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Turkey Moves Towards Creating Private Kurdish Schools - 2002-09-18

Turkey's education minister says the government has approved a new set of regulations that will permit the establishment of privately-run schools to teach the Kurdish language. The new regulations are another move by the government to improve the country's chances of getting into the European Union.

Education Minister Necdet Tekin stresses the regulations covered the teaching of all regional languages and dialects spoken in Turkey and not solely the Kurdish language.

Mr. Tekin said the new regulations ensured that such languages would be taught in conformity, as he put it, with the interests of the Turkish state.

Under the new regulations, teachers will need to go through a rigorous vetting process by the government before being permitted to teach in privately run schools. They have to be Turkish citizens and to not have been convicted of any crimes against the state. To be eligible for the courses, students have to be above 18 years of age and to have parental approval.

Turkey's estimated 12 million Kurds have long fought for the right to broadcast in and teach in their own language. But successive Turkish governments have denied such rights, saying they would promote separatist sentiment and eventually lead to the establishment of an independent Kurdish state.

Such fears diminished, analysts say, after separatist guerrillas of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party called off their armed fight for an independent Kurdish homeland, following the capture of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999.

Both Ocalan's group and Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish political party, Hadep, say Turkey's Kurds no longer seek independence and that easing bans on their mother tongue would go a long way toward satisfying their demands.

The European Union is also demanding that Turkey lift bans on the use of the Kurdish language as one of its conditions for starting membership talks with the Ankara government.

In August, Turkey's parliament approved sweeping reforms aimed at fulfilling EU conditions. The reforms included abolishing the death penalty, except in times of war, and easing restrictions on the Kurdish language.