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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid