Kurds Risk Jail In Turkey In Language Row


Agence France Presse — English
July 30, 2007 Monday 11:05 AM GMT
Diyarbakir, Turkey

Turkish prosecutors are seeking jail terms of up to three years for
two Kurdish mayors and 17 aldermen who introduce Kurdish and other
languages in office, court officials said Monday.

According to the constitution, Turkish is the sole official
language and no other languages can be used in government offices
and municipalities.

The accused include Osman Baydemir, one of Turkey’s most popular
Kurdish politicians and the mayor of Diyarbakir, the main city in
the Kurdish-majority southeast.

The other politician charged is Abdullah Demirbas, who was removed
last month from his post as mayor of Sur, Diyarbakir’s multi-ethnic
old town, after the city council in January allowed the use of Kurdish,
Armenian, Arabic, Assyriac and English in municipal services.

The charge sheet accused the defendants of "abuse of office" and
sought prison sentences ranging from one to three years.

The trial of Baydemir, Demirbas and the 17 city councilmen who voted
for the municipal bill is scheduled to begin on November 7.

Diyarbakir’s governor, Ankara’s top representative in the area,
has asked a district court to scrap the multi-lingual service.

Anakara has in recent years — under European Union pressure to
improve its human rights record — legalised broadcasts in Kurdish
and allowed private institutions to teach the Kurdish language.

The law, however, still requires Kurds to use solely Turkish, the
only official language, in official communications and politics.

Kurdish activists insists that Kurdish should be taught in schools
and used in all spheres of public life.

Ankara fears that broader Kurdish cultural freedoms may embolden
the armed separatist campaign of Kurdish rebels fighting the central
government since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.