Country Report Turkey January 2011

The political scene: The Kurdish issue dominates the pre-election period

The Kurdish issue attracted increased attention in December when it was announced that the judiciary had launched an investigation into the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has 20 members of parliament (MPs), over a meeting of academics and politicians in Diyarbakir to discuss a plan for "democratic autonomy" for the Kurds. It is possible that the investigation will result in a lawsuit calling for the party's closure and the banning of its leaders from politics. As happened after the judiciary closed the BDP's predecessor, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), in December 2009, a lawsuit could trigger a renewed campaign of violence by the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In September 2010 the PKK announced a ceasefire until after the general election.

Also in December, two BDP MPs caused a stir by addressing the Turkish parliament in Kurdish, drawing a stern reprimand from the parliamentary speaker, Mehmet Ali Sahin, and a warning from the military published on the Turkish Armed Forces' website. Turkey's EU membership bid has resulted in some improvements in minority rights, including some easing of restrictions on the use of minority languages, mainly Kurdish. In 2009 all remaining restrictions were lifted on local broadcasting in Kurdish and other languages by private and public channels. In April 2010 changes to the law on the fundamental principles of elections and the electoral registry effectively allowed the use of Kurdish in election campaigns. However, the use of any language other than Turkish in parliament is still illegal.

With an election looming, the Kurdish issue will be high on the political agenda as the CHP and the AKP are seeking to win Kurdish votes, but without upsetting their nationalist voters. Although the AKP may favour further measures to tackle the Kurdish problem, including, for example, the increased use of the Kurdish language in official correspondence, the government is unlikely to risk putting forward legislation until after the election.

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