Diyarbakir lauds democratisation packet, notes some ‘shortcomings’

Prominent Kurds laud certain proposed reforms, but many also say the packet is lacking. – By Nurhak Yilmaz for SES Türkiye in Diyarbakir — 01/10/13

Civil society leaders and analysts in Diyarbakir greeted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ‘democratisation packet’ with a combination of praise and criticism.

Vahap Coskun, a law professor at Diyarbakir’s Dicle University, said certain aspects of the packet deserve praise.”From what I can see, there are two types of reform here: one dealing with political parties and political life and another addressing the requests of various portions of society. The empowerment of political parties organisationally, financially, and in terms of their membership is important and valuable, in my opinion,” he told SES Türkiye.

“On the other hand, the reforms addressing demands of societal groups are also important and comprehensive. Ending the ban on headscarves in public offices, offering the possibility of mother tongue education, establishing an institute for the Roma, returning the property of Mor Gabriel monastery, and lifting the student oath are all extremely important.”

Coskun added that there also are “shortcomings” in the packet.

“In my view, the most important shortcoming is the failure to make the necessary changes to the anti-terror law and Turkish penal code. These create extremely serious problems. On the other hand, we also see that Alevis’ concerns regarding their places of worship were not addressed,” Coskun said.

Coskun added that the proper response is to support and implement the positive aspects of the package as soon as possible while working to address the shortcomings.

“This will support the development of Turkey’s democracy,” he said.

Mustafa Hacimustafaogullari, a retired general who heads the Justice Defenders’ Association, said the packet is a milestone for Turkey’s democracy.

“This is an important step in the normalisation process Turkey has gone through for the last 10 years. Put differently, it’s important in that it removes obstacles to democratic rights, basic rights and liberties,” he told SES Türkiye.

He also praised the government’s decision to abolish the student anthem.

“It’s positive to get rid of something that forces small primary school children to say empty things like ‘may my existence be dedicated to the Turkish existence.’ This practice upset certain segments of society,” Hacimustafaogullari said.

Firat Ilim, co-chairman of the Philosophers’ Association, said the government’s moves on mother tongue education were insufficient.

“This has been a matter of humiliation for the Kurds. It appears as if obstructions have been softened, and that steps towards normalisation are being taken, but if you take it as a whole, it’s very far from meeting expectations. It looks like little more than a move for the elections. I don’t expect anything comprehensive to emerge,” Ilim said.

He added that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s conduct during the Gezi Park demonstrations failed to inspire public confidence in its capacity to reform.

“When the AKP says it’s going to solve everything and that everything will be fine despite the massive illegitimate violence that was used and the countless detentions that occurred during the Gezi protests, we should ask: Aren’t you the ones who did this in the first place?” Ilim said.

Hayrettin Celik, chairman of the Free Journalists’ Association, said the packet’s action on mother tongue education was bound to disappoint.

“There was an expectation that all languages in Turkey, not only Kurdish, would be given protection and taught in schools as a right. The notion of adding three letters to the alphabet is also laughable,” he told SES Türkiye. “Three letters recognised internationally was a crime, now it isn’t. This isn’t a concession.”

Hacimustafaogullari praised the governments steps on language, even as he said there were “many more steps to be taken” on the issue.”Allowing education in different languages and dialects in private schools represents a mentality shift and establishment of a new paradigm that is important,” he said.

Veysi Kilic, a Diyarbakir shopkeeper, was hoping for more steps on mother tongue education.

“Once again, they built up our hope, and again gave us an empty packet. I have to send my child to a private school to receive education in Kurdish. As a shopkeeper who makes even less than the minimum wage, how am I going to do that?” he told SES Türkiye. “I ask the prime minister: What kind of democracy and justice is this?”

Erdogan has repeatedly ruled out full education in Kurdish, saying it would “divide” the country.

Cafer Koluman, chairman of the Diyarbakir branch of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural and Solidarity Association, said the packet’s lack of references to Alevis left him disappointed.

“We had some expectation that cemevis [Alevi centres of worship] would be given legal status, but there was not a single word about this,” he told SES Türkiye. “It only referred to freedom of religion and conscience. This packet disappointed us, again. We will continue our democratic struggle, as that is what’s required of us.” Erdogan said Nevsehir University would be renamed after Haci Bektas Veli, an Alevi religious leader from the 1200s.