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New Turkish Political Party Advocates Kurdish Rights - 2001-08-03


A new political party is being formed in Turkey, one that says it will be a strong advocate for Kurdish rights.

The applause is thunderous in the Ankara conference hall as prominent Kurdish politicians take turns outlining to a largely Kurdish audience the principles and goals of their new party.

The party has yet to be named. Its founding members come from diverse political backgrounds, but they share one firm belief. Turkey cannot be considered a full-fledged Western-style democracy until the Kurdish issue is resolved - until Kurds are officially acknowledged as a separate ethnic group.

Abdul Melik Firat, a Kurdish religious and tribal leader who is well-known in Turkey, is among the party's founding members.

Mr. Firat says the main goal of the new movement is to fight for political and cultural rights for Turkey's estimated 12 million Kurds.

Following the capture in February 1999 of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, many Kurds began to hope the arrest would give the Turkish government greater room to maneuver, to accommodate some of the Kurdish demands for greater rights.

But it has been more than two years since Ocalan's arrest, and Kurdish leaders say the government has done nothing to ease its policies toward the Kurds, such as by relaxing government bans on Kurdish broadcasting and Kurdish-language schools.

The leaders of the new party say they are strongly opposed to the violence of Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers Party and have no plans to call for Kurdish independence. Their goal, they say, is to increase rights for Kurds within the Turkish state.

But analysts say it is highly unlikely that the new party will be able to compete with Turkey's largest legal pro-Kurdish party, the People's Democracy Party, better known as Hadep. Hadep made big gains in municipal elections in 1999 and is especially strong in Turkey's southeastern provinces, an area where support for Ocalan remains high.

But Mr. Firat says, unlike Hadep, his new party will give Turkey's Kurds a chance to choose a new path.

He says the Kurdish people will soon realize that 15 years of separatist bloodshed did them far more harm than good. And he says that is when the Kurdish people will turn to his party for fresh hope, and a better future.

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