Turkey Bans Kurdish Festivity in Spelling Quibble

ISTANBUL–March 20 (Reuters) – Turkey’s main legal Kurdish party said on Monday that official objections to the use of the single letter "W" on a document had prevented it from holding a celebration of the Kurdish new year in Istanbul.

The People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) had asked authorities for permission to hold a reception in a hotel in Istanbul to mark Newroz–or Kurdish New Year–which falls on Tuesday.

But the application was dismissed as invalid because it featured the slightly different Kurdish spelling of the festival’s name–rather than the Turkish version.

The festival is traditionally a rallying day for Kurdish nationalists whose celebrations involve leaping over bonfires. HADEP leader Ahmet Demir said on Monday festivities were being allowed in many parts of the mainly Kurdish southeast this year.

But Istanbul’s deputy governor rejected the application.

"Written as it is–’Newroz’ is not a Turkish word," Deputy Governor Osman Demir said in a letter to HADEP–a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. Turkish has no letter "W" and spells the word with a "V."

"The Law on Political Parties states parties cannot use any language other than Turkish," he said. A fresh application using the Turkish spellings Nevruz or Nevroz would be re-evaluated.

Europe has stepped up calls to grant Kurds separate rights since Ankara won candidacy for membership of the European Union last year.

Turkish law restricts the use of Kurdish–an Indo-European tongue unlike Turkish–in broadcasting and classrooms. Many Turkish nationalists say Kurdish is not a language–but a debased dialect that mixes Turkish and Farsi.

HADEP faces being closed down over accusations that it aids Kurdish separatist guerrillas. Party officials deny aiding the Kurds but urge Ankara to negotiate with the guerrillas. They said the rejection had arrived too late for them to reapply.

An Istanbul city official confirmed the authenticity of the letter. "Our governor decided he did not see the celebrations as suitable," the official said.

The Anatolian news agency said leave had been canceled for up to 27,000 policemen in the city ahead of Newroz.

Despite the Istanbul objection–permission has been given for festivities in the city of Diyarbakir for the first time in years and HADEP leader Demir welcomed what he said was a generally constructive approach from authorities.

"We saw positive attitudes from officials for this year’s celebrations. I particularly want to thank the Diyarbakir governor. I believe we will not have the problems of the past," Anatolian quoted Demir as saying in Diyarbakir.

It is the center of the mainly-Kurdish southeast region where more than 30,000 people have been killed in 15 years of conflict between Turkish forces and separatist Kurdish rebels.

Festivals similar to Newroz–which means "New Day" in Kurdish–are celebrated on March 21 in Iran and Central Asia.

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