Kurdish intellectuals: PM’s reforms opened the way for progress

Macit Mahmut, the spokesperson of Platform for the East and Southeast Regions, said neither Turkish people nor Kurdish people want this ongoing war. It is not possible to please everyone, yet this package will have a significant effect on the settlement process.

1 October 2013 /BÜŞRA ÖZERLİ, ANKARA – Zaman – Some Kurdish intellectuals believe that the package revealed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday is a significant step, noting that there is now an expectation of continued efforts towards democratization.

“The government’s democratization package will pave the way for more steps to be taken on the Kurdish issue. There is a need for more packages and more comprehensive solutions,” said Bayram Bozyel, Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) deputy chairman, to Today’s Zaman, adding that he agrees with Erdoğan that the package is not the first and should not be the last.   Turkey’s prime minister unveiled a long-anticipated package of reforms designed to strengthen democracy and support a fragile settlement process to end the conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the state, but he said the newly introduced democratization package is just one further phase in democratization and does not represent the final stage. Erdoğan told reporters in a press conference in Ankara on Monday that the reform package is part of Turkey’s long path of democratization and that it will not be the final set of amendments as it cannot meet everybody’s expectations.

The package of reforms his government announced on Monday is only part of a decade-long effort to democratize Turkey, according to Erdoğan. The prime minister said the package will “bolster the country’s independence” and widen freedoms. He added that the package is not the “first but also not the last” such package to put Turkey among “modern” nations. The announcement of this democratization package follows a declaration earlier this month by the PKK that it would halt its withdrawal of militants from Turkey because the government had failed to take certain pre-agreed steps.

After the package was unveiled, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-chair Gülten Kışanak said the government’s rights proposals do not meet the party’s expectations and will not further the settlement process. Kışanak told reporters at BDP headquarters that, while both Kurdish and Alevi minorities had hoped to seize an opportunity to address their difficulties, the reform package did not meet their expectations.

She said the package does not address the need for democratization with broader freedoms and cultural rights. She added that the reform package has no “ability to solve the problems” or tackle the stalemate in the settlement process. “All barriers in front of [free] thought and assembly remain intact,” she said.Saying that there are still thousands of political prisoners in jails, Kışanak said the package was drafted to meet the ends of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), not the people. “It is not a democratization package; it is an election package,” she concluded.

Evaluating the BDP’s remarks, Kurdish intellectual İbrahim Güçlü told Today’s Zaman that the statements were shallow and based on ideology. “When you consider the whole of Kurdish society, not just the BDP, you will see that opinions on the package are different. Thus, the government has taken a necessary step, yet we still need more,” said Güçlü.

Kurdish politicians mainly sought reforms to allow full Kurdish-language education, soften anti-terrorism laws, lower the electoral threshold to enter Parliament from 10 percent and strengthen local government.

The prime minister’s first proposal was a change to the electoral system, which was long-criticized by the main opposition and the BDP. Erdoğan offered three systems of electoral law. He said the current election system with its 10-percent election threshold to enter Parliament could remain. His second proposal was that the electoral threshold be lowered to 5 percent of the national vote. And third, he said the barrier could be eliminated altogether and a system called the “Limited Small Area Election System” created. He said these three proposals will be discussed in the coming days and then what is best for Turkey will be decided. The reform would likely benefit pro-Kurdish political parties, who gain many votes in the mainly Kurdish southeast but fail to garner enough support nationwide to enter Parliament.

In terms of the law on political parties, Erdoğan said parties that exceed 3 percent of the vote in general elections will receive automatic state funding. According to current Turkish law, parties need to receive at least 7 percent to be eligible for state funding. The democratization package also opened the way for co-chairmanship of political parties.Another change in the law on such parties concerns the language used in political campaigns. Erdoğan said that every party is now free to use any language in campaign materials.

He noted that banned letters such as q, w and x — letters used in the Kurdish language but not in the Turkish Latin alphabet — can now be used freely.

Another drastic and much-anticipated reform concerns education in languages other than Turkish. The reforms will make it possible for students to receive education in their mother tongues in educational facilities. Schools will able to deliver education in languages other than the official language of Turkish, the prime minister said. This measure paves the way for Kurds, who have long demanded that the government offer full education in the Kurdish language, to establish private schools for that purpose.

On whether the number of teachers capable of giving education in Kurdish is sufficient, Güçlü said: “Many people are currently studying in universities to gain this ability, and the problem could be solved within a short time.”  

In an amendment to this area of law, the languages and dialects in which education can be offered by private schools will be determined by the Turkish Cabinet, while the Education Ministry will regulate private schools. “In these schools, certain classes will be given in Turkish as in the past,” stated the prime minister, who noted that the government made it possible last year for languages other than Turkish to be taught at schools as optional courses. Furthermore, Erdoğan announced that the original names of villages, districts and provinces that existed before 1980 will also be restored. This includes restoring the name of Dersim, which was changed to Tunceli in 1934. Kurdish and other original names of thousands of villages and districts have been changed throughout the republican era and the new amendment will make it possible to restore these names. The requirement for children to state the primary school oath, a mass recital of the Turkish pledge of allegiance, deemed a militaristic imposition of the republic’s founding philosophy, was also lifted. Macit Mahmut, the spokesperson of Platform for the East and Southeast Regions, said neither Turkish people nor Kurdish people want this ongoing war. It is not possible to please everyone, yet this package will have a significant effect on the settlement process.