European Court Rules Kurdish Classes a Fundamental Right in Turkey

STRASBOURG (Today’s Zaman)–The European Court of Human Rights has accused Turkey of violating the right to education, ruling that peacefully petitioning for Kurdish language classes is a fundamental human right that cannot be denied.

The ruling by the European court came Tuesday in a decision concerning a complaint filed against Turkey by 18 applicants who were, at the time of the events discussed in the ruling, students at various faculties of Afyon Kocatepe University in Afyon.

They complained about the imposition of disciplinary sanctions for having petitioned university authorities to provide optional Kurdish language courses. Relying in particular on Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 in the European Convention on Human Rights covering the right to education, they argued that these sanctions had infringed on their freedom of thought and expression and maintained that they had been denied their right to education.

"The Court first observed that the applicants had been sanctioned disciplinarily for merely submitting petitions which expressed their views on the need for Kurdish language education, and requesting that Kurdish language classes be introduced as an optional module.

The ruling, approved unanimously, further noted that they had not committed any reprehensible act, nor had they resorted to violence or breach, or attempt to breach the peace or order in the university."

"For the Court, neither the views expressed in the applicants’ petitions, nor the form in which they had been conveyed, could be construed as an activity which would lead to polarization of the University population on the basis of language, race, religion or denomination. The Court consequently found that the imposition of such a disciplinary sanction could not be considered as reasonable or proportionate. Although these sanctions had been subsequently annulled by the administrative courts on grounds of unlawfulness, the Court found it regrettable that by that time the applicants had already missed one or two terms of their studies. The Court therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention," it said, awarding each applicant, under Article 41 — just satisfaction — of the European Convention on Human Rights, 1,500 euros for non-pecuniary damage.

Kurdish was banned after a 1980 military coup d’etat until 1991, as Turkey fought an all-out war against members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In 1991, Leyla Zana, a Kurdish politician, caused an uproar in Parliament when she attempted to take her oath in Kurdish. Her immunity was stripped, and she served 10 years in prison.

Last week, the military suggested that prosecutors should take action against Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk, who broke the law by addressing members of his Democratic Society Party (DTP) in Parliament in Kurdish — reflecting lingering sensitivity toward the use of Kurdish in the EU candidate country despite recent government reforms to expand the rights of Kurds.

Tuesday, a Diyarbakir court acquitted the DTP’s Diyarbakir mayor, Osman Baydemir, of charges over using Kurdish in his celebratory messages for the new year and during festivals in 2007. The court decided to clear Baydemir of all charges directed against him, which included violation of the law on Turkish script and abuse of authority.

The Strasbourg court, meanwhile, also decided yesterday that Turkey had violated Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the convention through the refusal of Turkish courts to register the immovable property of the Bozcaada Kimisis Teodoku Greek Orthodox Church Foundation, a non-Muslim minority foundation based in Canakkale, in its name in the land registry.

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