by editor | 31st December 2010 10:22 am
President Abdullah Gül, who was in the southeastern province of Diyarbak?r, where his visit was expected to calm tension over recent autonomy and bilingualism discussions, said yesterday that the official language of Turkey is Turkish, in what was the president’s first remark about the use of Kurdish in official institutions.
Gül’s visit comes at a time of nationwide discussions on autonomy and bilingualism after the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) about two weeks ago outlined their solution in a project for democratic autonomy, envisaging Kurdish as a second official language, a separate flag and a Marxist-style model for Kurdish society.
This was met with ire by most politicians and certainly by the National Security Council (MGK) on Wednesday, which said in its declaration following the meeting that there would be no change in Turkey’s understanding of “one state and one language.” As the MGK chairman, President Gül also signed the declaration. Gül was greeted yesterday at the airport by an enthusiastic crowd of residents and the city’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Mayor Osman Baydemir. He paid his first visit to the mayor’s office, where Baydemir presented him with a Kurdish-Turkish dictionary.
“I will gladly accept this dictionary. Certainly, this is a sociological reality of this area,” he said. However, Gül also said that the issue of bilingualism has been a hot topic lately, adding that he would take the opportunity to put it in the right context. “The official language of the Republic of Turkey is Turkish, and it will continue to remain so. The language of public agencies is also Turkish. It is our common language, but it is also a fact that among the citizens of the Republic of Turkey we have people and regions who speak different languages. We have Arabic speakers in other areas just as you have Kurdish speakers here. There are languages spoken by our non-Muslim citizens, whose numbers are dwindling. All of these languages are ours, they belong to us all.”
Also, reports said that during his flight to the city, in response to a question as to whether he would say anything in Kurdish, Gül said, “How can I say anything in Kurdish? I don’t speak Kurdish.” Reporters on the plane also said that Gül read a book written by Kurdish intellectual Bejan Matur during the flight.
He said it is a constitutional obligation to protect the nation’s cultural heritage, and in that vein the country’s administrators had to view cultural differences as part of the nation’s wealth.
Gül was accompanied by Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker and the Presidential Secretary-General Mustafa ?sen. He also visited the governor’s office and the regional garrison command during the visit. He then visited the Diyarbak?r Organized Industrial Zone in the evening and attended a dinner given in his honor by the Dicle University Rector’s Office.
Large crowds greeted the president at the airport, where he watched a folklore performance by the students of a local school. Later, he and the young dancers posed for a group photograph. He also chatted with some of the residents who had gathered outside the airport to welcome him. Gül stayed at a local hotel, making him the first president to not opt for a military guesthouse during a visit to Diyarbak?r.
Mayor Baydemir also shared his opinion about the problems of the city and the Kurdish question. He said violence in the past 30 years and the associated migration from the city greatly damaged Diyarbak?r. He also asked for the president’s help in building an access road around the city and an international airport.
Baydemir stated that the Kurdish question remained Turkey’s biggest problem, saying: “Seeing it as just a security problem does not yield any results. We can summarize what we have experienced to date as a cycle of ‘uprisings and suppressions.’ However, the essence of the problem is about the deprivation of rights that come from being humans and people. Turkey’s Kurdish problem, as such, is a constitutional and governance problem. The solution is possible with democratization, a new Constitution and strong local governments.” The BDP Diyarbak?r Deputy, who was in Ankara yesterday, also said he hoped Gül’s visit would ease the tension that flared up because of the MGK declaration.”
Journalists insisted that he give a “message” but Gül refused, saying he will have many opportunities to share his remarks with the public during his visit. Many residents gathered outside the Governor’s Office chanting “Diyarbak?r is proud of you,” to which the president replied by waving back at the crowd.
During his visit to Diyarbak?r Governor Mustafa Toprak’s office, Gül was given two paintings depicting historical landmarks in the city. In his speech there, the president noted that this was his second visit to Diyarbak?r, recalling that his first was in 2007 as part of a general and brief tour to some provinces of the East and Southeast. He said he had wanted to make this trip for a long time. “It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here for a second time,” he said.
He also noted in his speech that he was very pleased by the treatment he received from the city’s welcoming residents and thanked them for their display of love and support. Gül’s visit will last two days. His program today includes visits to the city’s historical sites. Earlier reports also said he was going to appear on the Kurdish language state channel TRT-6. Presidential sources said whether he will attend the program was still a decision under review.
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