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Turkey Steps Up Crackdown on Kurdish Language Campaign - 2002-01-22

Turkish authorities are keeping up a month-long crackdown on thousands of students seeking the right to be educated in the Kurdish language. At least 17 students were jailed on charges of promoting separatism in the largely Kurdish Malatya Province.

The imprisoned students are accused of signing a petition calling on their local university to introduce a course in Kurdish as an optional language course.

The students were acting in concert with thousands of other ethnic-Kurdish students and their sympathizers across Turkey who have signed similar petitions.

Abdurrahman Demir is a 20-year-old student at Dicle University in the largely Kurdish Diyarbakir Province. Mr. Demir told VOA that security forces arrested him last month after he joined the Kurdish language campaign.

Mr. Demir says he was stripped naked and beaten by security forces until he signed a confession saying that he had been acting under orders from the Kurdistan Workers' Party. The group has been banned by the Ankara government as a terrorist organization. Mr. Demir has been released from prison and is now awaiting trial on charges of promoting separatism.

Though not all the students who have signed the petition have been jailed, many of them have been expelled by their universities.

Education in Kurdish is banned under the Turkish constitution. Education minister Metin Bostancioglu re-affirmed the government's position, saying that introducing Kurdish language courses is against the law.

The Turkish government says the Kurdish language campaign, which began in November, is being orchestrated by the Kurdistan Workers' Party to rekindle separatist sentiments among the country's estimated 12 million Kurds.

Following the capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999, the Kurdistan Workers' Party ended its 15-year long armed campaign for an independent Kurdish homeland in Turkey's largely Kurdish provinces. The group now says that lifting bans on Kurdish language education and broadcasting will satisfy the Kurds' demands for expanded cultural rights.

The Turkish government is under pressure from EU countries to offer ethnic Kurds the right to express themselves freely in their own language as a precondition for Turkey's entry into the European Union.

In October, Turkey's parliament passed legislation that eased bans on Kurdish language broadcasting, but the legislation left bans on Kurdish language education in force.