AK Party preparing to allow public services in mother tongue

2 May 2013 /ALİ ASLAN KILIÇ, ANKARA – Zaman – The governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has kicked off preparations for legislation that would allow public services to be conducted in one’s mother tongue, a move observers say is belated but positive.

A senior official from the AK Party told Today’s Zaman on the condition of anonymity that the legislation will be in place by the end of 2014. According to the official, the preparations were part of commitments the AK Party announced during the party’s last congress on Sept. 30 of last year. “We are implementing the 63-point package announced during the congress,” he stated.

The AK Party, as per the 63-point roadmap, plans to remove any barriers in the way of citizens receiving public services in their mother tongue.

Steps towards enabling public services to be conducted in one’s mother tongue follow ongoing efforts by the government to settle the decades-old Kurdish and terrorism problems through peace and dialogue. However, the AK Party official stated, it would be wrong to claim that the steps are taken because the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) asked for them. He also said the AK Party’s preparations to allow public services to be delivered in one’s mother tongue had begun before the BDP submitted a proposal to change the law to that effect in January of this year.

The AK Party is planning to finalize its preparations on the legislation by autumn and then discuss the issue with other lawmakers in Parliament once they return from the summer recess. Parliament will go into summer recess on July 1 and reconvene on Oct. 1.

According to the AK Party’s plans, state hospitals will employ translators to ensure smooth communication between doctors and patients in regions largely populated by ethnic groups, Kurds in particular. It is estimated that up to 15 million Kurds live in Turkey. They mostly reside in eastern and southeastern parts of the country. If doctors happen to know Kurdish, then they will speak in Kurdish with patients and their relatives.

In addition, state banks, social security centers, tax offices, post offices and municipalities will employ staff who know Kurdish. Their buildings will have signs in Kurdish as well as Turkish. Political analyst Mümtaz’er Türköne said he supports the idea of letting people receive education and public services in their mother language. “I should say that the [AK Party] plan is a very positive step which I believe is independent from the ongoing [settlement] process,” he said in remarks to Today’s Zaman. Türköne also said the plan should receive wide support from the public, and similar steps should be taken by the government to get rid of other chronic problems that Turkey has been striving to solve for decades. Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) President Ahmet Faruk Ünsal said the AK Party plan to allow receiving public services in one’s mother tongue is a belated but still positive step aimed at boosting fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey. According to Ünsal, the plan is aimed at making up for the “past mistakes of the country.” He was referring to a ban imposed on the public use of Kurdish that remained in place for several years.

“Turkey failed to get rid of restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms for many years. This led to many being hurt. And the country suffered from major problems. Turkey is now compensating for its past mistakes,” Ünsal said. Ünal is on the Wise People Commission, set up by the government to promote ongoing efforts to settle the Kurdish and terrorism problems among the public.

In Turkey, the public use of the Kurdish language was banned in schools, official settings and non-music broadcasts in the aftermath of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état. The language was banned through an article of the Constitution drafted after the coup. The article stated that no language prohibited by law shall be used in the expression and dissemination of thought and that any written or printed documents, phonograph records, magnetic or video tapes and other means of expression used in contravention of this provision shall be seized. The ban remained in place until 1991.

Since taking office first in 2002, the AK Party has taken significant steps in a bid to reconcile with its Kurdish population. Among the initiatives was the 2009 dedication of one of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation’s (TRT) channels to broadcast in Kurdish in a bid to fulfill a long-held demand from the country’s Kurds. And currently, it is engaged with talks with the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, in a bid to resolve the country’s decades-old terrorism problem. Öcalan is incarcerated in prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara. In past months, Öcalan, who, despite his 14 years in prison still wields enormous clout over PKK terrorists as well as millions of nationalist Kurds in Turkey, called on PKK terrorists to lay down their arms and leave Turkey. In response to Öcalan’s call, the PKK recently declared that it will begin withdrawing its terrorists from Turkey early this month.

The AK Party official told Today’s Zaman that his party has been engaged in reforms since 2002 to strengthen peace, human rights and equality among citizens. “Eight months have passed since we declared our 63-point roadmap. We have made serious reforms in the past eight months. Parliament has passed the fourth judicial reform package. … We will continue to work for our 63-point roadmap to this end regardless of our citizens’ languages, religions, races or denominations,” he stated.

Turkish Tradesmen’s and Artisans’ Confederation (TESK) Chairman Bendevi Palandöken, who is also on the Wise People Commission, said most people in Turkey favor the settlement of the Kurdish and terrorism problems and that they would probably support the idea of granting broader cultural rights to the Kurdish population. “People in the Black Sea region [where Palandöken’s group of wise people is working] want terrorists to be punished. I do not know if the state will find adequate number of staff to work in public offices to ensure people receive services in their mother tongues but I do not think that our people will object to people receiving such services,” he stated. Palandöken also said, contrary to what is claimed in the media, that up to 98 percent of the people in the Black Sea region support the government’s efforts to solve terrorism.