Turks crack down on Kurd campaign

February 8, 2002

Demonstrations demanding that Kurdish be used in Turkish universities have triggered a crackdown and numerous arrests.

According to the main Kurdish party, Hadep, more than 5,000 people have been detained and 300 arrested in January alone.

Kurds have been collecting signatures calling on the government to give students the option to study in Kurdish. The campaign started in November and rapidly spread. The constitution stipulates that only Turkish can be used as a medium of instruction, with exceptions for the Greek and Armenian minorities.

Although a fifth of the 65 million population is of Kurdish origin, Turkey steadfastly refuses to recognise Kurds as a minority.

Prime minister Bulent Ecevit defended the crackdown, saying that "no concessions are possible on [Kurdish] education". He accused the campaigners of being linked to the Kurdish separatist group PKK, which fought a 15-year war with the Turkish state that claimed over 30,000 lives.

Kemal Guruz, head of the higher education authority, told The Thes that students could face severe sanctions for signing the petition. "Those who insist will be punished - we have just come out of a war, which we won. The PKK tried with guerrilla terrorist tactics and failed. They know that it is never going to work. So now they've changed their tactics and this is the first step, destroying the very basic tenet of the republic."

Dr Guruz denied that Kurdish existed. "People in this part of the world speak various dialects - there is no single language in the technical sense that can be called Kurdish. There are many, many dialects. They cannot even communicate among themselves, from one village to the next. There is very little written material."

Murat Bozlak, head of Hadep, maintained that the Kurdish language had existed for centuries and he denied that the campaign threatened the integrity of the country. "In the Breton region of France and in Corsica people use languages other than French in education and there is no threat to the integrity of the country. In Turkey, it can be the same."

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