European Report Chides Turkey Over Minority Rights

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, has expressed concern over Turkish authorities’ refusal to recognize the existence of any other minorities except for the tripartite non-Muslim ones — Armenians, Greeks and Jews.  

Hammarberg, commissioner for Europe’s top human rights watchdog, nonetheless voiced appreciation over “the positive signs of good will shown by Turkish authorities for resolving a number of issues concerning human rights of minority groups.”

According to the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, which founded the Republic of Turkey, only three non-Muslim groups are recognized as minorities, while other ethnic and religious groups, such as Alevis, Kurds, Romas and the Laz people, are not recognized as minorities.

Hammarberg summarized the problems of minorities and also asylum seekers in two separate reports after his visit to Turkey at the end of June. In his detailed report, he pointed out the shortcomings regarding cultural and property rights of minorities.

One of the commissioner’s observations regarding the “national pledge of allegiance,” which is read every morning in schools, has already sparked controversy in Turkish media. “The commissioner is concerned by the persistent obligation of pupils in public and private primary schools, including the Lausanne minority schools, to daily read an oath beginning with ‘I am a Turk’ and ending with ‘Happy is the person who says ‘I am a Turk’,” the report said.

He also mentioned that there were some reports indicating that an initiative by school teachers in 2007 to have this practice repealed led to legal action against them on the grounds of “inciting the public to disobey the law.”

“The commissioner would like to be informed about the outcome of this case,” he wrote. In response, the Turkish government suggested that the oath is not a dictum to glorify one ethnic group but is intended to contribute to forming and improving the sense of citizenship of the Republic of Turkey.

“The term ‘Turk[ish]’ here connotes the bond of citizenship without any reference to ethnic, linguistic or religious origin. It is the reflection of national identity inclusive of all citizens irrespective of their origins,” the government said.

Hammarberg, meanwhile, recommended the creation and implementation of a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation as well as forming a national human rights action plan in addition to the establishment of effective national rights institutions such as a national human rights commission or an ombudsman.

While stressing cultural rights and language problems of minorities, Hammarberg urged the Turkish government to adopt “all necessary, legislative and administrative measures in order to enhance the teaching of existing minority groups’ languages in the country, which is a precondition for the enjoyment by these group members of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The commissioner also took note of positive developments such as the launching in January 2009 of a Kurdish language state TV channel and the efforts made for increasing the school enrolment of children in southeastern and central-eastern Turkey.

“The existing ‘Lausanne minority schools’ should be promptly provided with financial and other necessary aid in order to be able to ensure the continuous teaching of the respective minority languages therein. The authorities are urged to liberalize these schools’ regime so that they are able to accept interested pupils from other minority groups,” he said, while recommending the establishment of minority language departments in universities that could train and produce qualified teachers of minority languages.

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