News / Europe

Turkey Unveils Democratization Plan

A televised news conference of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is showed on televisions at an electronics shop in Istanbul, Sep. 30, 2013.
A televised news conference of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is showed on televisions at an electronics shop in Istanbul, Sep. 30, 2013.
Dorian Jones
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a package of reforms aimed at strengthening democracy and keeping on track a faltering peace process with the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK. The announcement follows calls on the part of the European Union, which Ankara is seeking to join, for Turkey to introduce urgent reforms.

Erdogan described the unveiling of his democratization plan as an historic moment.  While addressing a wide range of issues, the reform package focuses heavily on Kurdish minority rights.

The plan eases decades-long restrictions on the Kurdish language, lifting a ban on the use of Kurdish alphabetical letters and permitting private schools to teach in Kurdish along with Turkish. The prime minister also said he will consider changing the current requirement that political parties win at least 10 percent of the vote to gain parliamentary representation - a key demand of pro-Kurdish rights campaigners.
 
Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist and columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf, says such reforms are important. But he warns the overall package may not help to forward the peace process with the PKK.

"There are symbolic positive moves in it, but they don’t really address the resolution of the Kurdish conflict," he said.

Last month, the PKK blamed Ankara’s failure to introduce reforms for its decision to end its withdrawal of fighters from Turkey, which was part of a government-initiated peace process. The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for more than three decades to win greater minority rights, including local autonomy and mother tongue education in state schools.

Ertugrul Kurkcu, a parliamentary deputy with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, says that the shortcomings in the reform package will not necessarily mean a return to arms, but that they will have consequences.

"Looking at the package, you can see that none of the political demands are met. But there is no reason to resume the armed struggle," said Kurkcu. "Therefore, the negotiation process will continue, but with little encouragement by this new package. The Kurdish political movement, they are  now all going to launch a mass struggle for immediate recognition of their demands."
 
The BDP has also strongly criticized the democracy package for failing to amend the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which it claims are responsible for the jailing of thousands of its members. Emma Sinclair Webb, Turkish researcher for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, welcomes some reforms, but says failure to amend the anti-terror laws is a serious omission.

"We don’t see attempts address some of the most crucial flaws in the criminal justice, where people spend a long time in prison for terrorism offenses when they have only committed activities that, you know, amount to free speech and political association," she said. "Over the last four years, 40,000 people have been put on trial for being members of terrorist organizations, and at least half of them have got convictions."

The European Union, which Ankara is seeking to join, has also called for urgent reform of the anti-terrorism laws, especially as many of those who have been convicted are journalists. According to international human rights groups, Turkey is the world’s worst jailer of journalists. Next month, Brussels is due to publish Turkey’s annual EU membership progress report, the contents of which will be key to it deciding whether to restart the membership process, which has been frozen for three years. Observers say press freedom remains a particular concern for Brussels.

At the same time, Erdogan did make some concessions to Turkey’s small Christianity minority - another area of concern for Brussels. According to political scientist Aktar, with presidential elections due to take place in 2014, the package is finely balanced against electoral considerations
 
"Everything which is included was very cautiously weighted against any negative apprehension of nationalist voters, because the prime minister thinks the only solid constituency from which he can gain votes is the nationalist voters," he said.

Analysts say the fact that the democratization plan includes lifting a ban on women wearing religious head scarves in public buildings is aimed at addressing an important demand of the prime minister’s grassroots religious supporters. The success or failure of Erdogan's political balancing act is expected to be key in both the ongoing peace efforts with the PKK and Ankara’s EU hopes.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: SAS from: Atlanta
October 01, 2013 2:00 PM
Thank you, Mr Erdogan.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs