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Turkey: Treatment by Turkish authorities of Kurds who assert their Kurdish identity as opposed to those who define themselves as Turkish only; how the lifting of the state of emergency in southeastern Turkey has impacted on the treatment of Kurds; how the adoption of the August 2002 reform package has impacted on the treatment of Kurds; whether there is an internal flight alternative in western Turkey (particularly in Ankara and Istanbul) for Kurds

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 8 May 2003
Citation / Document Symbol TUR41129.E
Reference 7
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Turkey: Treatment by Turkish authorities of Kurds who assert their Kurdish identity as opposed to those who define themselves as Turkish only; how the lifting of the state of emergency in southeastern Turkey has impacted on the treatment of Kurds; how the adoption of the August 2002 reform package has impacted on the treatment of Kurds; whether there is an internal flight alternative in western Turkey (particularly in Ankara and Istanbul) for Kurds, 8 May 2003, TUR41129.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f7d4e2a15.html [accessed 28 December 2014]
Comments Corrected July 2005
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.

General Situation of Kurds in Turkey

In its assessment of Turkey, the United Kingdom's (UK) Immigration and Nationality Directorate stated that "[t]he Turkish Government does not persecute Kurds solely because they are Kurds" (Nov. 2002, par. 6.119). However, according to a Diyarbakir-based human rights attorney, "we have a problem being recognized as Kurds. Here Kurds are under cultural pressures and can't practice their democratic and political rights freely" (PBS 17 Mar. 2003). The Washington Times similarly reported that "the situation of [the] Kurds ... is basically that of second-class citizens" (23 Apr. 2003).

Additional information on the situation of Kurds in Turkey can also be found in Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002.

Treatment of Kurds Who Assert Their Kurdish Identity

According to the Official General Report on Turkey (January 2002), prepared for the Council of the European Union by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

... The Turkish government views Kurdish nationalist aspirations as a threat to the indivisibility of the unified Turkish state and as causing a rift between Turkish citizens on the grounds of ethnicity. ... Support for the Kurdish cause is ... a criminal offence under ... the Criminal Code or ... the Anti-Terror Law, depending on the type of support afforded. The penal provisions apply to everyone in Turkey, regardless of whether they are of Turkish or Kurdish origin.
The Turkish authorities do not so much focus on whether a certain person is a Turk or a Kurd but rather on whether he harbours separatist sympathies. The Turkish authorities' definition of separatism is broad and not always unequivocal.

Please refer to the attached excerpt from the Official General Report on Turkey (January 2002) for the full text of the section on the treatment of Kurds in Turkey.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002 states that, in Turkey,

Kurds who publicly or politically asserted their Kurdish identity or publicly espoused using Kurdish in the public domain risked public censure, harassment, or prosecution. However, Kurds who were long-term residents in industrialized cities in the west were, in many cases, assimilated into the political, economic, and social life of the nation, and much intermarriage has occurred over many generations. Kurds migrating westward (including those displaced by the conflict in the southeast) brought with them their culture and village identity, but often little education and few skills (31 Mar. 2003, Sec. 5).

According to the UK Immigration and Nationality Directorate,

Kurds who publicly or politically assert their Kurdish ethnic identity run the risk of harassment, mistreatment and persecution. ... In urban areas Kurds are largely assimilated, may not publicly identify themselves as Kurds and generally do not endorse Kurdish separatism. Indeed they often intermarry with Turks, reach the highest levels of society, and are seldom discriminated against on ethnic grounds. ... Kurds who are currently migrating westward (including those displaced by the conflict in the southeast) bring with them their culture and village identity, often have little education and few skills and are simply not prepared for urban life (Nov. 2002, par. 6.120).

To assist the refugee determination process for asylum in the UK, Asylum Aid, "a charity which provides free legal advice and representation to refugees and asylum-seekers seeking safety in the UK from persecution" (Asylum Aid 2 May 2003), commissioned researchers to conduct a fact-finding mission to Turkey in October 2000 (ibid. Nov. 2002). In November 2002, a revised and updated edition of the mission's report was published (ibid.). According to this report, "[a]nyone asserting their Kurdish identity or ethnic rights makes him or herself liable to discrimination, harassment, torture and ultimately even extra-judicial killing" (ibid., 43). The report also states that "[a] Kurd who is able to pass for a Turk may well not experience any discrimination and if he chooses to make no issue of his Kurdish ethnic identity can, indeed, rise to the highest levels of the state" (ibid., 44). However, the report points out that "[t]hose who do not fall foul of the authorities still live in a climate of fear and apprehension wherever they are, unless they renounce their identity" (ibid., 45). To avoid drawing attention to themselves, the report says, "[Kurds] practice self censorship," for instance, they need to be discrete when speaking Kurdish in a private conversation in a public place (ibid.). According to the report, whether or not Kurds assert their Kurdish ethnicity, "they live in permanent fear of the police, and of informers within the community" (ibid., 46). For detailed information, please refer to the excerpt from the report, which is attached to this Response.

For additional information on the treatment of Kurds who assert their Kurdish ethnicity, please refer to the attached excerpt from the Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Turkey by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Effect of the End of the State of Emergency in Southeastern Turkey

The state of emergency was imposed on 11 provinces (UN Sept. 2001, 42; Kurdistan Observer 29 Nov. 2002) in 1987, "in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey" (ibid.). In May 2002, with emergency rule still in force in only four provinces in the Kurdish region (Diyarbakir, Tunceli, Hakkari and Sirnak) (UNHCR Sept. 2001, 42), the Turkish National Security Council agreed to lift the state of emergency in Hakkari and Tunceli on 1 July 2002, and in Diyarbakir and Sirnak four months later (BBC 31 May 2002). On 30 November 2002, the state of emergency in Diyarbakir and Sirnak, the last two provinces under emergency rule, was lifted (ibid. 30 Nov. 2002). It was anticipated that this lift would involve a "gradual relaxation of the military hold on Diyarbakir and Sirnak, typified by high troops numbers, regular checkpoints, curfews and a lack of recourse to the courts" (ibid.). According to Diyarbakir-based human rights lawyer, Mahmut Vefa, "[t]he end of emergency rule ... will not only make it more difficult to bring such prosecutions [of sedition against Kurds], but easier to bring suit against the police for torture and other human-rights abuses that are still common" (TIME Europe 4 Nov. 2002). However, information on whether these anticipated effects have begun taking place as a result of the lifting of emergency rule could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within time constraints.

The Effect of the Adoption of the August 2002 Reform Package

In August 2002, Turkey adopted legislation to legalize television and radio broadcasts and language courses in the Kurdish language (AP 3 Aug. 2002; Kurdistan Observer 29 Nov. 2002). The legislative reforms also lift restrictions on the right to associate and form civic orgnizations (AP 3 Aug. 2002). The "Regulation Regarding the Language of the Radio and Television Broadcasts," which instructs Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) to broadcast programmes in different languages, was prepared by the Radio and Television Higher Council (RTUK) and published in the Official Gazette on 18 December 2002 (Anatolia 18 Dec. 2002; Dawn 27 Dec. 2002).

According to Dawn, prior to the August 2002 reform package, Turkish language laws "had tagged Kurdish broadcasts as political sedition and punished Kurdish songs as breeders of violence. ... Kurdish-language media were previously more or less tolerated in parts of the country, but Kurdish was banned on national television" (27 Dec. 2002).

While, according to the UK Immigration and Nationality Directorate, "[t]here are signs that the spirit of the August 2002 reform is being implemented" (Nov. 2002, par. 6.122), European Union officials have reportedly stated that "most of the reforms have yet to be fully implemented" (Asbarez Online 12 Feb. 2003). Human Rights Watch (HRW), in commenting on the legislation, reported that "[t]he change seemed to represent a new respect for linguistic diversity, but the reforms were hedged with qualifications that could block effective implementation" (2003).

Kurdish programmes are regulated by the RTUK and can only be aired on state media and not on private or local stations (Dawn 27 Dec. 2002; HRW 2003; HRFT Nov. 2002). Radio programmes cannot exceed 45 minutes per day and four hours per week, and television programs cannot exceed 30 minutes per day and two hours per week (Dawn 27 Dec. 2002; Country Reports 2002 31 Mar. 2003, Sec. 2a; Anatolia 18 Dec. 2002). Radio programmes must be followed by a Turkish translation of the program while television shows must be broadcast with Turkish subtitles (ibid.; Dawn 27 Dec. 2002). Kurdish and other non-Turkish programmes are to target adult viewers and are not to teach the language or dialect of the program (Anatolia 18 Dec. 2002).

By the end of 2002, "there were no programs broadcast in Kurdish or other traditional non-Turkish languages" (Country Reports 2002 31 Mar. 2003, Sec. 2a).

According to The Washington Times, "the Kurdish language is still banned in schools, use of the term 'Kurdistan' is punishable by jail, and the wounds of the recent war against Kurdish separatists are still festering" (23 Apr. 2003). Corroborating information was provided by HRW, which stated that in 2002, "Kurdish still could not be taught in universities" (2003). A joint CNN/Time news story also reported that although Kurds "do not enjoy the same language rights as other minorities" and that, although the ban on the use of the Kurdish language in "unofficial settings" was lifted, it "remains illegal in schools, [independent and local] broadcasts and politics" (23 Apr. 2003).

In March 2003, the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired a television programme that reported the following:

Kurds in Turkey are not permitted to put up any signs or publish newspapers in their own language. Kurdish names considered provocative may not be given to Kurdish children. Last year, Turkey lifted some of the restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language in accordance with requirements for entering the European Union, a long-time goal of Turkish officials; but there is still only limited Kurdish programming available on radio and TV (17 Mar. 2003).

For additional information on the ban on Kurdish names in Turkey, please refer to the attached Miami Herald news article entitled "Fearing Separatism, Turks Ban Kurdish Names."

For an institution or organization to be able to teach the Kurdish language, permission must first be sought from the Ministry of National Education (Milliyet 8 Oct. 2002). According to an Istanbul daily newspaper report, the English Fast Language School abandoned its request for permission "due to the heavy costs that would be incurred as a result of the provision included in the directive on Kurdish courses envisaging the establishing of additional educational institutions for offering courses in the Kurdish language" (ibid.). However, the Istanbul Kurdish Institute has rented a building and the Kurdish Culture and Research Foundation is planning to establish an education centre in 2003 so it can the teach Kurdish language (ibid.). This is despite the fact that, in addition to the "existing heavy financial and bureaucratic conditions, there is an absence of teachers of the Kurdish language" (ibid.). By the end of 2002, Country Reports 2002 noted that there were no Kurdish-language courses available in Turkey (31 Mar. 2003, Sec. 5).

Internal Flight Alternative

In a letter dated 22 March 1999, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated the following:

... in general, Kurds fleeing southeast Turkey have a possibility to relocate within Turkey. ... [T]he large number of internally displaced persons in Turkey do not normally face serious security problems. However, the ongoing conflict between the Turkish State and the PKK has increased tensions between Turks and Kurds, in particular in big cities where there has been a large influx of Kurds fleeing conflict zones. ... Obviously, the group most likely to be exposed to harassment/ prosecution/ persecution are Kurds suspected of being connected to or being sympathisers with the PKK. In view of the above, ... it is essential to find out if Turkish asylum seekers, if returned, would be at risk of being suspected of connection to or sympathy with the PKK, or have otherwise a political profile. If this is the case, ... they should not be considered as having been able to avail themselves of the option to relocate in a region outside the southeast of the country (UK Nov. 2002, par. 6.78).

According to a UK Immigration and Nationality Directorate fact-finding mission to Turkey in March 2001, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) has stated that "about 65% of the people who are tortured are of Kurdish origin, and European governments are mistaken in thinking that Kurds in western Turkey are not tortured" (ibid. 17-23 Mar. 2001, par. 7.2.3).

For additional information on whether there is an internal flight alternative for Kurds in Turkey, please refer to the following attached excerpts: Asylum Seekers from Turkey II, which is published by Asylum Aid, Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Turkey by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Profile of Internal Displacement: Turkey, by the Norwegian Refugee Council.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Anatolia News Agency [Ankara, in Turkish]. 18 December 2002. "Turkey: RTUK Regulation for Kurdish-Language TRT Programs Has Come to Force." (FBIS-WEU-2002-1218 18 Dec. 2002/WNC)

Asbarez Online [Glendale, CA].12 February 2003. "Turkish Kurd Rebels Call on Youth to Prepare for War" [Accessed 29 Apr. 2003]

Associated Press (AP). 3 August 2003. Suzan Fraser. "Turkey Abolishes Death Penalty." [Accessed 25 Apr. 2003]

Asylum Aid [UK]. 2 May 2003. "Asylum Aid." [Accessed 6 May 2003]
_____. November 2002. David McDowall. Asylum Seekers From Turkey II. Rev. ed. [Accessed 25 Apr. 2003]

BBC. 30 November 2002. Jonny Dymond. "Turkey Lifts Last State of Emergency." [Accessed 6 May 2003]
_____. 31 May 2002. "Turkey to Ease Restrictions on Kurds." [Accessed 28 May 2003]

CNN/Time. 23 April 2003. "Ocalan, Turkey and the Kurds." [Accessed 25 Apr. 2003]

Council of the European Union. 15 April 2002. The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Official General Report on Turkey (January 2002). [Accessed 7 May 2003]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002. 31 March 2003. United States Department of State. Washington, D.C. [Accessed 7 May 2003]

Dawn [Karachi, in English]. 27 December 2002. "Kurdish Language Struggles to Get a Voice." [Accessed 29 Apr. 2003]

Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT). November 2002. "Kurdish Question and State of Emergency." In Human Rights in Turkey: November 2002 Report. [Accessed 14 Apr. 2003]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2003. Human Rights Watch World Report 2003. [Accessed 29 Apr. 2003]

Kurdistan Observer. 29 November 2002. "Turkey Ends 15-Year-Old State of Emergency in Kurdish Regions." [Accessed 28 Apr. 2003]

Milliyet [Istanbul, in Turkish]. 8 October 2002. Ayten Gorgun. "Turkey: Interest in Kurdish Courses Said Diminishing." (FBIS-WEU-2002-1013 8 Oct. 2002/WNC)

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 17 March 2003. Elizabeth Farnsworth. "Living on the Edge." [Accessed 25 Apr. 2003]

TIME Europe. 4 November 2002. Vol. 160, No. 19. Andrew Purvis and Dede Agac. "Shaking Off the Dust of a Dirty Little War." [Accessed 29 Apr. 2003]

United Kingdom (UK). November 2002. Home Office, Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Country Assessment: Turkey. [Accessed 28 Feb. 2003]
_____. 17 to 23 March 2001. Home Office, Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Report of Fact-Finding Mission to Turkey. [Accessed 25 Apr. 2003]

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). September 2001. Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers From Turkey. [Accessed 7 May 2003]

The Washington Times. 23 April 2003. Andrew Borowiec. "Kurds Eye a Homeland of Their Own." [Accessed 29 Apr. 2003]

Attachments

Asylum Aid [UK]. November 2002. David McDowall. Asylum Seekers From Turkey II. Rev. ed. [Accessed 25 Apr. 2003], pp. 2, 42-52, 77-85.

Council of the European Union. 15 April 2002. The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Official General Report on Turkey (January 2002). [Accessed 7 May 2003]

The Miami Herald. 9 February 2003. Richard Boudreaux. "Fearing Separatism, Turks Ban Kurdish Names." [Accessed 7 May 2003], pp. 1, 124-136.

Norwegian Refugee Council. 4 October 2002. Global IDP Database. Profile of Internal Displacement: Turkey. P. 8. [Accessed 7 May 2003]

United Nations (UN). September 2001. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Turkey. [Accessed 7 May 2003]

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Austrian Centre for Country of Origin and Asylum Research and Documentation (ACCORD). 13-14 November 2000. 6th European Country of Origin Information Seminar, Vienna, 13-14 November 2000: Final Report. Report on Turkey based on a presentation by Ms. Ayliz Baskin, additional remarks by Ms. Berlinde Wachter, 13 November 2000. p.100. [Accessed 6 May 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

Five academics specializing in Middle East affairs did not respond to a letter requesting information within time constraints.

The Washington Kurdish Institute did not respond to a letter requesting information within time constraints.

Internet sites:

European Country of Origin Information Network

European Court of Human Rights

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Kurdish Human Rights Project

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Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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