The commonly held view is that a minority is a self-identifying group with a national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity.30 The Turkish government uses an idiosyncratic definition of the term "minority," which causesmutual frustration whenever the question of rights concerning language and culture arises in international fora. The Turkish Foreign Ministry website31 summarizes its distinctive official interpretation as follows:
The status of minorities in Turkey has been internationally certified by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, according to which there are only non-Muslim minorities in Turkey. It is wrong, according to this definition, to refer to our citizens of Kurdish descent as a "Kurdish minority."
Besides, Turkey is a unitary state and "Turkish citizenship" is an all embracing juridical concept encompassing all our citizens, granting them equal rights and obligations. According to this definition, "Turkishness" is a legal status binding all its citizens to the Turkish state. Thus, "constitutional citizenship" is one of the most basic principles upon which the Turkish Republic is founded. All constitutions of the Turkish Republic to date have envisaged equal rights and opportunities for and have ruled out discrimination among Turkish citizens.
It is clear, however, that the E.U.'s Copenhagen criterion of "respect for and protection of minorities" should be applied not only to the Jewish, Greek and Armenian minorities defined by the Treaty of Lausanne, but also to the Assyrians, Kurds, Laz, Roma and many other minorities that make up Turkey's cultural fabric. Interestingly, the Treaty of Lausanne, which the Turkish Foreign Ministry uses to rather artificially limit the interpretation of the term "minority," actually makes generous provision foruse of non-Turkish languages. Article 39.4 states: "No restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Turkish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, religion, in the press, or in publications of any kind or at public meetings."
There has been considerable liberalization in the area of language during the past decade. In 1991 a law that prohibited speech and printing in languages not officially recognized was abolished, and there are now several newspapers and magazines published in minority languages (though those produced in Kurdish are frequently the object of confiscation or police raids for suspected separatism). In March this year the Supreme Court ruled, in a test case concerning a child that had been given a Kurdish name, that children could legally be given names of non-Turkish origin.
Broadcasting and education, however, remain contentious. The 1994 Law on the Television and Radio Organizations and their Broadcasts mandates the exclusive use of Turkish except in certain circumstances.32 On the basis of this law, licences are not being issued for television or radio channels to broadcast in Kurdish. Surprisingly, the armed forces run Dicle Sesi (Voice of the Tigris), the one radio channel that does broadcast in two Kurdish dialects-a pragmatic acknowledgment that many who live in the southeast are unable to understand Turkish.33
A language is not only a medium of expression, but a form of expression in itself, and as such is protected by Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention and Article 19 of the ICCPR. Both instruments require that protected rights must be applied without discrimination. Article 27 of the ICCPR requires that "In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language."34
Accession Partnership Recommendation:
* The Turkish government should abolish the language restrictions on television and radio broadcasting contained in the Law on the Organization and Broadcasts of Television and Radio. This measure is not specified in the Report or the Calendar.
Turkish is the official-though not exclusive-language of instruction, according to Article 42.9 of the Constitution. The 1983 Foreign Language Education and Teaching Law regulates the teaching of foreign languages "taking into consideration the view of the National Security Council." In short, the National Security Council decides which foreign languages may be taught in Turkey. English, French, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese may be taught, but Laz, Kurdish and Roma may not.35 One test case was brought when the Istanbul-based Kurdish Culture and Research Foundation (Kurt-Kav) attempted to open a private course to teach Kurdish. The course was closed down in 1998. The foundation's board members were prosecuted in Istanbul State Security Court for "incitement to hatred" under Article 312, but they were acquitted earlier this year.
Article 3 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities adopted by General Assembly resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992 urges that "states should take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue."
Article 29 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child states: "the education of the child shall be directed to . . . the development of respect for the child's . . . own cultural identity, language and values."
Article 8 of The Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities, issued by the OSCE's High Commissioner on National Minorities states: "In accordance with international law, persons belonging to national minorities, like others, have the right to establish and manage their own private educational institutions in conformity with domestic law. These institutions may include schools teaching in the minority language."
Accession Partnership Recommendation:
* As a minimum gesture toward the respect and protection of its language minorities, the Turkish government should lift all obstacles to the foundation of private language courses in minority languages. Such measures should include repeal of Article 42.9 of the Constitution, which states that "no other language than Turkish may be taught to Turkish citizens as their mother tongue." This measure is not specified in the Report or the Calendar.
In the current atmosphere in Turkey, a full and free public debate on the language issue is impossible. The Istanbul governor banned a May conference on multiculturalism and democracy organized by the Mesopotamian Culture Center. The Secretary of the Diyarbakir branch of the teachers' union Egitim-Sen Hasan Kaçan is currently being prosecuted under Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code for urging the right to mother-tongue education on Medya TV in December. On March 28, the newspaper Radikal quoted the Prime Minister's view that Kurdish is a dialect of Turkish and not a language.
Such actions and statements, which hardly accord with the Copenhagen criterion of "respect for and protection of minorities," are motivated in part by a genuine fear that any acknowledgement that Turkish society is other than monolithic will bring down the whole edifice of the republic and destroy the work of eighty years. However, international human rights standards relating to minorities implicitly and explicitly reject the view that stability can be achieved through the suppression of linguistic and cultural differences. The Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Protection of national Minorities states: "The protection of national minorities is essential to stability, democratic security and peace in this continent.... A pluralist and genuinely democratic society should not only respect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority, but also create appropriate conditions enabling them to express, preserve and develop this identity." In its November 1999 report on Turkey, the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said that "a more open attitude towards cultural and linguistic plurality within Turkey might contribute to resolving some of the problems faced by the country today by allowing more space for a non-violent public as well as private expression of cultural and ethnic identity."3630 The Report On the Linguistic Rights of Persons Belonging to National Minorities In the OSCE Area, issued by the OSCE's High Commissioner on National Minorities, emphasizes language as a distinctive feature of minority identity: "For most minorities, language, as much as if not more than any other attribute of identity (such as common religion or history), serves as a means of unity of the group and source of self-identification of the individual. The enjoyment and preservation of the minority culture turns upon the freedom to transmit ideas, customs, and other indicia of culture in the original language of the minority." See also United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Proposal concerning a definition of the term "minority" submitted by Mr. Jules Deschenes, U.N. Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/31 & Corr. 1. 31 www.mfa.gov.tr/grupa/ac/acl/faq.htm#bm1. 32 Article 4t states: "Radio and television broadcasts will be made in Turkish; however, for the purpose of teaching or of imparting news, those foreign languages that have made a contribution to the development of universal cultural and scientific works can be used." 33 In an August 1997 interview in Yeni Yuzyil (New Century) the then State Minister Dr. Salih Yildirim stated that one third of those living in the southeastern provinces did not speak Turkish, a figure that rose to fifty percent among women. 34 Article 9 of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities states: "In the legal framework of sound radio and television broadcasting, [State Parties] shall ensure, as far as possible, and taking into account the provisions of paragraph 1, that persons belonging to national minorities are granted the possibility of creating and using their own media." Turkey has not signed the Framework Convention, but the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly has urged it to doso. Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Recommendation 1377 (1998). The Convention is in force in most Council of Europe and E.U. member states. Among E.U. member states, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Portugal have signed but not ratified the convention; Belgium and France have neither signed nor ratified it. All other E.U. member states have signed and ratified the convention; and with the exception of Latvia, Poland, and Turkey, the Convention is in force in all E.U. applicant states. Article 8 of the Oslo Recommendations Regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities, issued by the High Commissioner on National Minorities at the OSCE states: "Persons belonging to national minorities have the right to establish and maintain their own minority language media. State regulation of the broadcast media shall be based on objective and non-discriminatory criteria and shall not be used to restrict enjoyment of minority rights."
35 The right of minorities recognized under the Treaty of Lausanne to education in their mother tongue is respected.
36 European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, Report on Turkey, November 9, 1999.