Kurdish students accused of undermining Turkey

March 22, 2002

A Turkish prosecutor has sought sentences of up to 22 years for 26 students campaigning for Kurdish education in universities.

The students were arrested for petitioning for elective courses taught in Kurdish. They are being tried on charges of belonging to and of assisting an armed gang.

The case is being heard in Ankara's state security court, which is normally used for terrorism and organised crime cases. Chief public prosecutor Nuh Mete Yuksel accused the students of being part of a national and international plot against Turkey. "The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that is trying to create a state on a part of our territory is behind this campaign."

The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for 15 years in a conflict that has claimed more than 30,000 lives. But since Turkish security forces captured its leader three years ago, the PKK has enforced a unilateral ceasefire.

The students are part of a nationwide campaign to allow classes in Kurdish in universities. Up to a third of Turkey's population is of Kurdish origin. Until 1986, it was against the law to speak Kurdish, and it remains banned in education and broadcasting. The government is considering allowing broadcasting in Kurdish but still opposes its being used in university classes.

Kemal Guruz, head of Turkey's higher education body, said the Kurdish language was a creation of Kurdish activists with the backing of European countries trying to divide Turkey. He ruled out any possibility of Kurdish being used in universities.

The -page indictment accuses the students of being part of a campaign that aims to carve a Kurdish homeland out of Turkey.

Supporters argue that the students were within their constitutional rights to petition the president. But Mr Yuksel dismissed such claims. "This has nothing to do with freedom of expression. The supporters of the campaign are lying to the public when they say they don't want to divide the country. The campaign for Kurdish courses is by no means innocent."

The case continues.

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