rights


Many Kurdish families refuse to send their daughters to school because of centuries old tribal traditions. In fact, it has been stated that even economically wealthy families do not want their daughters to follow the mandatory primary and secondary education, preferring them to get married at a comparatively young age. It has also been stated that for many of the local Arab and Kurdish population of the southeast, a school is simply not a place that girls go to. The Turkish state is actively trying to put an end to these feudal practices by a variety of educational and political campaigns, along with nation-wide television campaigns and the personal involvement of the prime minister. It has been estimated that thanks to these determined campaigns, hundreds of thousands of girls in the region are now going to school for the very first time.

Progress of Reforms

The "Turkey 2006 Progress Report" issued by the European Commission contains certain comments concerning the cultural and educational rights of Kurdish people in Turkey. The report states that: "As regards cultural rights, permission was granted to two local TV channels in Diyarbakır and to one radio in Şanlıurfa to broadcast in Kurdish. However, time restrictions apply, with the exception of films and music programmes. All broadcasts, except songs, must be subtitled or translated in Turkish, which makes live broadcasts technically cumbersome. Educational programs teaching the Kurdish language are not allowed. The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation has continued broadcasting five languages including a new channel in Kurdish, Persian and Arabic. [cite web|url=
title=Kurdish channel to air in March
work=Today's Zaman
] No private broadcaster at national level has applied for broadcasting in languages other than Turkish since the enactment of the 2004 legislation."cite web
title = Turkey 2006 Progress Report
publisher = European Commission
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-28
] This is expected to soon change with the planned launch of a state-backed Kurdish channel, pending passage of the "Law About Making A Change Regarding the Law of Turkish Radio and Television and the Law of the Founding of Televisions and Their Broadcasting". [cite web|url=
title=“Kurdish TV Channel” Becomes Possible On Paper

The only language of instruction in the education system is Turkish and people who desire to learn other languages can do so through private courses. As concerns the Kurdish language, all such courses were closed down in 2004 by the owners. It must be noted, however, that those courses were shut down because of a grave lack of attendance and interest, and thus making the observers wonder the true extent of the demand for a separate Kurdish ethnic identity, rather than a Turkish one. Many buildings were rented for such courses by activists "in anticipation of a flood of students that never came." Kurdish language activists counter that the desire to learn Kurdish is there, but it must be taught in public schools.cite news
title = Opened with a flourish, Turkey's Kurdish-language schools fold
work = Christian Science Monitor
last =
first =
coauthors =
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-17

Therefore, there are no possibilities to learn Kurdish nowadays in the public or private schooling system. Furthermore, there are no measures taken to facilitate access to public services for those who do not speak Turkish. The Report underscores that, according to the Law on Political Parties, the use of languages other than Turkish is illegal in political life. [Nelles, Wayne C. "Comparative Education, Terrorism and Human Security". 2003, page 167.] This was seen when Leyla Zana spoke Kurdish in her inauguration as an MP she was arrested in 1994 and charged with treason and membership in the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Zana and the others were sentenced to 15 years in prison. [cite journal|url=
title=Defiance Under Fire: Leyla Zana: Prisoner of Conscience
journal=Amnesty Magazine

The Commission concludes that "overall Turkey made little progress on ensuring cultural diversity and promoting respect for and protection of minorities in accordance with international standards". "The Economist" also asserts that "reforms have slowed, prosecutions of writers for insulting Turkishness have continued, renewed fighting has broken out with Kurds and a new mood of nationalism has taken hold", but it is also stressed that "in the past four years the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, improved rights for Kurds".cite journal|title=The Blackballers' Club |journal=The Economist|volume=|issue=|pages=10–11|date=December 16-22 2006|url= ]

Claims of forced assimilation and genocide

Due to the large size of Turkish Kurds, successive governments have viewed the expression of a Kurdish identity as a potential threat to Turkish unity, a feeling that has been compounded since the armed rebellion initiated by the PKK in 1984. One of the main accusations of cultural assimilation comes from the state's historic suppression of the Kurdish language. Kurdish publications created throughout the 1960s and 1970's were shut down under various legal pretexts. [Helen Chapin Metz, ed. [ Kurds] , "Turkey: A Country Study". Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1995.] Following the military coup of 1980, the Kurdish language was officially prohibited from government institutions. Since 2002, as part of its reforms aimed at European Union integration and under pressure to further the rights of Kurds, Turkey passed laws allowing Kurdish radio and television broadcasts as well the option of private Kurdish education. [cite news|url=
title=Turkey passes key reform package
work=BBC News

American Congressman Bob Filner speaks about a "cultural genocide", and stresses that "a way of life known as Kurdish is disappearing at an alarming rate". [cite book|title=The Kurdish Question in U.S. Foreign Policy: A Documentary Sourcebook |first=Lokman I|last=Meho |year=2004 | pages=400|publisher=Praeger/Greenwood|isbn=0-313-31435-7|chapter=Congressional Record|url=,M1] Mark Levene suggests that the genocidal practices were not limited to cultural genocide and that the events of the late nineteenth century continued until 1990.

Contemporary issues

Recent events in Diyarbakır

Violent disturbances took place in several cities in the Southeast in March and April 2006. Over 550 people were detained as a result of these events, including over 200 children. The Diyarbakır Bar Association submitted more than 70 complaints of ill-treatment to the authorities. Subsequently, investigations were launched into 39 of these claims. During the events in Diyarbakır, forensic examinations of detained were carried out in places of detention. According to the Report of the Commission, "this contravenes the rules and the circulars issued by the Ministries of Justice and Health as well as the independence of the medical profession". The Commission also believes that "the new provisions introduced in June 2006 to amend the anti-terror law could undermine the fight against torture and ill-treatment". The Commission also stresses that "a return to normality in Southeast can only be achieved be opening dialogue with local counterparts". "A comprehensive strategy should be pursued to achieve the socio-economic development of the region and the establishment of conditions for the Kurdish population to enjoy full rights and freedoms. Issues that need to be addressed include the return of internally displaced persons, compensation for losses incurred by victims of terrorism, landmines as well as the issue of village guards".


External links

* [ Kurdish Human Rights Project]

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