Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report


Minority rights

45. What constitutes a minority is not always understood in the same way in Turkey as it is in western Europe. The Treaty of Lausanne ascribed special rights to non-Muslim minorities only. Turks often therefore view minorities as people having special rights because of their religion, not, for example, because of their cultural or linguistic heritage. Until recently it was not uncommon for unassimilated Kurds to be referred to as 'Mountain Turks', who, it was rather absurdly claimed, had somehow forgotten their Turkish allegiance, heritage and language. In contrast, the submission of the Turkish embassy in London recognises "Turkey's multicultural heritage", although the suggestion that the Turkish model has involved fostering this heritage is rather hard to accept.[51] We conclude that Turkey can only make progress in its EU candidacy if it guarantees cultural rights for all its citizens, irrespective of their origin.

46. The real source of resistance to granting rights of any sort to the Kurdish minority stems from the fact that until recently a "vicious internal struggle"[52] was being fought between the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), a terrorist group demanding independence for Turkish 'Kurdistan', and the Turkish army, with much of the local population caught in the middle.[53] As a result, demanding rights for the Kurds is generally equated in Turkey with terrorism or abetting terrorists, whether violence or the threat of violence is used or not. The fear is (or is stated to be) that allowing free broadcasting or publication in the Kurdish language would both stir up separatist sentiment and allow separatist terrorist groups to disseminate propaganda. Even generally pro-European Turkish politicians have spoken against the provision of education in Kurdish as an attack on the integrity of the state,[54] but the main resistance to granting any rights to the Kurdish population comes from the second largest party in the governing coalition, the ultra-nationalist MHP.[55] According to the Financial Times, "the MHP has defended its stance by arguing that the EU has no intention of admitting Turkey. It cites as proof of EU 'hypocrisy' a failure to include in the bloc's recently adopted list of terror groups the PKK and the left-wing DHKP-C, which have killed thousands of people in Turkey."[56]

47. Both the PKK and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) have been proscribed by the United Kingdom as terrorist organisations, which they undoubtedly are. The European Union, however, has so far failed to designate these groups as terrorist organisations, even though the British Government has been pressing it to do so, and even though, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, there are no objections in principle from member states to these two organisations being so designated.[57] We discovered during our visit the extent to which this is a cause of mistrust and rancour within Turkey. It is used within Turkey as a prime example of European double standards in the fight against terrorism, and it fuels paranoia that European countries are committed to the break-up of the Turkish state. Even the submission of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, which is notably moderate in tone, states in apparent frustration that "the struggle against terrorism should not be compromised by selectivity".[58] As Malcolm Cooper writes, Turkey will only "be willing to bring its human rights policy closer in line with western norms as long as western pressure is not seen to be aiding forces that threaten the integrity of the state itself".[59]

48. We conclude that the failure of the European Union to designate the PKK as a terrorist organisation provides fuel for Turkish paranoia about European designs on the territorial integrity of the Turkish state. This failure also prevents the EU from being able to act effectively to promote Kurdish cultural rights and to speak in support of those within Turkey who are unfairly labelled as terrorists because they promote those rights peacefully. We recommend that the Government urge its EU partners to designate the PKK and DHKP-C as terrorist organisations as soon as possible. At the same time, we recommend that the Government remind Turkey that an organisation or individual should only be labelled terrorist if it uses or threatens to use violence to achieve its ends.

49. Amnesty International writes that "any peaceful expression of views, even concerning the political structure of the state and possible secession should be permitted".[60] Given the recent conflict in the south-east of Turkey, The Turkish authorities should perhaps be allowed a small measure of understanding if they are unwilling to permit demands to be made publicly for a separate Kurdish state, even if these demands are made peacefully. But Turkey's recent history of terrorism and internal struggle should not used as a reason to deny the Kurdish population cultural rights as a minority within the Turkish state.

50. Currently, even the right to demand these cultural rights is curtailed.[61] We recommend that the Government suggest to the Turkish authorities that current legislation denying cultural rights to the Kurdish minority and preventing peaceful demands for these rights increases rather than diminishes the risk that these rights will be demanded by violent means.

51. While the Kurds are by far the best known of the generally Muslim minorities living within Turkey, they are by no means the only such minority. It has been a not always helpful tendency of western European governments and NGOs to demand rights almost exclusively for the Kurdish minority, with its history of separatist agitation, while coming close to ignoring other minorities, such as the Laz and the Alevi, who have a history of living peacefully within the Turkish state. We recommend that the Government should take care to insist that the Turkish authorities grant cultural rights not only to the Kurdish minority, but also to other minorities without a history of separatist agitation.

52. The Turkish authorities claim that the Kurdish and other minorities should feel a primary allegiance to the Turkish state, rather than to their local community. Current policy makes this less, rather than more, likely. Education is provided only in Turkish, a language which many Kurds do not understand. Children whose parents do not speak Turkish are caught in a vicious circle, which effectively prevents them from having the opportunity to participate fully in Turkish society. Similarly, the courts, hospitals and local government are largely inaccessible to those who do not speak Turkish. We conclude that by providing education at least of the Turkish language through the medium of local languages, and by enabling people to access state institutions through their mother tongue, the Turkish authorities would be enhancing, not diminishing, the cohesion of the Turkish state.

Freedom of expression and association

53. Many of the limits on freedom of expression and association are linked to the historic situation in the south-east of Turkey and to the perceived need to protect the secular nature of the state. There have been some welcome moves in recent months, such as the abolition of articles of the Constitution banning statements and publications in Kurdish[62] and permission for Amnesty International to open an office in Turkey, permission which had long been


54. However, the situation on the ground has not improved. As the European Commission notes in its Regular Report:

    "Both the Penal Code (notably Articles 159 concerning insults to parliament, army, republic and judiciary and Article 312, concerning incitement to racial, ethnic or religious enmity) and Article 7 and 8 of the anti-terrorist law (disseminating separatist propaganda) continue to be widely used by public prosecutors and judges to restrict freedom of expression".[64]

We heard during our visit to Turkey of students who had been detained in January by a state security court on charges of "promoting separatism and inciting racial hatred" by presenting a petition calling for an optional Kurdish language course at their local university. Amnesty International notes that "individuals who have denounced rape in custody ... have been charged with insulting the security forces".[65]

55. Freedom of association also remains strictly limited, not only by law, but also by the actions of the judiciary against organisations which they perceive as a threat. In Turkey we met officials of HADEP, the only legal political party to advocate Kurdish minority rights. They told us that multiple charges had been filed against the party and its officials, as a blatantly partisan way of trying to prevent the party from operating effectively. Similar action is taken against parties perceived as linked to political Islam, four of which have been banned by the Constitutional Court since 1983.

56. Once again, it is not just a question of laws needing to be changed. Much of the problem appears to be the attitude of the judiciary and law enforcement authorities, who view themselves as responsible for protecting the Kemalist nature of the state above and beyond any responsibility for protecting individuals' human rights.[66] There appear to be signs of a "fundamental change of attitude" as demanded by Amnesty International in at least some areas of Government.[67] But the judiciary's view seems to remain that laws should be interpreted to protect the nature of the state rather than the rights of the individual. We conclude that Turkey is unlikely to meet the Copenhagen political criteria regarding freedom of expression and freedom of association until there is a fundamental change in the way that the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities act and think.

57. Another example of how reactionary political forces can hide behind legal technicalities is the saga of the BBC World Service's right to use FM rebroadcasting facilities in Turkey. As the World Service explains,[68] in November 2001 the Turkish broadcasting regulator, RTÜK, decided for the second time in two years that rebroadcasting was illegal. We discovered in Ankara, however, that it was less a matter of legality, than of a battle between politically moderate and reactionary forces within RTÜK, which had led to the bizarre situation in which the chairman of RTÜK was taking his own organisation to court. We recommend that the Government continue to urge the Turkish authorities to enable the BBC World Service to recommence FM rebroadcasting within Turkey as soon as possible.

Capital punishment

58. Turkey has maintained a moratorium on the use of capital punishment since 1984. The abolition of capital punishment is a touchy political issue, however, mainly because nationalists within the Government coalition wish to retain the right to order the execution of the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, who is currently in prison under sentence of death.[69] In October 2001, an amendment to the Constitution abolished capital punishment except for cases in time of war, under the imminent threat of war and for terrorist crimes. The first two exceptions are permitted under Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but the third is not. It is this third exception, however, which is particularly important for those who wish to retain the right to order the execution of Abdullah Öcalan. Conversely, by refraining from executing Mr Öcalan, Turkey has advanced its EU candidacy.

59. This is an issue which may take some time to resolve because of Turkish internal politics. It is currently being argued out within the Turkish political establishment whether the exception for terrorist crimes can be removed without constitutional amendment (and hence by a simple parliamentary majority) or only with such an amendment (requiring a two-thirds majority, which the Government would be unlikely to achieve). We conclude that it may take some time before the Turkish Government is able to carry through legislation to abolish capital punishment for terrorist crimes. We therefore recommend that until such legislation is passed, the British Government should concentrate on seeking to ensure that the Turkish moratorium on carrying out the death penalty is maintained.


60. The Turkish military's role in domestic politics is very different from the position of the armed forces in member states of the EU. The Turkish military is under civilian control in name only. The chief of general staff reports not to the Minister of Defence, as in other European countries, but to the Prime Minister. The military, through the National Security Council (NSC), advises the Government on matters not merely relating to national defence, but also to large areas of domestic and foreign policy. Although the NSC is technically speaking an advisory body, in practice civilian politicians bear in mind the military's tendency to intervene in domestic politics when its advice is not followed. Recent changes to the composition and to the description of the role of the NSC, in order to bring it in line with EU requirements that it have a majority of civilian members and that it should have only an advisory role, have not so far changed how it operates in practice.[70]

61. In Istanbul we held a fascinating discussion with Dr Gareth Jenkins, an expert on the role of the Turkish military in domestic politics. He argued that the military did not actually make policy, but rather set the parameters within which politicians could act. In his view, the military is both committed to Atatürk's policy of Europeanisation and uncertain that the changes demanded of Turkish society by the Copenhagen political criteria are consistent with protecting the Kemalist nature of the state. The paradox for the military is that if it commits itself to Turkey's EU candidacy, it must also commit itself to passing under civilian control.

62. There is little or no accountability as far as the Turkish military is concerned. It is happy to advise the Government on most areas of domestic and foreign policy, and it is happy to make its views known to the press. What the military will not do is discuss its role in domestic politics or its views on particular policies at an official level. When we asked to meet a representative of the armed forces during our visit to Turkey, we were told that the armed forces would only meet their military counterparts from abroad—counterparts, however, who in the case of European countries have no equivalent role in domestic politics.[71] Human Rights Watch has recommended that "the EU should ask that the [Turkish] government include the military in a discussion of how the Copenhagen Criteria can be met without risking the instability the military and nationalist politicians fear".[72] But to date, the military has been unwilling to hold such discussions.

63. The European Commission also seems unwilling to countenance such contacts. Michael Leigh has told us:

    "where we have nothing against, in principle, informal contacts with, for example, civilian administrative staff working on the National Security Council ..., given the decision-making structure of the country and its own constitutional structures, I think it is most appropriate for the Commission to have contacts with the government, with the parliament, with the judiciary while being aware of the context in which this democratic system is functioning".[73]

We conclude that the military is a factor in domestic politics which the Government and the EU cannot afford to ignore. As the Turkish military is clearly not yet prepared to withdraw from domestic politics, we recommend that the Government use what contacts it has to encourage the military to engage in open debate on the political reforms required of Turkey by the EU.

51   Ev 110, para 3 [Turkish Embassy] Back

52   Q 8 [Dr Hale] Back

53   According to BBC News of 16 April 2002, the PKK has recently changed its name to the Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan (KADEK).  Back

54   "Yilmaz speaks on Turkey's EU harmonization", Sabah, 31 January 2002 Back

55   Ev 2, para 9 [Dr William Hale] Back

56   Financial Times, 22 January 2002 Back

57   QQ 204, 207 Back

58   Ev 112, para 22 Back

59   Ev 110, para 10 Back

60   Ev 46, para 39 Back

61   Ev 46, para 36 Back

62   Ev 45, para 34 [Amnesty International] Back

63   Ev 46, para 41 Back

64   Regular Report, p. 24 Back

65   Ev 46, para 38 Back

66   Q 40 [Dr Philip Robins] Back

67   Ev 46, para 39 Back

68   Appendix 12, Ev 102-3 Back

69   Ev 2, para 9 [Dr William Hale] Back

70   QQ 20-21 [Dr Hale] Back

71   The chief of general staff of the Turkish armed forces, General Huseyin Kivrikoglu, exceptionally agreed to meet US Vice-President Dick Cheney recently, and outsiders were startled to note that the general led a delegation which included the Turkish Foreign Minister.  Back

72   Human Rights Watch, Analysis of the 2001 regular Report on Turkey, available online at Back

73   Q 87 Back

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