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State of the World's Minorities 2007 - Turkey

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 4 March 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2007 - Turkey, 4 March 2007, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Turkey, while having made notable progress in the last few years due to European pressure, continues to experience a major national identity problem with regard to recognizing minorities as well as facing up to its past history of repression against minorities such as the Armenians and the Kurds. Amid growing uncertainty about EU membership, the European Commission issued its annual progress report in November 2006, charting the country's progress towards accession. While noting some progress in reforms, the Commission noted that there was 'a need for Turkey to address the serious economic and social problems in the South-East and to ensure full enjoyment of rights and freedoms by the Kurdish population'. In addition, apart from ensuring freedom of expression by amending Article 301 of the Penal Code and by bringing the legislation as a whole into line with European standards, further efforts were needed to strengthen freedom of religion, women's rights and minority rights. Article 301 of the Turkish penal code criminalizes the 'public denigration' of Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, the Grand National Assembly, the government, judiciary, military and security services in terms so broad as to be applicable to a wide range of critical opinions. More than 60 writers have been charged under the law since its introduction in 2005. For example, in September 2006 the novelist Elif Shafak was tried for 'insult' to Turkishness under Article 301 for comments referring to the Armenian massacres as genocide made by fictitious characters in her bestselling novel Baba ve Pic ('Father and Bastard'). The case provoked international condemnation and she was acquitted. Turkey's continuing refusal to admit to any notion of the Armenian genocide was highlighted by the EU Parliament report on Turkey of September 2006 and, in October, the French lower house of parliament passed a bill making it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks, provoking a furious reaction from Turkey. In January 2007, the Turkish-Armenian journalist and editor, Hrant Dink, who campaigned courageously for the public acknowledgement of the fate of Ottoman Armenians, was shot dead in an Istanbul street. His murder caused an international – and national – outcry, and prompted much soul-searching about the ugly rise in nationalism in Turkey. A youth from Trabzon was arrested for Dink's murder.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) also continued to campaign for the rights of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the war in the south-east of the country. Many now live in poverty around Istanbul and other Turkish cities. Spurred by the accession criteria, the Turkish government introduced a new law to compensate for destroyed property. However, the authorities did not make strenuous efforts to inform those who may benefit from the laws – and the expiry date for compensation at the beginning of January 2007 passed with many still unaware of their new rights. When Pope Benedict XVI paid a landmark visit to Turkey in November 2006, issues of religious freedom once again came to the fore. Although Turkey is a constitutionally secular state that guarantees substantial rights to religious minorities, in practice deep-seated discrimination persists against non-Muslim minorities such as Christians and Jews, and Muslim minorities such as the Alevis – a Muslim sect different from Turkey's majority Sunnis, numbering 12–15 million. Despite changes to the law, adherents of minority religions continue to face discrimination in education, and over rights to own and establish places of worship in Turkey.

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