Helsinki Foundation Say Turkey Ha: A Minority Policy of Systematic Negation

VIENNA–The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) Tuesday published a 26-page briefing paper entitled Turkey: A Minority Policy of Systematic Negation. 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 Armenia’s, 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 governmen’s 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 Armenia’s 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 Alevis, 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 surveillance. 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.

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