MINELRES: Fwd: Turkey: A minority policy of systematic negation

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Sun Oct 22 17:22:51 2006

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10 October 2006

Turkey:  A minority policy of systematic negation 

Vienna, 10 October 2006 - The International Helsinki Federation for
Human Rights (IHF) today published a 26-page briefing paper entitled
Turkey: A Minority Policy of Systematic Negation (available at
http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=4318). The
briefing paper discusses the legal basis for Turkey's restrictive
minority polices, its interpretation by authorities, and an abundant
misuse of laws against minority members and individuals who seek to
promote minority rights and protection. It also takes up case examples
of how the rights of various ethnic, religious and linguistic minority
groups ? including the Kurds, the Armenians, the Greek, the Alevis, the
Laz, the Circassians, and the Roma ? are violated. In addition, the
paper addresses the situation of sexual minorities in Turkey.

"When discussing Turkey's possible membership in the European Union, the
manner in which Turkey treats its minorities should constitute a central
criterion in judging the country's observance of human rights. Today,
Turkey's minority protection still falls seriously short of European
standards. A policy that is characterized by the failure to recognize
the mere existence of most minorities, continued legal prosecution of
people who speak about minorities or historical facts about them, and
the reluctance to solve basic problems faced by minorities, is
unacceptable from a human rights point of view," said Ulrich Fischer,
president of the IHF.  

Turkey continues to practice a policy of "Turkification," which it
adopted in the early 20th century. This policy amounts to a form of
cultural assimilation that fails to recognize individuals' rights to
ethnic, national, and religious self-identification, and aims at forced
assimilation with a Turkish identity. It encompasses several strategies
whose rationale violates, in one way or another, internationally
guaranteed standards for minority rights. These strategies still
include: denying formal recognition of minority groups; hindering their
access to the media; limiting their political participation; violating
their freedom of expression (especially in their own language); impeding
their freedom of religion; refraining from facilitating their freedom of
movement and to choose their place of residence; and practicing or
tolerating various other forms of direct and indirect discrimination. 

Turkey bases its minority policies on the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 and
claims to be bound only by this treaty ? which itself is entirely
obsolete in light of current international standards for minority rights
and protection. Moreover, while the treaty provides for protection for
all non-Muslim minorities, all Turkish governments in the past more than
80 years have interpreted the treaty to guarantee protection only to
three minority groups: the Armenian Orthodox Christians, the Greek
Orthodox Christians, and the Jews. What is more, these groups are
recognized only as religious minorities ? not as ethnic. 
While Turkey has no laws in place specifically addressing minority
issues, an abundance of laws are misused against individuals who have
sought to promote minority rights, or even to address the existence of
minorities. These include inter alia the penal code, anti-terrorism
legislation and laws regulating the operation political parties and
other associations. 

For example, addressing the issue of discrimination against minorities,
or considering that Armenians in Turkey were victims of genocide, has
been prosecuted under the penal code for "inciting enmity or hatred
among the population" or "denigration of Turkishness." Further, in 2005,
Turkey's largest teachers' union, Egitim Sen, was closed down for
defending the right to education in children's mother tongues. In
addition, the formal closure of the pro-Kurdish DEHAP and HAK-PAR
parties are pending with the Constitutional Court for "creating
minorities" and using prohibited languages in election activities. 

Police continue to interfere in demonstrations and open-air meetings
organized by Kurdish activists many of whom have stood trial for
participating in them. Recent reforms that have lifted some language
restrictions in broadcasting and education of minority languages have
been clearly insufficient. By law, it is prohibited to use any other
language but Turkish in political activities.  

Legislation regulating the operation of religious minorities treats
Muslim and non-Muslim religious communities in different ways and
therefore amounts to a serious challenge to freedom of religion and
religious tolerance. In practice, non-Muslim minorities enjoy restricted
property rights, face interference in the management of their
"foundations, " and a ban on training their own clergy. But also Muslim
minorities, such as the Alevites, for example, experience difficulties
in having their places of worship recognized because authorities regard
them as a cultural group, not religious. In addition, reports persist
that all religious minority leaders remain under government

While, under the Lausanne Treaty, non-Muslim religious minorities have
the right to give language education in their own language, in practice
the proper functioning of minority schools is hindered in several ways. 

An old settlement act from 1934 explicitly discriminates against Roma
("itinerant gypsies") by forbidding their settlement in Turkey. In
addition, Roma are frequently treated as second-class citizens and
therefore discriminated against in employment, housing, and in access to
medical care. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, more than 378,000 Kurds were displaced and more
than 3,000 villages completely destroyed under the pretext of combating
the PKK insurgency. Despite some legal steps and projects to ensure the
return of IDPs, the measures taken so far are clearly insufficient and
partially discriminatory. 

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey but sexual minorities are exposed
to various forms of discrimination and harassment. For example, groups
promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights have
faced difficulties in trying to register officially; they have been
under the threat of closure; gay marches have been banned and police
have failed to protect their participants against angry mobs; and a
whole print run of a gay magazine was recently confiscated.

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