Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Turkey

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Turkey, 16 July 2009, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
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.

Contributed by Nurcan Kaya

The performance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2008 has failed to meet the expectations of minorities, as well as academics, human rights activists and the EU. Instead of focusing on the EU accession process and further democratization as promised, 'combating terrorism' occupied the government's agenda after the AKP came into power and during the local elections of March 2009. Moreover, civil society has not yet been able to have any input into the draft revised constitution the government has been preparing.

Turkey's policy on minority rights and the legal framework has not changed. The only instrument Turkey will refer to when it comes to protection of minorities is the Treaty of Lausanne, which was signed between the new Republic of Turkey and the allies of the First World War in 1923. It guarantees specific rights only to non-Muslim minorities. Turkey, moreover, has been and still is violating the Lausanne Treaty by applying it only to Armenians, Rums (Greek Orthodox) and Jews, leaving other non-Muslim groups, such as Assyrians, Baha'is, Chaldeans, Protestants and Yezidis out of Lausanne's protection. Furthermore, Turkey has limited the property and education rights of Armenians and Rums, in violation of the Lausanne Treaty. Other ethnic minorities, including Caucasians, Kurds, Laz and Roma, are not recognized as minorities and are therefore not fully guaranteed a number of rights, inter alia broadcasting and education in mother tongue.

In 2008, racist propaganda and attacks were on the rise. The cases brought against the perpetrators of the racist murders of the Armenian journalist and human rights activist Hrant Dink and the Christian staff of the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya are still pending, and the lawyers representing the families of the victims and many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, argue that investigation is not being carried out effectively. The public officers who were accused of negligence for failing to take protection measures for Dink, despite having received intelligence information on the murder plan, remained in their posts and no case was brought against them. Dink's family and the lawyers representing them are still subject to harassment and threats by the perpetrators and their lawyers.

In December 2008 some intellectuals organized a petition for an apology to the Armenians for their massacre in 1915; it was supported by thousands. However, in January 2009, the Federation of the Osmangazi Culture Associations in Eskişehir organized a press conference to condemn the campaign. Members of the Federation carried placards stating 'Dogs can enter but not Armenians and Jews'. A criminal investigation has been brought against the president of the Federation.

However some positive steps were taken by the government in 2008 and as a result, TRT 6, a new public channel broadcasting around the clock in Kurdish (Zaza and Kurmanci dialects) was launched in January 2009. Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated Kurds in Kurdish for the opening of this new channel. Although the channel was welcomed as a groundbreaking step by a large proportion of civil society, including Kurds, the government was criticized for not lifting the restrictions on private broadcasters. While TRT 6 has been allowed unlimited broadcasting in Kurdish, private national and regional broadcasters are still subject to restrictions which make it almost impossible to broadcast in Kurdish or other local languages. Moreover, using Kurdish is still prohibited in some areas. Article 81/c of the Law on Political Parties prohibits election campaigning in languages other than Turkish. In January 2009, six members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) were charged under this provision for issuing posters in Kurdish in May 2008. When Ahmet Türk, the president of the DTP gave a speech in Kurdish at the DTP group meeting at the parliament in February 2009, TRT 3, the parliament broadcasting channel, cut its broadcast after a few minutes, although there is no clear legal prohibition against giving such talks in languages other than Turkish.

The property rights of minorities are still not adequately addressed. The Law on Foundations (Law no. 5555), adopted by parliament in November 2006 and vetoed by then-President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was adopted again by parliament on 20 February 2008. The new law allows non-Muslim Foundations to apply to recover their properties seized by the state in the 1970s, but only if they are still in the hands of the state. It does not guarantee return or compensation for the properties of non-Muslim foundations that were seized and sold to third parties. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights in the case Fener Rum Patrikligi (Ecumenical Patriarchate) v. Turkey (July 2008) on the basis that Turkish authorities had deprived the owner of the property without providing for appropriate compensation. The Law on Compensation for Losses Arising from Terrorism and the Fight against Terrorism (Law no. 5233) ensured compensation for the properties of displaced people; however, the compensation was usually far from meeting 'just satisfaction' criteria. Return of displaced people and their integration in the places where they have settled remained crucial issues to be addressed in 2008.

The education rights of minorities is one of the areas in which the government is most reluctant to progress. Issues including lack of ethnic data for the most disadvantaged groups, including child seasonal workers (see Box, p. 198), regional disparities in literacy rates that reveal inequality along ethnic and gender lines, and problems in registration, that particularly affect the Roma, are explored in greater depth in MRG's 2009 report: Forgotten or Assimilated? Minorities in the Education System of Turkey. The report also looks at the importance of mother tongue education, which is guaranteed to Lausanne minorities only, and the difficulties and restrictions communities face in setting up their own schools. Discrimination exists in the system; the government has done little to reform the contents of the mandatory religion class, which focuses on Sunni Islam, despite a ruling by the ECtHR that the class is in violation of the right to education under Article 2 of the 1st Protocol to the Convention (See Hasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey.)

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