Bilingual debate turns into autonomy discussion, triggering wave of criticism

by editor | 22nd December 2010 9:17 am

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BDP Co-chairman Selahattin Demirta? and other BDP officials are seen in Parliament on their way to the office of Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali ?ahin for a meeting.

The bilingual debate, kicked off by a pro-Kurdish party, entered a predicament yesterday when the Diyarbak?r Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the decisions of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), which transformed the discussion into a demand for “democratic autonomy.”
Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is the mastermind behind the idea of democratic autonomy, a term no one can clearly define. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) argues the term refers to strong local government, but the government and other parties are suspicious that it would lead to the use of a separate language and flag, which they argue is out of the question.
BDP Co-chairman Selahattin Demirta? on Tuesday met with Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali ?ahin to discuss “democratic autonomy,” but the meeting was also meant to lower public tension that flared up recently between the BDP and ?ahin.
?ahin recently criticized the BDP after some of its members used Kurdish on the floor of the General Assembly in Parliament. The debate heated up after several BDP members opened the debate on the national flag and language. The parliament speaker on several occasions reminded them that speaking in a language other than Turkish in Parliament is forbidden and that public prosecutors should take action to ensure it does not happen.
The parliament speaker urged everyone to respect national laws and assembly rules forbidding the use of languages other than Turkish in official platforms. ?ahin warned BDP members against raising tension in the national political debate and asked them to refrain from using any language other than Turkish. “We warned our colleagues in that regard,” he said after meeting with Demirta?.
According to the account given to reporters by ?ahin following the meeting, the BDP promised to not speak in Kurdish in Parliament. ?ahin told reporters that everyone — but especially deputies in Parliament — should be very careful when it comes to the indivisibility of the nation. He added that all parties should refrain from making statements that might agitate the society.
Demirta? said the aim of the meeting was to correct misunderstandings. “We told him that his remarks targeting political parties harm politics. His approach was very positive. We hope that this meeting will serve the process positively,” he said and added that they had also submitted a booklet on democratic autonomy.
The DTK, which comprises many prominent intellectuals, representatives of civil society organizations and pro-Kurdish politicians, shared their demand for democratic autonomy with the public over the weekend. The text suggests that the society, in order to construct the democratic autonomy model, should be organized in eight different dimensions, among them political, legal, social, economic, diplomatic, ecological, socio-political and “self defense” — a concept that is not clear but aims to establish a security force.
The text also mentions the adoption of the Kurdish flag and other symbols as well as education in Kurdish from kindergarten through university. The text also underlines that Kurds will send their representatives to Parliament to participate in national politics but that they will have their own local parliaments as well.
Demirta? underlined that some parts of the text are unclear but said he is prepared to have a discussion over democratic autonomy.
“We suggesting self-administration. This is part of our party program. If Turkey switches to a strong local administration model, this will require constitutional amendments. We suggest a multicultural, multilingual and multiethnic country,” Demirta? told reporters.
Responding to a question, he said they are not demanding to speak in Kurdish in Parliament, but that some of his party’s members said a few words in Kurdish in order to highlight the issue.
“Of course the official language is Turkish. But other languages must be given freedom and should be able to be used in media, the public sector and in education,” he said.
?ahin, while answering questions from reporters on the meeting, said he had asked Demirta? to explain the relationship between the DTK and the BDP. “Demirta? told me that the DTK is an independent civilian initiative. He told me that some of their colleagues had suggested a separate flag and a defense force but that this was only an idea and that the BDP has not launched an initiative to bring these issues to Parliament’s agenda,” ?ahin said, adding that any subject or law can be discussed in Parliament.
Also on Monday, Demirta?, after meeting with the DTK, said all authority is concentrated in the center and their aim is to change this situation, adding that it would not be only for the Kurds but also for other parts of Turkey — such as in Antalya and ?zmir, where such an administrative model is needed.
He underlined that the nation-state should also need to change because Turkey is a multilingual and multi-confessional country. He noted that Turkey can be divided into 20 regional administrations. “Turkish will of course be the official language in these administrations. The Turkish flag will be the main flag. But apart from this, there should be local flags and languages. Democracy can be enhanced when the state gets minimized,” he said.
Bahçeli: This can go until independent Kurdistan

The demand for democratic autonomy met fierce criticism from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) yesterday.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli claimed that the BDP is challenging the Constitution and the law and aims to stir up a popular uprising.
“Everyone should act with common sense in these difficult days,” he told his deputies at a meeting of his party’s parliamentary group.
He claimed that the aim of the bilingual speeches and democratic autonomy is to force people to accept that there are ethnicities other than the Turkish nation in Turkey as a founding element of the republic. He claimed that this will first be written in the Constitution and then followed by the establishment of a state system that is based on different languages, flags, parliaments and defense forces.
“In the last stage, there will be efforts to establish an independent Kurdistan with the land taken from Syria and Iran also,” he said.
Bahçeli said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an had encouraged all these discussions by initiating what he called the “separation initiative,” in reference to the government-launched democratization initiative to solve the Kurdish problem. He emphasized that it is very interesting that Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu has kept his silence over these issues.
Only CHP Bal?kesir deputy Ergün Aydo?an, speaking at budget discussions on Monday night, said these demands might lead the country to separation. He said the CHP defends the unitary state structure but is not against the idea of people being allowed to learn their mother tongues.
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group chairman Suat K?l?ç said the BDP is overstepping its limits.
“The BDP is acting as if it were the representative of all Kurds. Both in general and local elections, we are the ones who get the most votes in the region. It is not right to claim that ‘Kurds want this’,” K?l?ç said on a TV show on Monday night.
In the meantime, the Office of the President said yesterday that President Abdullah Gül will be visiting Diyarbak?r, a predominantly Kurdish province in the Southeast, on Dec. 30. This will be his second visit to the province since being elected president in 2007.

Signs in Kurdish appear in Mu?
The Erentepe Municipality, located in Bulan?k, Mu? province, put up signs in Kurdish along their equivalents in Turkish in the municipality building. Mayor Mehmet Ya??k, who hails from the BDP, said they are acting in accordance with their party line and that this is why they replaced Turkish-only signs with Turkish-Kurdish ones. “This is a reflection of the municipality’s multilingual approach. The state is running a 24/7 Kurdish TV station and nothing happens, but when it comes to us, we are told that we cannot speak in Kurdish,” he said, adding that a multilingual system will not divide the country but would bring further cohesion.

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