|Turkey Persists in Denial of Basic Cultural and Language Rights|
Turkey Persists in Denial of Basic Cultural and Language Rights as Mayor dismissed for Providing Multi-Lingual Services
Turkey's highest administrative court, the Council of State, ruled last week to dismiss Abdullah Demirbaş, Mayor of the Sur district of Diyarbakır because the municipality voted for the provision of services in languages other than Turkish. This represents the latest example of the central government’s inflexible and intolerant stance on linguistic rights. In 2006 the municipality carried out a survey on the linguistic composition of the municipality which found that the proportion of those speaking Turkish is 24%, Kurdish 72%, Arabic 1% and Syriac and Armenian dialects 3%. On the basis of these findings, on October 2006 the Sur municipality voted to provide official services in Turkish, Kurdish, English and Syriac, in order to properly serve the population of this multi-ethnic and multi-lingual municipality.
The recent court ruling against the mayor and council stemmed from a complaint lodged by the Interior Ministry. The board of judges voted unanimously in favour of dismissing Demirbaş and the local council on the basis that multi-lingual service provision was not within municipal jurisdiction. The Diyarbakir chief prosecutor further demanded that Demirbaş and Diyarbakır metropolitan mayor Osman Baydemir both be sentenced to a prison term of three and a half years. Twenty-one other defendants in the court case are also facing jail terms of three and a half years each. These prosecutions are currently pending.
Mayor Demirbaş is a well respected advocate of cultural and linguistic rights and had done much for the protection and promotion of the cultural and language heritage of his municipality. His dismissal, and the halting of this initiative in Diyarbakır - an initiative which explicitly states that Turkish continues to be the official language of the municipality –illustrates the central government’s continuing repression of cultural rights, and its refusal to grant true democracy, where all of its citizens can be active participants. This move against the municipality by the Ministry of the Interior flies blatantly in the face of the democratic wishes of the municipality’s citizens.
In reaction to the news KHRP Executive Director Kerim Yildiz stated ‘The dismissal of Mr. Demirbaş and the halting of his laudable municipal language initiative is a gross violation of the democratic, linguistic and cultural rights of all the citizens of Diyarbakır, and illustrates Turkey’s continuing refusal to embrace a democracy of all its citizens. KHRP calls for Mr. Demirbaş’s immediate reinstatement and an end to the marginalisation of linguistic and cultural minorities in Turkey’.